In The Studio Vocals That Don't Suck Pt 2

Published on October 10th, 2012 | by Chris Lyon


Recording vocal tracks that don’t suck – Part 2

This week we are going to pickup where we left off last week: making final preparations to begin tracking a killer vocal to go with those banging tracks.

So, where were we?

The DAW you have chosen is up and running, the tracks are loaded and the closet is open and arranged to perfection (you did clean it out, right?). Your preferred mic is on a stand with our panty pop (patent pending!), positioned in front of it, 4-6 inches away and plugged into the preamp (perhaps a Presonus TubePre v2?), which is sending signal to the DAW.

All set. Now what?

We need to setup some headphones (how about Sennheiser HMD280 Pro?) and a mix of the music that the singer can sing along to. In most cases, the singer wants to hear their voice in the forefront of the mix with LOTS of reverb! Why? That is a good question. It mostly stems from the fact that swimming along in a massive sea of reverb just sounds better to most folks when they are singing.

Keep in mind that what the singer hears through the headphones and what actually gets recorded will not be the same thing. This is important! Later, we will apply real world (read less) amounts of reverb and/or delay as well as other wondrous offerings of effects to mix down our masterpiece.

To maintain functionality, you should only be recording the mic/preamp chain to the vocal track in the DAW. NOTHING ELSE! Depending on the mixer, effects and DAW combination you are using, this needs to be worked out before you proceed further, to ensure there are separate signals.

Now that you have established what the singer is going to hear and you have set some preliminary levels in your DAW that DO NOT redline, there are a few things left to do.

1. Organize lyric sheet

This is one of those things that is highly important and can save loads of time, but is often overlooked. Those lyrics that have been written down, worked into form, reworked into better form, have strikeouts and add-ins from being positioned just so, need to be TYPED in large print font and printed out! I have been in so many sessions where the ol’ notebook is the reference and by take 3, no one knows where the next line is.

Make sure the clean, typed copy is the final version to record and that everything is spaced double or triple to allow for notes and/or changes during the session. Also, leave a wide margin on one side of the page to note minor changes that may come about during the session to integrate into a new typed copy, if the vocal session turns into 3 or 4 sessions. You will appreciate this level of organization, trust me.

2. Limit participants

Make sure to limit the session to the singer, engineer and the producer, if you have one. There is nothing more distracting than 4 band members, 3 girlfriends and 6 friends all sitting around cracking jokes, drinking adult beverages and asking questions. Let’s not even go into the amount of noise that this is going to carry over to the vocal booth/microphone and of course, the level of distraction for the vocalist.

3. Turn off the fan

What’s the humming sound in your playback you say? Look up! Is that ceiling fan running? TURN IT OFF! Many forget that the microphone plays no favorites when it comes to recording. Look around the walls and baseboards. Take note of any AC/heating ducts or AC window units. That will often be the culprit to low end rumble. Before starting the recording session, don’t forget to adjust the thermostat so it’s not running.

That’s it for this week. Work on getting your headphone monitoring ready with the reverb patched only to the monitoring side. Also, if you have any relevant questions concerning the column, leave them in the comment section and who knows? They may just show up in the next column as helpful pointers!

Keep grinding my ninjas!

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About the Author

is a graduate of the School of Audio Engineering (SAE) in Atlanta, Georgia and has been doing live sound engineering over 30 years. Chris works as a Staff Engineer at Edgewater Records / Atlanta Recording since 2009, has been FOH Engineer for Mainstage 2 at AthFest in Athens, Georgia for the last 4 years and is a Technical Advisor for the Georgia Music Industry Association for Live sound and Recording. He absolutely loves jumping on a console every chance he gets - live or studio, digital or analog.

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