How to Record Vocals
Use these strategies to get vocal recordings that sound pro.
A great lead vocal will make your recordings stand out on streaming platforms, radio, and social media. But it can be difficult to spotlight a poorly-recorded vocal in a crowded mix.
In this article, learn essential techniques for recording vocals and how to use UAD plug-ins for professional sound.
Prepare your Room to Record
Amazing recordings have been made in less-than-stellar spaces, so don’t let the technicalities of room acoustics and treatment get in the way of your creative process. However, before you set up to record vocals, do a quick check of your room.
Hardwood floors? Drywall? Windows? All of these surfaces cause reflections, which can muddy your recordings.
For an inexpensive fix, place area rugs and hang blankets over walls or windows to reduce room sounds while you record. This dampening will improve the clarity of your tracks and give you better results when applying plug‑ins.
Best Microphones for Recording Vocals
Large diaphragm condenser mics are more sensitive to the human voice than dynamic or ribbon mics. They are the preferred choice for recording vocals in an isolated environment.
There are great options at various price points. Choose the highest quality mic you can afford without breaking the bank, and consider mics with features like selectable polar patterns and pad switches for added versatility.
Watch: Recording Vocals with Auto‑Tune
Which Polar Pattern is Best for Vocals?
A microphone’s polar pattern represents how sensitive it is to sound at different angles.
For a single vocalist recording over a backing track through headphones, a cardioid pattern is best. This focuses the mic’s sensitivity to sound directly in front of it, and helps reduce unwanted noise behind and from the sides of the mic.
When recording a vocalist with a backing band or other live sound sources, consider a microphone with a hypercardioid polar pattern to further reduce background noise.
How to Record Vocals
For an inspiring vocal performance, comfort is key. Make sure your singer has everything they need to give a great performance, then position the face of the microphone between 4" to 8" from their mouth. If using a condenser mic, place a pop filter between the mic and the singer’s mouth to avoid plosives.
Next, connect your microphone to your audio interface with an XLR cable. If you are using a mic that requires phantom power, make sure it’s switched on. Now, it’s time to route your signal in your DAW, set your preamp gain, hit record, and make history.
Learn More: How to Record with Apollo Interfaces
What are Cue Mixes?
When tracking vocals over pre-recorded material, it’s important that the vocalist hears only the elements of the track that they need to give a great performance.
A cue mix or “monitor mix” is a dedicated audio feed used to deliver a unique mix of the song to the singer, sometimes via an auxiliary track within your DAW or as a dedicated cue mix routed to your audio interface’s headphone or line outputs.
How to Use Plug‑Ins on Vocals
If you own an Apollo audio interface, you already have an included plug‑in bundle stocked with emulations of classic mic preamps, compressors, reverbs, and more. These very plug-ins have been used to record and mix countless hit records and can instantly inject analog warmth and character into your tracks.
Let’s go deeper and learn how UAD plug-ins solve the common issues that arise when recording vocals.
Realtime UAD Plug-In Processing
In a modern recording setup, adding multiple plug-in effects like reverb, compression, or delay to your vocals while you record results in latency — the audible time delay between what you sing and what you hear through your monitors or headphones.
Audio latency is the bane of many a beginning engineer’s workflow as it makes singing awkward and unnatural.
Apollo interfaces feature built-in DSP, which offloads processing from your computer and effectively allows you to record through UAD plug-ins with near-zero latency. This Realtime UAD Processing will change the way you record and monitor vocals with plug‑ins.
What are Unison Plug‑Ins?
Certain UAD plug-ins use Apollo’s Unison™ technology, which allows them to sound and behave like the preamps on real analog hardware.
Using these UAD plug-ins while you record gives vocals the studio-quality tone and response of legendary mic preamps from Neve,® API,® SSL,® Manley,® and more.
To hear your vocals through Unison, simply place a Unison-enabled UAD plug‑in on the dedicated Unison insert slot in the Console app or LUNA.
Watch: Unison Plug-Ins vs. Vintage Analog Hardware
Final Tips for Recording Vocals
A lead vocal can make or break your song. But with preparation, proper microphone choice and technique, and understanding how to use plug‑ins, you can quickly achieve more professional sounding vocal recordings. Here are some key takeaways:
Remove room sounds. Cover hard surfaces with blankets and rugs to reduce unwanted reverb and room coloration from your recordings.
Get comfortable. Allow your talent the best shot at a great performance. Offer a warm beverage or bring the lighting in the room down for a moodier atmosphere.
Make headphone mixes inspiring. Add reverb, delay, or compression plug-ins to cue mixes to bolster a singer’s confidence while monitoring through headphones.
— McCoy Tyler
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