Vocals are the most important thing to get right in a track. You’ll no doubt have seen pop videos where the artist is in a plush, isolated vocal booth designed for the task of getting a clean recording. Keeping background noise down and creating a ‘dead’ room acoustically is the whole point of the vocal booth. It is essential to keep the level of ambience reverb to a minimum when recording vocal. In a larger ‘live room’ it is common practice to use at least 2 partition shields angled behind the singer to minimise reflections.
If the producer wants to add the effect of audio space they can do so with Reverb, delays and other effects after the recording has been completed. However, don’t go thinking that you need to have an expensive setup like this to get a decent recording; it isn’t always necessary. Sure the environment where you record is going to affect the recording itself, but there are ways to improve the results you get without having to spend a fortune. The Street’s Mike Skinner famously wrapped himself in a duvet and stood in a wardrobe to record the vocals on his bedroom classic Original Pirate Material, and the White Stripe’s second studio album De Stijl was recorded in Jack White’s living room.
Rooms can be really noisy, all those reflective walls can contribute to a less than perfect sound. And what about outside noise? Roads, Planes? all things that can be a nuisance when trying to lay down that perfect vocal take. There are many acoustic products on the market to help minimise how much reflections from the room the mic will pick up. If you have your own dedicated recording studio, you could of course build your own sound proofed vocal booth, if you have the space and budget. However many starting producers tend to work from home with a laptop, so we will look at options for a mobile solution.
This system works great if the room you are recording your vocal in is not too ‘live’ to start with, but in a very ‘live’ room, I find that the reflection filter is sometimes not enough. the reason is that the mic will pick up (depending on its configuration) more sound from the front, thus picking up reverb from the room behind the singer. In this situation, nothing beats a good old Duvet for soaking up those reflections on the cheap!
Place one Duvet draped over the door and then the other on the wall or suspended via a broom handle if you have a nearby wardrobe or another door nearby. Use the Duct tape to secure the Duvets – otherwise you might end up with sonic carnage on your recording in the middle of the perfect performance!
The key is to avoid reflective materials around the mic and more importantly behind the vocalist. Also make sure that you mic is not too close to any walls. Another option is to hang the duvet behind the singer as described above, but instead of using this technique, you could use a couple of mic stands for example to support the duvets.
Some singers have a tendency to exaggerate certain words that begin with ‘P’ and ‘B’ and this causes a rush of air into the Microphone. The end result of this is usually a loud ‘thump’ that can make things difficult when it comes to Mixing the elements of the track together. A Pop Shield can be used to reduce this effect so it is recommended you attach one to the microphone stand and place it a couple of inches away from the microphone capsule. This problem is accentuated when using a condenser microphone, whereas many dynamic vocal mics are designed to be hand held and have a ‘kind’ of built in pop shield.P
Pop Shields are quite cheap but if you are strapped for cash why not raid your girlfriend/wife/mum’s (!) underwear draw for some tights and whilst you’re in their room grab an old wire coat hanger. If you’ve got away unscathed, bend that coat hanger into a similar shape as the Pop Shield above and then stretch the tights over the frame. It’s certainly not as elegant but it will do the job fine for sure!
Minimise the external noise. Sure, it might get hot, but closing all the windows and doors to the room you are recording in can help to minimise extra noise. Random incidents outside such as domestic disturbances, Police, Ambulance, Fire Engine sirens and barking dogs can turn up as unwanted guests on your recordings if you don’t protect yourself from them! Condenser microphones are more sensitive and will be probably pick up noise , even with windows closed, in fact the better the quality pf the mic you use, the more outside and undesirable noise it will pick up.
And don’t forget, you might be lucky and not even need to go to the trouble of building a vocal booth. If your room is carpeted, has heavy curtains and soft furnishings, then you might find that you’ll get a great vocal sound naturally.
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Editor’s Note: This is an old article and things have moved on considerably since the original publication date 🙂
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