Look. No amount of tips, tricks, or hacks is going to make you sound like Ariana Grande or Mariah Carey. Luckily though, there’s a lot you can learn production-wise that can get your vocals as close to perfect as possible.
This week, Fabio from Noize will take us through the basics of microphones, recording, editing, mixing vocals, and how to get those vocal tracks right where you want them to be. We’ve even provided the raw vocals to practice mixing via the form above.
And as always, don’t forget about our monthly $500 giveaway! Just leave a comment in the video of what your favorite microphone is, and you’re automatically entered to win a $500 gift card you can use towards some new studio gear of your choice.
Let’s dive in. First we’ll want to chat about tracking those vocals, and what you’ll need to ensure when you get to the mixing stage, you’re in a good spot.
- How to Build a Home Recording Studio for Any Budget
- Logic vs Ableton Live – Which is Better?
- Free Tools for Music Production
- Accurate and sensitive
- Picks up room reflections
- Preferred in studios
The microphone you want to use will depend on your setup and your budget, but for recording vocals, we recommend a condenser microphone. The main aspect to remember about condenser mics is that they’re very sensitive, so they will likely pick up everything in the room, and acoustics will play a big part in this (more on that later).
- More mid-range character
- Less sensitive to acoustics
- Preferred for live, but still great in studios
If the room you’re recording in doesn’t have great acoustics, we’d recommend a dynamic microphone. These types aren’t as sensitive, but they still sound great.
- Still a condenser mic
- Flat frequency response
- Software emulates modern & vintage microphones
And if you truly want the best of both worlds, look no further than the modeling mic. This type can model a condenser and a dynamic mic, and it’s a great system if you want a whole range of modern and vintage microphone sounds.
- Stops plosives
- Ps, Bs, & Ts
- Keeps your microphone clean!
This is another essential piece of studio equipment. A pop filter will prevent “plosives,” which are associated with words that have Ps, Bs, and Ts. It’s placed in front of the mic, about three to five inches away. Not only will this help stop the distracting P, B, and T sounds, but it’ll also help keep the mic a little cleaner from all that flying spit.
Vocal Booth (er…something close to it)
- Use duvet, mattresses
- A pillow/towel fort can work
- Use your closet!
So a pro vocal booth is probably not an option for most of us. But all of these little hacks above can produce some seriously quality sound for mixing vocals. I have personally used the closet trick many times to track a last minute harmony on a song and once it’s in post, you’d never know it.
Let’s talk about your room’s acoustics for properly mixing vocals.
Most of us don’t have the luxury of working in an acoustically-treated professional studio. If you want to treat your space, hang up some acoustic panels (like the ones in the video). The goal is to reduce reflections (echoes) as much as possible.
If you don’t have this luxury, you can set up a vocal session in a closet, inside a pillow fort, in between some mattresses, a towel over the head, etc. Get creative with it. Engage in a little trial and error, and see what works.
Now, once you’re set up and you have everything plugged into your audio interface, you’re going to need your vocalist to lay down some tracks. Once you have your file downloaded, you can drag it right into Logic, and you’re pretty much ready to go.
We’d recommend working from an instrumental when you’re recording vocals because they have a lot less processing. You shouldn’t have any issues with latency, but if so, this is how you should set up your preferences.
Buffer Size Settings
- 32 to 128 range for recording
- This will reduce latency
- Remember to turn back up after you’ve finished recording!
In Logic, you’ll go to Settings → Audio → and then look for the buffer size. You should be able to change the buffer sizes on all DAWs, by the way. We’d recommend going as low as possible. However, if you go too low, sometimes you can get a few pops and crackles. Let’s avoid those. Let’s go for 128, and then hit “Apply.”
As a reminder, you will have access to all of these files at the end of the session, so you’ll have the chance to edit, record, and mix everything yourself too.
First, we like to have our vocalist perform a complete run-through. Afterward, we’ll focus on chorus, layering, and finally, adlibs.
As you can see in Logic, we have our stacks of vocal recordings, and then we’ll record a few adlibs to add in later. These help to bring a little magic to the vocals.
Fabio has come back to the studio with rested ears and a fresh perspective. If you aren’t pressed for time, this is always a good practice, especially if you’re starting to feel drained or tired.
Keep in mind that these tracks are all individual recordings. They’re not just copied and pasted, which is something you shouldn’t ever do. If you copy/paste, you’re going to get phasing issues and stereo cancellation. Individual recordings will make your sound thicker and more professional sounding.
Clean Up The Vocals
Before we start mixing the raw vocals, we need to clean up the vocals a bit.
You want to get rid of the dead space where there might be room and cut out any mouth noises or any other undesirable sounds. Then you’ll wanna add in some fades.
Just zoom in on the vocal, and using the marquee tool, you’ll hold “command,” and the marquee tool will come up. Hit backspace and delete the unneeded section. Then you can zoom in a little further, highlight all your regions → Control, Shift → click and drag, and then you can add in a fade very easily.
Do it for the other sections, too. Click and drag over the top → Control, Shift → and then take a quick listen to what you have so far.
Occasionally in the background, you’ll hear the bleed from the microphones and the click sound of the metronome. Very important that we get rid of that, of course. Repeat your steps for the whole vocal. You can do it phrase-to-phrase too. You don’t necessarily have to cut everything out in between the words unless, of course, you’re hearing things that you want removed.
Processing-wise, we’ll start with the center lead vocal, copy and paste that onto the background vocals, and then we’ll do some light group processing.
First up, we have some light autotune. The one we’re using here is the Slate Metatune, but you can use any plugin you like. We wanted to keep the sound as natural as possible, so we’re keeping the speed quite slow and reducing the amount of pitch correction.
Use some EQ with a low shelf to take out some of the lows, and then a high shelf to add some air, but there’s a resonance there at 260, which sounds a bit overpowering. Then we’re using some compression to smooth out the dynamics.
The first half of this particular phrase is quite loud, and then the end is much quieter. This occurrence is quite normal because vocalists tend to start off more powerful and gradually lose a little energy as they reduce their breath or become more intimate with their tone. They’ll lose a bit of that volume.
Compressors allow us to control the louder parts of that volume. Then we can increase the overall volume and those quieter parts will become lifted.
Now, your attack and release times will greatly depend on the kind of vocals that you’re working with, and don’t forget that you have full access to this project when you want to start playing around with it yourself. (Link is available in the video description).
Your compressor settings will be very vocal-dependent. We like to go for a fast attack, medium release, medium ratio of 4.1 to 1, and then dial in your threshold until it feels just about right.
As you can see, we’ve copied and pasted those settings to both the left and right channels, and then take a listen to them altogether. You’ll group all your vocals together so you can process them all at the same time and add in a few effects.
Note: When you’re bringing a bunch of vocals together, sometimes it creates problems. Sometimes more frequencies double up on each other, and you need to find a way to control them.
So we’ve added some EQ with a little dip at 300 and another little dip at 4,000, just to control those resonances that can occasionally build up.
We also noticed some build-up of sibilance. This is where the “Ss” come through too much in the vocal, so here we’ve added a DeEsser. We’re just using the stock DeEsser from Logic to compress and reduce the volume of those errant “Ss.” Controlling these “Ss” is quite important because it means that later on, we can boost the high frequencies and add a little bit of air without the “Ss” becoming too harsh.
We’re using a great, free analog emulation plugin from Analog Obsessions called BritChannel, and here we’re boosting the high frequencies, which is a boost from about 10 to 12,000. It’s a shelf. We’re basically just using this analog emulation to give the signal a little more color.
We’re also doing a shelf cut at 220 Hz and a low cut at 160 Hz. The effect is fairly subtle, but it’s taking out the lows and adding in the highs in a way that makes it feel very musical.
Finally, we’re adding in some group compression with similar settings to what we had before on the individual channels. Except for this time, we’re using the Vintage Opto circuit which is a little smoother, more transparent, and natural-sounding when you compress the vocals as a group. It also adds a nice little bit of analog flavor to the mix.
Now we’ll send a copy of the group to a separate channel and parallel process it with some reverb. As you can see, the reverb is at 100% wet, but it’s also on its own channel. When you’re sending this, you won’t compromise the dry signal of the original vocal tracks. This way, you can have the best of both worlds: you have the dry vocal, and you have the reverb’d second version.
We’re also using this Vocal Hall preset. It’s got a really long tail to it, and it transforms your sound into something very epic and atmospheric.
We’ve now finished off the vocal by automating a delay, and these are called “delay throws.” Essentially it’s when you automate the delay to be triggered by only certain parts of the signal. As you can see, it’s been automated to be triggered only by the end of the vocal phrases. Also note that the delay has some reverb on it as well, which helps to smooth it out and prevent it from coming off too robotic.
In between the main chorus phrases, we recorded a few adlibs. These were recorded with the idea in mind to add a few effects.
It’s the same process as before, except that we’ve added reverb directly on the channel. We have a long decay, and dry/wet at about 50/50. And then we also have Valhalla Supermassive, which is a free delay and reverb plugin. OTT, a great upward compressor, essentially extends the tail of the reverb.
Now we add a little EQ for correction, a low cut, a high cut, and then there’s frequency around 1K, which was poking through a little. And finally, a little tremolo to take it slightly from left to right and out of the direct center of the mix.