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Learn to Record Vocals with Plug-Ins

Essential Techniques to Record Better Vocals

Harness step-by-step strategies to capture the perfect vocal, every time.

A great lead vocal will make your track soar. But with the multitude of instruments and layers in modern music production, a poorly-recorded vocal can be difficult to spotlight in your mix.

In this article, learn essential techniques for recording professional-sounding vocals and how to use plug-ins for more polished results.

Room Acoustics & Treatment

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, do a quick check of your room. Hardwood floors? Drywall? Windows? All of these surfaces cause reflections, adding unwanted ambience and frequency build-ups that can muddy your recordings.

For an inexpensive fix, place area rugs and hang blankets over walls or windows to help reduce room sounds during tracking. This dampening can greatly improve the clarity of your recordings and help tame those nasty high frequencies and unwieldy room sounds.

Choosing a Microphone

Large diaphragm condenser mics provide a wider frequency response than dynamic or ribbon mics, and are more sensitive to the nuances of the human voice. They are the preferred choice for recording vocals in an isolated environment.

Where your budget is concerned, there are an abundance of great options at all price points. As a rule of thumb, choose the best mic you can afford without breaking the bank, and consider a mic with added features like selectable polar patterns and -dB pad switches for added versatility.

Watch: Recording Vocals with UAD Plug-Ins & Auto-Tune

A microphone’s polar pattern denotes its sensitivity to sound at different angles. For a single vocalist recording in an isolated environment — i.e. with a backing track through headphones and no other live sound sources — a cardioid pattern is preferred. This focuses the mic’s sensitivity to sound directly in front of it, and helps reduce extraneous room noise.

Tip: When recording a vocalist live with a backing band, consider a microphone with a hypercardioid polar pattern to further reduce excess bleed from other instruments and sound sources behind and to the sides of the‑mic.

Setting up your Mic to Record

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 equidistant between the mic and the singer’s voice to avoid plosives.

Next, connect your microphone to your audio interface with an XLR cable. If you are using a large-diaphragm condenser that requires phantom power, make sure it’s switched on. Now, it’s time to route your signal, set your preamp gain, hit record, and make history.

Learn More: How to Set Up & Record with Apollo Interfaces

Don’t let technical difficulties disrupt a good take. Before you record, make sure all your routing, plug-in chains, and monitor mixes are dialed in.

Cue Mixes & Why They Matter

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 interface’s headphone or line outputs.

Learn More: Setting Up Cue Mixes in LUNA & The Console App

Using Plug-Ins for Professional Results

If you own an Apollo 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 more practical issues that arise when recording live vocals.

Realtime UAD Plug-In Processing

In a typical digital recording workflow, adding plug-in effects like reverb, compression, or delay to your vocals during live tracking results in audio latency — the audible time delay between what you sing and what you hear through your monitors or headphones. This phenomena is the bane of many a beginning engineer’s workflow as it makes singing awkward and uncomfortable while recording.

Apollo interfaces feature built-in DSP, which offloads the burden of data 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.

Apollo’s Unison technology lets you track through emulations of classic mic preamps from Neve,® API,® Manley,® SSL,® and more.

Unison Technology & How to Use It

Unison™ Technology allows Apollo’s mic preamps to sound and behave like analog hardware. Using Unison-enabled UAD plug-ins while tracking gives your vocals the studio-quality tone, clarity, and response of legendary mic preamps from Neve,® API,® SSL,® Manley,® and more.

In Apollo's Console app or LUNA, simply place a Unison-enabled UAD preamp plug-in on the dedicated Unison insert slot, and it physically reconfigures your preamp impedance. This exclusive feature is found only on Apollo interfaces, and allows you to quickly audition multiple preamps to find the perfect tone and character to match your microphone, song, and vocal style.

Learn More: How to Set up Unison Technology with Apollo

Final Thoughts on Recording Vocals with Plug-Ins

A lead vocal recording can make or break your song. But with preparation, proper microphone choice/technique, and an understanding of the benefits of using plug-ins while tracking, 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  ecordings.
  • 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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