Hey, this is Jason from Behind The Speakers. And before we dive in, make sure you also grab my free vocal mixing cheatsheet, which will help you mix your vocals like a pro after you record them. Click the link above or in the description below to download this free cheatsheet right now.
So the first step to better vocal recordings is to find the right spot in the room for your microphone. So if you just grab your mic and kind of throw wherever the stand lands and record your vocals there, you’re missing a massive opportunity to improve the sound of your vocal recordings. This is one of the easiest things you can do. It’s not going to cost you a penny, and it will significantly improve the sound of your vocals.
So a couple of rules of thumb typically you want to follow. The first is you want to avoid putting the microphone in corners of the room, and also up against the wall, or any wall regardless of what that wall is. The thing about corners is that bass builds up in corners. So if your microphone is up against the corner of a room, you’re going to get this boomy, muddy vocal recording. It’s not what you want.
The other thing is if your mic is up against a wall, oftentimes the voice will actually reflect off the wall and get recorded back into the microphone, which can create what’s called comb filtering. You don’t have to worry about what that is, but it doesn’t sound good, so you want to avoid that.
The other thing is you can actually use the mic’s pickup pattern as a tool to help you get rid of noise that you don’t want in your recording. So if you’re using a cardioid microphone, which is a type of microphone that most vocal mics are. So you’re probably using a cardioid microphone. You can actually aim the back of the microphone towards whatever you don’t want to be in the recording. So if you have a laptop, and the laptop fan is really loud, and you don’t want all that noise in your recording, just aim the back of the mic towards the laptop. And that way it will actually cancel out a lot of that noise. So you can use the placement of the microphone as a tool to reject some of the noise in your room that you don’t actually want in a recording.
So the key here is there’s no exact formula when it comes to finding the right spot in your room for the mic, but you want to try a couple different positions. So move the mic around the room and just record maybe a line or two in each spot, and compare them in your DAW, and you’ll hear that there are significant differences between different spots on your room. And just choose the one you think sounds the best. And I promise you if you can do this, if you spend five minutes to do this, it will make a dramatic difference in the sound of your vocal recordings.
The second step to better vocal recordings is to set up your pop filter correctly. This is one of the biggest mistakes that I see when people record their vocals is maybe they have a pop filter, which I definitely recommend that you have. If you don’t know what a pop filter is, it’s that little mesh screen that you put between your mouth and the mic, and it basically absorbs or breaks up the sound of the plosives, those p’s and b’s and those blasts of air that come out of your mouth. And so it breaks that air up so the microphone diaphragm doesn’t overload when it hears those sounds. So pop filters – absolutely essential. You absolutely need it for your vocal recordings.
But here’s the thing. In order for a pop filter to work, it actually has to be set up correctly. And what a lot of people will do is they’ll buy a pop filter and then they’ll set it up, so let’s say the mic is right here, and the pop filter is right on top of the microphone, so there’s no distance between the pop filter and the microphone. And then when they’re recording, they’re right on top of the pop filter, right? So there’s no air between the mouth and the pop filter, and the pop filter and the mic.
Now in order for the pop filter to work effectively, there has to be space between the microphone diaphragm and the pop filter, and the pop filter and your voice. So if everything’s all up on top of each other, the pop filter doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, and you get all those blasts of air in the recording, and it just sounds really amateur.
So what you want to do is you want to set up the pop filter so there’s space between the microphone and the pop filter, a couple of inches is good. Same thing from the pop filter to the actual your mouth, right? So you want to make sure that there’s a bit of space – maybe three inches – on both ends. And if you do that, the pop filter’s going to do what it’s supposed to do. And I promise you, your vocals, the recordings are going to sound a whole lot better.
The third step to better vocal recordings is to dampen the reflections. Now it’s important to realize that when you’re recording vocals, the mic is not just picking up the sound that’s coming out of your mouth. It’s also picking up the sound that’s bouncing off the different walls in your room. And the sound that’s bouncing off the walls, what we call reflected sounds, often doesn’t sound very good. It sounds edgy, bright, harsh, boomy, muddy – all the stuff that tends to make our vocal recordings sound amateur and unprofessional.
So when we’re working in a home studio, typically what we want to do is to try to dampen or minimize those reflections as much as possible. And if we can do that, we’re going to get rid of that edgy, muddy, boomy, not-so-good sound, and our vocal recordings are going to sound a lot better as a result.
So there are a couple different ways you can do this. One of the easiest things you can do is just move the mic a little bit closer to you. So if you’re recording far away from the mic, the mic’s going to pick up a lot more of the room sound in comparison to your direct sound coming out of your mouth. So by moving the mic a bit closer, you can get more of the direct sound coming out of your mouth versus the sound that’s bouncing off the walls in your room. That can help.
You want to be careful of not coming too close to the mic, because then you get issues like with the pop filter that we talked about earlier. So you still want to leave I would say at least five-six inches is a good rule of thumb. But if you’re a foot, foot-and-a-half out, you can bring things in a bit closer, and often that will improve the sound of the recording if you’re working in a home studio or something like that.
Another thing you can do is build like a makeshift vocal booth using mattress pads or thick insulation, or anything that’s kind of thick and dense. And those mattress pads or thick insulation will actually absorb the sound as it bounces off the walls in your room. So by using those mattress pads or whatever to build a vocal booth around the actual mic itself and recording in that DIY vocal booth, you can get a little bit of a drier, cleaner sound.
You want to avoid recording in things like closets. I don’t recommend that, because typically there’s still a lot of those reflections, and you get this kind of boxed-in sound that makes the vocals sound like it was recorded in a very small space like a closet. So I don’t recommend that, but if you’re recording in a room and you’re hearing lots of reflections, you can do things like again, building with these makeshift elements.
If you really want to go professional, you can actually get acoustic panels and surround the mic with those panels. There are also products out there, like SE makes what’s called a reflexion filter. Basically it’s this arc thing that you put around your mic, and it does a really good job at minimizing some of those reflections. So if you have a little bit of a budget to play around with, you can invest in things like that. But mattress pads will work as well. The key here is if you can build something around the mic that will help you minimize and get rid of and dampen some of those reflections, you’ll be able to get a cleaner, clearer-sounding vocal.
The other thing you just want to avoid is a small issue, is a lot of people record with a music stand, where they’ll put like lyrics on a music stand. And it’s important to realize that there are actually reflections that bounce off that stand as well, and will hit your mic. So if your music stand is right behind the microphone and you’re recording, then the sound’s actually coming out of your mouth and bouncing off that music stand and hitting the mic. So you want to avoid that.
Something you can do is you can actually cover the music stand in like thick towel, and that will help record – minimize some of those reflections off the music stand. Or you can put the music stand a bit below the mic so that way it’s not, you know, your voice is not bouncing directly off that music stand and hitting the mic. So that’s something that you can do just as a quick fix that will really help.
The fourth step to better vocal recordings is to get the headphone mix right. Now the sound that you listen to as you’re recording is super important when it comes to getting a good vocal sound. You want to make sure that you take the time to get your headphone mix right, that you’re hearing something that’s actually going to help you not only perform your best, but also really hear accurately what’s going on, what you’re singing, how you’re performing, so you can adjust and compensate as you’re recording.
One of the easiest things you can do to improve the sound of your vocal recordings is actually record with some reverb. So while you’re singing, if you’re monitoring the sound of your vocals through the headphone mix, just add a little bit of reverb on that sound, so you’re hearing the sound of your voice with some reverb. And the reason why this helps is because when you hear your actual notes decaying more slowly over time, it gives your brain more time to recognize the actual pitch that you just sang.
So if you were a little bit flat, what happens is you hear that for a second or two longer. And so your brain hears oh I was a little bit flat on that note, and then the next note it compensates a little bit, so you’ll sing a little bit sharper. And so you actually, it becomes easier to sing on key, to sing in tune, when you’re hearing your voice with reverb, because you have more of a chance to recognize the actual pitches of the notes that you’re singing. So just adding a little bit of reverb on your voice will make a significant difference in your ability to sing in tune throughout the course of the performance.
Another thing that’s really important is the volume level of the actual voice in the headphones. So if you’re hearing your voice too loud, what happens is that you actually will have a tendency to sing flat. You’ll kind of compensate by pulling back a little bit in the voice, and you’ll tend to sing a little bit flat under the pitch that you need to be. If you’re not hearing enough of yourself in the headphones, the opposite will happen. You’ll typically sing a bit sharp. You’ll kind of overcompensate by singing more aggressively than you need to, and so you go sharp a bit.
So if you’re noticing that you’re a bit flat overall, maybe just turning up the volume of the voice in the headphones. And if you’re singing sharp, turning it down. Using that as a tool to make sure that you’re hearing exactly what you need to hear to give your best performance possible.
Another easy thing you can try to improve the sound of the performance is to take one headphone off while you’re recording. I know for me there’s something very weird about recording and singing when you’re not hearing the sound of your voice as it sounds naturally in the room. When you’re just hearing through headphones, there’s something just very odd about that listening experience that’s a bit disorienting for a lot of singers.
So by listening with one headphone off, you’re hearing not only the actual headphone mix, but you’re also hearing your natural voice as it bounces around the room. And this can make it a lot easier to get a better performance for some singers, I know for me. So if you’ve always recorded with two headphones on, just try one ear off and see if you perform better with that. Or if you’re working with a singer, just know that that’s something that you can grab in your bag of tricks to try to improve the sound of the performance.
Okay, so after you’ve done all the things in this video, the next step, step number five, is to record. There’s one thing I just want to mention about recording, and that’s a lot of people drink water while they record, pretty normal. And if you drink a big gulp of water and then press record and sing right after you drink that glass of water, oftentimes there’ll be all these little clicky clacky mouth noises that end up in the recording because your mouth is still very wet while you’re recording.
So make sure that if you’re drinking water while you’re recording – I know it sounds so silly, but it really does make a difference – just give your body like thirty seconds to absorb the water, or you can actually have a towel on hand and just kind of dry your mouth out before you press record. And that will minimize all those clicky mouth noises that you need to deal with in the recording.
So now you have some killer vocal recordings, the next step is to mix them. So make sure you grab my free vocal mixing cheatsheet, which contains some tips and tricks that will help you mix vocals like a pro. Click the link above or in the description below to download this free cheatsheet right now.
And before you go, leave a comment below this video and let me know – what mic do you use right now to record your vocals? I’d love to hear from you, so leave your answer in the comments section below.
Thanks so much for watching, and you can check out more vocal recording and mixing tips like these right here on my YouTube channel or at BehindTheSpeakers.com.