Techniques for recording vocals are as subjective and diverse as voices themselves. The number one rule in recording vocals is that there are no real rules. Use your ears; each microphone will have a different sound on a different person. However, here are a few tips to narrow down your search to get the sound you are looking for.
When recording vocals, it is of paramount importance to take a good look at the room’s acoustics. Any major reflective surfaces, such as a wall parallel to the vocalist, will cause a bouncing-back effect that will be picked up by your vocal microphone. If you are using a dynamic microphone, consider the proximity effect. The closer to the microphone the vocalist gets, the “boomier” the sound will be. Vocalists tend to shift while they sing, so make sure to have them sing a bit to get an accurate microphone position.
Typically, one uses what is called a “pop screen” on microphones when recording vocals. This eliminates the harsh “p,” “t,” and “d” sounds that are often boosted by many microphones. A pop screen should be positioned close to the microphone without actually touching it to ensure the best sound. Typically a cardioid polar pattern is used on solo vocals.
When selecting a microphone, it is important to consider the voice. The human voice ranges in frequency from 80 Hz-1100 Hz. Male voices have a lower frequency range than female voices; however range within gender can also vary greatly. Common microphones used for both male and female vocals include the SM7b and the Neumann U67.
No matter the quality of voice, do not forget to experiment with different types of condenser microphones. Different microphones will accentuate different aspects of voice; it’s really up to experimentation to find out which works best.
Setting levels for vocals can be a bit trickier than setting levels for instruments. Many vocalists have a broad dynamic range and tend to sing louder when recording. While setting levels for a singer, have them sing through a portion of their song. Always leave a little extra headroom to avoid clipping during recording. Compression can be placed on vocals to control the dynamic range by running your vocals through a compressor. Often times when compressing vocals, the “s” sound will really stand out. In this case a “de-esser” can be used to dampen the sound of the “s.”
Recording vocals can be intimidating for the vocalist, and it is important to keep them comfortable. Figure out their workflow; do they like to sing their song all the way through? Do they sing each verse separately? Will you be duplicating the chorus? Using playlists in your recording software is often a good route to take, as this will allow you to select portions of the audio from different takes. Putting reverb on the headphone mix can also make the singer more comfortable with hearing their own voice.
Don’t be afraid to take chances! Different voices interact differently with all types of microphones, and because the human voice doesn’t have an extremely high SPL, you don’t have to worry about damaging your microphone!