E11 - Recording Vocals
When it came to recording the vocals for Graffiti, I didn’t think my home setup was adequate. Not because of mics, or pre’s or anything like that, but due to the lack of treatment and isolation from outside noise. I live in a street that seems to have perpetual home improvements going on, and I didn’t want to compromise on the audio quality. So I went to the studio that I work at in West London. This meant I had to prepare the smallest session possible to save on any time wasted in file transfer, and latency from multiple tracks.
Essentially this meant doing a bounce of the whole song up until this point to track along with, and having all of the vocal tracks in place to drop the final takes on top of. This was then saved as a new session, greatly reducing the size of the media I would have to lug around. To be fair though, a stem bounce would probably be the best bet here to allow you adjust levels inside of the session.
When it comes to vocal recording, to me its a fairly straightforward process. Get the singer in front of the mic. Get around 8cm between the capsule and the pop shield, and 8cm between the pop shield and singer. If you have a spare stand, attach the pop shield to it. This means the singer can bump or move the pop shield without transferring noise to the mic. Next up, try and find a mic that compliments the vocalist’s sound. If they have a particularly dull voice, try and find a mic that can hype them up a touch. If they have a sibilant voice, try and find a mic that wont over emphasise this.
When it comes to gain settings, like most things avoiding clipping is key. Once the singer is warmed up, have them sing the loudest phrase of the song a couple of times and shoot for peaks of around -14db as they are more than likely to get louder through the recording process and this gives you some headroom. Keep a close eye on this as you go though, as every singer is different. I once had a session where the vocalist was leaning into the pop shield, and was gradually getting closer to the capsule. This type of stuff is common!
When recording harmonies and backing vocals, I like the vocal to support the lead melody without getting in the way. So the take needs to be tight, in tune, in time and consistent. I’m not really looking for that ‘magic’ element as that may distract from the lead vocal. As a result, I tend to avoid comping on harmonies, I prefer instead to get a solid take, replace the rough take, and then move on.
If I’m recording the lead vocals I like to use playlists to manage the takes. This gives me the cleanest way to ensure that I have sufficient vocals to comp from. I’m not the best singer in the world, so I was doing around 10 takes per part to achieve the final result. Unfortunately I had a cold when I recorded graffiti so a lot of what I recorded wasn’t great, but this simply emphasised the importance of good session handling and playlist management as my longevity was reduced, along with my consistency.
A final point on vocal recording is I like to use separate tracks depending on what I’m recording. So each lead vocal part will be recorded on a track named “lead vocal tracking” for example. Harmonies will be on “harmony tracking” and backing parts like choir will be recorded on “backing tracking”. The reason I do this is to have a more clear indication when looking at the clip as to what the audio will be. If you have all your tracks recorded on VOX 1, and then placed all over the session, finding suitable alternate takes may become very difficult.
Arguably though, if you weren’t super pressed for time, you would record each part onto the channel where it will eventually reside, but in this session we recorded into single channels with a drag and drop approach to try and save time. This approach would slow the process slightly, but may save time after the session.