Sunday, October 20, 2013

How To Record Vocal

How To Record Vocal

Hi! I'm tangkk from Guangzhou, China. This lesson is for week 1 of Introduction to Music Production. I'm going to talk about how to record vocal.

Check list:

To record vocal, you need to have several things at hand: a Microphone, an XLR cable, an audio interface, a headphone, and a computer with audio recording software such as Adobe Audition or Audacity, or DAW such as Garageband or Cubase.

1. Microphone
First step is to choose your mic. Depending on what type of vocal you want to record, you may choose either dynamic mic or condenser mic. Choose dynamic mic if you want to record something of hard style such as rock, something that do not require every fine detail of the singing to be captured. Choose condenser mic if you're targeting at soft style music such as blues, pop or jazz. You should add a mic cover or wind protected shield in front of the mic to protect it from unpleasant noise generated by the singer such as hiss.

2. Audio Interface

Next, check your audio interface. Since signal from microphone is far below line level, it's very sensitive to noise. Thus mic signal should always be transmitted via XLR cable, which is balance. Make sure your audio interface has a XLR input port with input gain knob. The output of your audio interface should be a USB cable connect to your computer.

3. Cable
The XLR cables are not all the same. There are different qualities. Try to buy one with high quality. Whenever you can use a short cable, don't use a long one. The USB cable is also important since low quality USB may damage data integrity which leads to unexpected result. The rule of thumb is to always use the one provided with the audio interface, if not, use expensive ones.

4. Computer
Make sure the audio interface drive is properly installed in your computer. If you have your backing music already as a wav or mp3 file, you can use software like Audacity or Audition to record your vocal. If you're working on an music project, you can directly record the vocal part within your favorite DAW such as Cubase, Pro Tools, Logic, Reaper, etc. I recommend you install the ASIOv2 as well, since it reduces the delay from the vocal source to the computer.

5. Headphone
You also need to have a headphone to let the singer listen to the music while recording.

Before recording:

There are a couple of things you need to do before actually record.

1. Make the singer feel comfortable. To achieve this, you need to use a mic stand to place the mic at a suitable height. Don't put on the headphone while not recording since this will make the singer uncomfortable. You may also need to let the singer drink some water beforehand to ease his/her throat as well as the vocal cord a little bit so as to prevent unpleasant sound when recording.

2. Connection. That is to setup your work space. To do so, you first zero the input gain of the mic port, turn off the +48 phantom power if necessary, then turn off the audio interface; then plug in the mic using the XLR, turn on the audio interface, turn on the phantom power if you're using condenser mic, then turn up the input gain knob. Ask the singer to sing the song he/she wants to record, especially the loudest part, meanwhile you monitor the input level, adjust the input gain so that the loudest part of the singing is about -1dB to -3dB. Connect the headphone to the audio interface and pass it to the singer. Adjust the volume of the headphone. Then you're all set.

While recording:

While recording, it's your job to monitor everything including input level, output level and the overall quality of the recording. If either level goes beyond 0dB, you should consider adjust the input gain again. If at some point you notice the singer produces some unexpected sound or unpleasant sound, you could stop him/her and make him/her do one take again. You know, with those powerful recording software, you don't have to do everything from the top, but you can if you want something real natural and complete.

After recording:

When you finished recording, you should first disconnect the headphone by zeroing the output gain knob and unplug the jack. Then disconnect the mic by zeroing the input gain knob, switch off the phantom power if necessary and then unplug the jack. Then you can safely remove the audio interface from the computer. After that you can do whatever audio editing you like, such as compression, reverbation, EQ, normalization etc., in the DAW or recording studio software, before you finally export the audio mixdown.

This is the end of the lesson. I can't say I'm very good at vocal recording, but I have recorded about 30 of my own works. Summing up those experience I had, I found vocal recording depends greatly on the recording environment, the state of the singer as well as whether the song fits the expression range and style of the singer or not. If all these are good, the recording will almost always be successful, and the post-editing will be easy. Otherwise, there must be a lot of work in the editing stage and it still turns out not good enough. Thanks for your attention! I hope you like my lesson. Any feedback are welcome.


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