Miking and Recording Vocals

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Recording vocal is a fine art that can challenge even an experienced engineer. Learn some techniques to get a better vocal recording.

When recording vocals, one of the most important things you can do is compress the track. Compression is a must on vocals. The human voice is so dynamic that it cannot be controlled in the limited dynamic range that a tape is capable of handling.

Keep the microphone a few inches away from the singers mouth, and, if possible, put a "pop-less" screen between the mouth and mic. A pop-less is a piece of nylon stretched across a needle-point ring, they cost 20 or 30 bucks in a music store, but, you can buy the parts at any craft store for about 2 dollars and make your own, if, however, you wish to buy a professionally built pop screen, you can get one from Raxxess This "pop-less" will decrease the "pop" you hear when singing "p's" and "t's" and such sounds.

When I record vocals, if it is a singer with a strong voice, I crank the compression to about 8-1 or 10-1 ratio to really clamp down on the volume, a lighter singer maybe 4-1 or 6-1. You really just have to try it and see how it sounds and try it again. And something to remember is that you can always compress the vocals more in the mixdown process, so don't get paranoid in the initial recording and end up compressing to much. Compression can be added, but over-compression cannot be removed...

Many compressors also come with a "gate", this gate, when properly set, will "close the gate" to the mic when very soft sound is heard, and "open the gate" when sound of the set level is heard by the gate. This will eliminate the breath sounds of the singer between lines and various other background annoyances. A gate is very handy in the when recording the whole song live, but, just remember that once the gate is open, all sound goes thru it, so some isolation would still be needed for the vocalist in that situation.

Compressor/gates that I have used and really think are great products are from Alesis, their 3630 is a good unit for a great price and has a limiter too, and dbx's 266XL compressor/gate is quite good for a decent price, and finally, Behringer makes agreat unit for a decnt price as well, the MDX4400 is awesome.

Another tip that I received via email from web site visitor Michael Sciuto is that he used a de-esser after all else failed to give him what he wanted, and liked the way it helped the vocals "Lay more naturally in the mix", I have used a de-esser from time to time and agree 100%.

Some other popular effects to use of vocals are reverb and delay. Reverb can be really cool in moderation, even over-doing reverb can be cool. If you remember the Jimmy Page/Paul Rogers band "The Firm" and their song "Radioactive" (one of my personal favorites) the chorus so over used reverb, but it sounded cool, and really made it stand out in the song. Delay can be used the same way, but not constantly, just as a cool spontaneous effect. Experiment with it, it's fun...

Recording vocals is an art, I have personally found it to be the single most challenging instrument to recordn you have to work at it to get the hang of it, but, once you do, your over-all recording sounds will improve dramatically.

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User-submitted comments

Feb 18, 2004 01:09 am
What could be typical treshold level, attack and release times for compressing vocals when recording?

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