This post is about recording and mixing vocal in your bedroom. As always, I’m not a pro, but neither are you reading this, I figure, and as an aspiring producer you could find this guide helpful.
With that outta the way let’s start. In most cases, the vocal is the focal point of a song, so it has to be properly heard in the mix and sound natural (if heavy effect isn’t an end in itself).
Now, the bedroom home studio might actually be a corner in a larger room or a noisy space – with no respect for your musical/scientific practice. When recording, try to eliminate reflections or at least minimize the room’s acoustic and ambient influences on your sound. The microphone not only picks up the voice but its reflection and noise from the room and interior. Try to isolate the mic – keeping away from the walls if possible. Be creative, there are several DIY solutions with pillows and blankets and such to sound proof your room.
A Good Mic Setup
The standard of today’s professional studios are large diaphragm condenser mics. And cardioid-pattern (or unidirectional) capacitors are the most common for voice recordings. However a dynamic mic – connected to a good preamp – should work just fine. Beside that we’re not in a real studio, we’re at your make-shift little joint and we don’t have room nor money. Moreover, most of us bedroom producers don’t have a pool of different mic types, we just have to do the best we can with what we’ve got.
If you’re getting a new mic, bear in mind that a condenser mic is sensitive and requirer 48 volt phantom power on the preamp/mixer in order to power the mic. Whilst a dynamic mic is less sensitive, but offer a more rounded sound and doesn’t need phantom power.
It’s usually preferred to mount the microphone on a stand. (If you don’t have space for that, then keep your hand clear of the rear of the mic’s basket to avoid affect the capturing.) Use a pop shield if you got one. If not, you need to carefully attend to unnatural pops on plosive sounds while recording, which might take your focus off-target. And if you got a shock-mount, use it to stop low end vibrations coming in to the mic.
Of course the singer ought to wear monitor headphones while recording so that the instrumental doesn’t beed into the mic.
Place the mic at the right distance, 8 inches or so should be okay. You wanna capture what the voice sounds like, capture the whole tone of the voice. If you’re too close there’s a bass response – a proximity effect – rendering more low end. There’s also an increased risk of plosives, and the level will change more noticeably when you sway. But don’t go too far away from the mic either, because it will pick up reflections of your voice in the room and color the sound.
In brief, the mounting, positioning, distance and the angle of the mic all weigh on how the recorded vocal sounds.
Don’t record too hot (loud), have some headroom. Optimize your input signal levels in order to maximize signal strength while minimizing noise. Record quietly but not danger close to the noise floor Try to find a good signal-to-noise ratio. A peak record level of -10 dBFS should do it if you record at 24-bit resolution.
Some people uses a subtle compression while recording. It’s not necessary, but if you go for a that, use a compressor with neutral characteristics and aim to achieve 5-8 dB of gain reduction on the loudest signal peaks.
Never gate the vocal while recording, instead do this at the mixing stage if needed. E.g. if you use a lot of compression on the vocal once it has been recorded, it’s possible that you need to gate the vocal track first; this would prevent noise build-up in the pauses between phrases.
Comping and Editing
Record multiple takes of the lead vocal part, then comp (short for compositing) together different takes, that is, copy and paste different sequences from multiple takes, and assemble them into one continuos lead vocal track.
At this stage you could do some basic cleaning (editing) by removing the noises et cetera, but don’t overdo it, or it would sound unnatural. Also make some performance correction such as timing and pitch.
Get rid of excess low end using a high-pass filter; roll of the bottom end below 80 Hz. (Too much low end makes the mix sound muddy.)
Use EQ as a subtractive tool rather than an additive tool; cuts are generally more effective.
However, try boost some around 2-4 kHz for presence on the vocal track. If the vocal sounds boomy, cut between 250-350 Hz, and if it sounds boxy, cut around 400-500 Hz. If the vocal sounds nasal, cut somewhere between 1 kHz and 4 kHz. To give the vocal some air, boost some over 10 kHz. If there are too sharp consonants, like s, t, p sound, try to de-ess ‘em; compress sounds of a certain frequency (usually around 4-9 kHz).
Doubling and Parallel Processing
Vocals should be in the center in the mix. To make sure of this, first turn down the other instruments/buses, strive for a good overall mix balance.
To make your vocal pop out from the mix, try doubling. That means recording the same vocals again, to make it thicker. You could treat the new vocal track differently from the original. E.g. emphasize different frequencies to shape a new combined sound. Perhaps it sounds better if the second vocal is a bit lower in the mix, well just try shit out.
You could also try copy the original vocal track to a parallel channel and process it differently (compression, distortion and so on) and then blend ‘em both together. This could add some character to the sound while keeping the clarity.
Leveling and Compression
Level the vocal to sit correctly in the mix throughout the song. To even out the dynamics, compress the vocal track. Remember to EQ before compression, roll of the bottom end so that the compressor could behave more naturally.
For strict, consistent level control, set the compressor with a threshold just below the loudest portions. Use a ratio like 4:1. Keep the attack under 10 ms. Try to get an even sounding gain reduction.
Reverb is really all about personal taste. That being said, many popular productions of today leave the vocal fairly dry. So use reverb sparingly. Still, a small amount of reverb adds some depth and a sense of space and reality to a vocal recorded in a dry acoustic environment. Some say that busy songs need less reverb than slower ones with lots of space in the arrangement.