The Music Espionage

Recording Vocals

Recording Vocals – The Setup:

Recording VocalsVocals are the most important part of a popular music song, so it is vital to get the best performance as possible from the vocalist when Recording Vocals. Setting the environment to make the singer more comfortable is always worth the time. Check the temperature of the room is okay, put a rug down, turn down the lights and make the session seem less ‘clinical’. It is always worth kicking the rest of the band (and any others) out of the studio for this part of the recording. Having five people staring at you while you’re singing can be very uncomfortable.

Like all other recordings, if the musician is good you’re halfway there. The vocalist should be well rehearsed and feel comfortable in their surroundings.

Spend time getting a decent headphone mix, you’re not going to get a good recording if the singer can only hear a snare drum. To make it easier for the performer to hear the pitch of their voice cut the reverb in the headphones.

To avoid low-end rumble, place the microphone stand on mouse mats.

Vocals will sound better in a smaller space, but it should not be so small that it looses all higher frequencies and will therefore sound dead. Low ceilings will also factor into the performance and can produce nasty ringing on the track.


Recording Vocals – Microphone Choice:

When it comes to choice of microphone for Recording Vocals the best microphone available isn’t necessarily the best microphone for the singer. Pick a microphone that will suit the vocals and the rest of the song.

Most common choices will be some sort of a large diaphragm condenser microphone such as the sE Electronics Titan. A Valve microphone, for example the Rode NTK, will add a level of warmth to the track although this may not suit all vocalists. If the singer has a very bright voice a dynamic microphone, like the Shure SM58, may yield better results. It’s all about experimenting and finding a suitable tool for the job.

Recording Vocals – sE Electronics Titan Condenser Microphone

[audio:|titles=Vox Titan]

Recording Vocals – Rode NTK Valve Condenser Microphone

[audio:|titles=Vox NTK]

Recording of Shure SM58 Dynamic Microphone

[audio:|titles=Vox SM58]


Recording Vocals – Microphone Placement:Recording Vocals

The singer ideally wants to be about 6-8 inches away from the microphone. To get a rough measurement, tell the singer to open up their hand with the thumb touching their lips. Where their little finger is will be about 6 inches.

Moving the microphone higher will help reduce ‘pops’, tell the singer to sing below the microphone and not to raise their heads. If you are still getting ‘pops’ moving the microphone higher or further away from the singer. An alternative would be to turn the microphone off axis to the singer.

Recording VocalsIf a vocal performance is relatively ‘thin’ move the microphone beneath the mouth and aim it up. Be careful with this technique though, as it may cause some unwanted noises.

If you are using a directional microphone there will often be a boost in the low frequencies if the singer is standing too close to the microphone. This is called the ‘proximity effect’.



Recording Vocals – Hanging Around:

Often you will see a ‘hanging microphone’ used to record vocals. There are a few reasons for this technique. The Valve in a valve microphone produces a lot of heat, this heat can affect the diaphragm and therefore the way the diaphragm picks up sound. To prevent this from happening the microphone is hung upside down so the heat rises through the bottom of the mic and away from the diaphragm.Recording Vocals


The second reason is to encourage the singer to open up their airway. This will help produce a better vocal performance as if the head is tilted down it restricts the airway. Try singing with your chin on your chest then slowly raise your head up, you should be able to hear a massive difference.

Another reason is to allow room for a music stand. Some singers will require a musical score or a lyric sheet when they are recording. It’s harder to read when you have a mic stand in the way.


Backing Vocals

If you were to listen to a group of people sing, they will all have different qualities to their voice and they will be stood at different distances to you. So when recording backing vocals you may need to replicate this effect with only one or a few singers. To do this, use a different microphone for each layer of vocals. With each microphone having a different frequency response, they will pick up different qualities in the voice. Also change the positioning of the vocalists in the live room. The varying distances will make each take sound different and give the effect of a larger group of performers when mixed together.

Recording Vocals – Backing Vocals with AKG C3000

[audio:|titles=Backing Vox C3000]

Recording Vocals – Backing Vocals with sE Electronics sE1a

[audio:|titles=Backing Vox sE1a]

Recording Vocals – Backing Vocals with Shure SM57

[audio:|titles=Backing Vox SM57]

Recording Vocals – Backing Vocals with AKG D870

[audio:|titles=Backing Vox AKG D870]

Recording Vocals – Backing Vocals All Microphones (Unmixed)

[audio:|titles=Backing Vox Unmixed]


Recording Vocals – Group Vocals:

It can be quite impractical to close mic every performer in a group or choir. It will also produce an unnatural sound and be very hard to mix afterwards. By using a couple of well placed microphones you will get a nice balance of the group that will be a breeze to mix.

A big factor in group vocals will be the recording space. If you have a poor space use directional microphones and place them as close to the group as possible without isolating any one member, then add reverb after.

If you are fortunate to record in a decent room then you get experiment with the microphone positions and you can use omni microphones to pick up the natural room reverb.

Recording of choir using two Rode NT1 directional microphones as a stereo spaced pair placed about 3 metres back.

[audio:|titles=Choir Vox]


Other Considerations

Some vocalists will change their performance when they get into a studio, turning up or down the vocals in their headphones can get them to sing quieter or louder, but be careful that this doesn’t alter the quality of the performance. If the singer is really struggling to project their voice stick another microphone into the room about 6 feet away as a visual aid and tell them to imagine singing into that microphone instead of the one inches from their face.

A pop shield is a must in most scenarios. It will help reduce unwanted plosive sounds that can’t be removed in post-production. See ‘Microphone Placement’ for more ways to reduce ‘pops’.

Recording VocalsReduce reflected sounds by using a reflection shield placed behind the microphone; using padding, a duvet or sleeping bag behind the singer will also help.

Compress the vocals as they are being recorded, only use slight compression as you will not be able to undo this when it is recorded.


Vocals can be a nightmare to record. Because they are the most important part of a song they need to be perfect. Use the tips in this page as a starting point and progress from there. There is no right or wrong way to record any instrument and there will be may factors that will affect any recording.

Recording Vocals