Attempting to record professional vocals at home can be challenging. There are many technical components required to get a good sound. If you can’t get to a professional studio, recording at home can still get the job done if you’re careful about the process.
Here are 5 steps to guide you on your path to recording at home. Note that there will be some investment required to purchase the necessary equipment, but don’t let that deter you from your goal of recording. You can typically get all that you need for $1k or less if you’re on a budget.
Step 1: Get Your Equipment ⚙️
The first thing you will need is a microphone. You’ve probably heard the term before, but all a microphone does is change sound waves into electrical signal. That signal is what we hear as a voice or instrument sound.
There are 3 main types of microphones – dynamic, condenser, and ribbon. What mic you choose depends on a few factors. We won’t dive into the technical differences of each mic type, but here are a few things to know:
- Dynamic mics are typically more aggressive and warm sounding. This is why they are commonly used for live performances.
- Condenser mics have a clean, balanced sound and typically the mic of choice in studios.
- Ribbon mics are less common these days, but still get used on instruments like strings, electric guitars, and sometimes drums because of their natural and accurate sound.
As far as specific mic types, I love my Audio Technica 4033 mic and the 4050 is great as well. It’s an overall good mic for most voices and you can record things like guitar and percussion too.
If you can afford it, U67, U87, and SonyC800G mics are industry standard for an all around great sound.
Audio Interface / Pre-amp
The level coming out of a microphone is too low to use in modern recording. It’s the job of a pre-amp to boost the signal to acceptable levels that we’re used to hearing in music.
A pre-amp is made up of various components that introduce sonic qualities to the signal. This can color the sound in a positive or negative way depending on the pre-amp which is why many engineers say the pre-amp is more important than the microphone.
Think of a pre-amp as the device that gets the most out of your mic. By taking the mic level signal and boosting it to line level (louder) if the pre-amp isn’t high quality, all the distortion and noise introduced will harm the final signal.
An interface is the device that takes the analog signal from the pre-amp and converts it to digital so it can be manipulated inside computer software. Many devices are all in one with both the pre-amp and interface in the same physical piece of hardware.
Digital Audio Workstation (Computer Software)
The audio signal that gets processed by your hardware has to end up somewhere. That destination is your computer and the program you’re using to manipulate the final sound.
Commonly referred to as a DAW, this program is where you add additional elements to your song, mix existing tracks, and put all the pieces together for a final product.
The most popular professional DAW is Pro Tools which is what I use in my studio. Other options are Logic Pro, Ableton, Fruity Loops, Garageband (free with Mac computers), and Cubase.
It’s really not that important which DAW you choose, it’s more about knowing what you’re doing once you’re working on a project. All DAWs generally do the same things, so don’t worry about missing out on anything or having bad sound quality if you don’t choose one or the other.
Some more advanced features like automation, mixing, and MIDI manipulation are easier in a DAW like Pro Tools compared to something basic like Garageband, but you can still record your vocals in Garageband just fine.
Other Recording Equipment
- You will need a mic stand and mic cables to connect the mic to the pre-amp or interface.
- You will need a pop filter to cut out harsh “B’s” and “P’s” in the vocal recording.
- You will need headphones to hear the backing track while you record (because obviously if you record from speakers the sound would bleed into the microphone).
Step 2: Test Your Input ⚡
Simply having the equipment won’t get it done. Connecting it properly and making sure you have signal coming to your computer is half the battle. Once you get signal into your DAW from the mic, test your levels to make sure you aren’t peaking. If your pre-amp or audio interface is showing red (or even high orange/yellow) your level is too hot.
Make sure to audition the vocal tests at the same volume you would be during the actual recording. Do the loudest parts of the song as a test to make sure you don’t sound distorted or clip.
You can always make the signal louder after it’s recorded, but you can’t take away an overloaded signal that’s distorting.
Step 3: Pick Your Room 🎤
Typically you want a “dead” room with little to no reverb (space that makes it sound echoey). There are many theories on the best way to record vocals and what room to record them in. Our recommendation is to use a sectioned off part of a room (using furniture or other “shielding”) to create a small, tight space. The more furniture and absorption in the room, the better.
Despite popular belief, a bathroom or small closet isn’t usually a good room choice unless it’s treated with sound proofing. These rooms end up sounding boxy and the quick reverb reflections blend with the original sound in a way that doesn’t sound great.
You can get sound proofing that attaches to your mic stand and acoustic treatment in general always helps. This is foam or wood material that soaks up or diffuses sound waves so you don’t get added harmonics and extra frequencies in your recording. When picking a room to record vocals, you want the sound to be as natural as possible. When picking a room to record vocals, you want the sound to be as natural as possible. Click To Tweet
Tom over at currentsound created a fantastic guide on building out a home studio that covers everything you could ever want to know about treating a room to record in.
Step 4: Perfect Your Takes 🎬
Once you’re all set up and ready to rock, don’t walk up to your mic and do the song 1 time. Or even 2-3 times. At that point you probably aren’t even warmed up.
When I’m recording artists I typically have them do each section at least 5x to make sure we capture the best possible performance. For choruses where you might end up using many takes together, you want to do 2x as many takes as other parts.
Always playlist your recordings – that is, record every take and save it. Don’t record over an old take just because you think you won’t use it. With digital audio there’s no limit to how much you can save “on tape” so you might as well keep everything to go through later.
You might end up finding 1 word on a throw-away take that you think sounds good to use as an ad-lib. So there’s no harm in keeping every take you record.
Bottom line – don’t record 1 take of the song and think you’re done. When you come back to it later you might not like it as much and if you didn’t record more takes, you won’t have any other options.
Step 5: Do Justice To Your Song 🎵
I can’t stress this last point enough – get a good mix for your vocals and your song. What you record at home doesn’t matter at all if it doesn’t sound good and can compete with industry standard mixes.
If you’re serious about your music you HAVE to have a good mix and master. The only way to compete these days is with top quality professional mixes. So don’t hamstring yourself by not mixing what you worked so hard to record! That’s like trying to play basketball with 1 shoe 😀
Recording at home makes a lot of sense especially now. If you follow these 5 steps and go slowly, you’ll be just fine when it comes to recording your own vocals.
Are you thinking about recording at home? Did we miss an important step in the process? Hit us back with any questions and we’ll do our best to help.