How to Set Up and Record Vocals

I am writing this article because in my past research almost all websites tell you that you need this fancy equipment to record vocals, just so they can trick you into buying a bunch of expensive stuff from them.

Below is the most simple, and cheap way to set up and record vocals. Obviously you can spend enormous amounts of cash on top end compressors, microphones, DAT recorders and sound cards to achieve professional sound quality, but this doesn't mean you can't get a decent vocal or instrument recording with cheaper equipment. I will tell you the basics of what you need for vocal recording and what problems you may encounter.

Audio Equipment Required:

  • Microphone (condenser or dynamic) not a computer microphone.
  • Microphone pre-amp (do not use your dj mixer microphone pre-amp these usually give bad results)
    patch cables.
  • Computer with a sound card (one that isn't from the dinosaur age).
  • Sound card for your PC (some of the high end sound cards have a microphone pre amp built into the sound card.

Now for Hooking it up...

A microphone signal output is too low to plug right into your computer. This is where a microphone pre amp comes in, it boosts the gain of the signal to a high enough level to record with your PC. Microphone pre amps are usually pretty easy to figure out, they have an input, an output and a gain control (volume knob). So the chain of equipment goes mic-preamp-soundcard.

Now lets talk about the sound card, sound cards usually have a mic input, a line input, and a speaker or line output. The mic input is NOT actually meant for audio microphones it is configured to work with your computer mic and its useless for any musical recording (they are simply meant to capture telephone type quality for Internet chat). the line input is where your computer has to record from so attach the output of the mic pre amp into the line input on your sound card.

Now with the aid of some recording software for your PC you can record you own demo. There is a really nice piece of freeware called audiocity that is great for one track or multi-track recording (just do a google search to find it).

Optimizing the Quality of your Vocal Recordings

The most important factor that plays into the result of the quality of your vocal recording is the vocalist. You have probably heard the saying "good mic technique" this refers to the singers ability to adjust the distance from them to the mic to compensate for loud and quite parts of the song. There are also other factors that come into play like the problem of words in a song ending or starting with "s" there is a sharp unwanted hiss on the "s". this can be fixed in a number of different ways. One way is to get the singer to tilt there head slightly off axis from the microphone for a split second during the pronunciation of these sounds. You may run into this problem with the letter "t" as well.

Another method is to buy a click eliminator this is a round screen that goes between the singer and the microphone to filter these unwanted elements, none the less they cost money so if your on a budget I've heard stretching pantyhose over a coat hanger will help filter to a similar effect.

How to Maximize your Recorded Vocals

A studio can work magic on a poorly recorded vocal track, let me begin with some methods of fixing any variance in the pitch. As to everything there is more than one way to do this. You can take the left channel and shift the pitch of the vocals up a few cents and take the right channel and shift the pitch down a few cents. This will cause a blend in the vocals, unnoticeable to the human ear, but it will fix the pitch shift in the singers voice.

Another way is to comp the vocals this is a method used by almost all recording studios and engineers. This is done by recording 3-5 vocal takes then cutting and pasting the best of the 3-5 takes, in turn compiling a flawless vocal track to mix in the song.

Now that you know the basics of what equipment you need to record vocals, and the methods used to record, get out there and build yourself a project studio, write some songs, and go record your own demo.