It can be a really difficult task to record vocals. In this article I wanted to talk to those on the other side of the glass about some of the points of interest … the singers. If you have a coveted U47, it’s not going to matter if you can’t get a vocalist into the correct headspace.
- Mic Placement
When it comes to placing a microphone in front of the vocalist there is the position of mission that most people know. It is pretty much the position that each microphone places in a movie or TV show. On film it may look good but it’s boring and it doesn’t necessarily sound the best.
In fact, I seldom can a mic straight in front of a singer. To my taste it is too sibilante.
You also get a lot of effect on proximity unless you are in pattern Omni.
I prefer having the microphone about two-three feet back and above pointing down at an angle of 45 degrees. It’s a much sweeter tone, in the right room.
Mostly these are technical decisions about which they are spoken on very often.
But on the performance side, just sticking a mic right in front of a singer is very restrictive. We just can’t move. The vocalist is locked into position quite a lot. This is a real drag when you try to get an artist to do an emotional performance.
If you’ve ever been with a really talented singer in a live venue, you can find a great performance has some physicality to it.
I was recently in a live room with Abby Ahmad as she was putting out a vocal for a very personal album. Singers don’t want you to look at them, most of the time. In this case, I had luck.
Make sure your playback sound is the same volume as the recording volume. If all of a sudden the vocal is a lot louder in playback, the vocalist is likely to feel more exposed and point out little blemishes that normally would not bother them.
It means that if you use an individual combination of headphones, test to hear what the vocalist is listening to. For all my display mixes I use Universal Audio’s Console software. This helps me to very easily switch the blends. I can check the headphone mix of the vocalist with one button, and match playback.
Note, mostly psychology is to document great performances. Make sure you have a similar mix of reverb, too. Don’t play back a dry sound if they aren’t into a dry sound.
3. Mic Position
I mean mic position when placing the microphone back into my favorite reverse cowgirl… I always mark the spot on the floor for the vocalist to stand. They never will remember. If you don’t mark a spot, there’s a different tone to each take.
I still make a friendly announcement about placement, “this is your flight attendant,” before each take until they know it like the rule.
4. Take Breaks
Getting the vocalist into the control room every few takes is always a good idea. Don’t let them race 30 with no prospects. They’re going to deal with self-destruction.
They often have a distorted perspective of their performance when the vocalists have headphones on.
I’ll let four take rolls in general before I ask them in. Often, we find we have most of a take with a great vocalist. If they don’t, they can take note of what they want to change.
The break also allows them to clear their heads or ponder what their headphone mix or performance is, or is not working with.
Many songs get a harder birth than others. Occasionally, you’re going to work on a vocal track with a section that just doesn’t click.
The that the challenge, the more often it takes a break. It keeps morale high and puts too much pressure on a vocalist. They may be fighting you on this but they’re wise and sticking to your guns. It’s for its own good.
5. Set the Mood
When recording vocalist, plan to invite a date over to your place. You don’t really want the bright lights to bring your groove on, do you?
Be a smooth maintainer. Make vibey lighting. No matter what it takes. Candles, lights of colour, lava lamps etc. Have choices. Create a sense of humour.
Pretend that this is the hottest date you ever had. We talk your way out of the game. You just have to be inspired. Do your best Phelps, Leon.
Follow those tips and report back on your next recording session. I’m sure you are going to hear better results.