Vocal recording - also called vocal tracking - is the process of capturing the best version of your vocal performance for your song. Your vocals play a huge role in the way your audience sees you as an artist.
If your songs have great sounding vocals, you are more likely to be taken seriously as an artist. The best way to make sure your song has great sounding vocals is to get a high quality vocal recording. It’s way easier to sauce up your vocals later during mixing if you record clean vocals upfront.
There are three ways to get a high quality vocal:
Pay someone to record you: either at a professional studio, or in a low budget recording space.
Find a friend who will record you for free.
Paying for recording has a lot of benefits.
A good recording engineer handles the technical process of recording so you can focus on giving your best vocal performance. Good recording engineers are very fast and you won’t have to spend much time waiting around. They’ve figured out how to get a high quality vocal recording so you don’t have to worry about that either.
The downside is that you’re paying by the hour. Doing a lot of studio recording can get expensive very quickly. Your enemy is the clock, and that always adds pressure to the recording process.
Getting a Dope Recording - Preparation
Here’s how you get the best vocal performance in the least amount of time: do an insane amount of preparation.
Last week I went to the studio with my brother Richy, one of the artists I work with. We finished four songs in 2.5 hours and got great vocal takes too. That’s because we spent at least a dozen hours preparing for our session.
Here are some tips to help you prepare for your vocal tracking session. All of the artists I work with do this before we hit the studio:
In a perfect world, you know every word of your song by heart before you step into the booth. When you’re recording you want to have the mental space to focus on getting the best vocal performance possible. Spending mental energy trying to remember the words to your song distracts you from the only thing that really matters: giving a great performance.
You should know how you want your vocal performance to sound before you walk into the studio. The best way to do this is by recording a scratch vocal at home or at a friend’s place. Having a rough vocal take before you head to the studio means you don’t have to spend time figuring out how you want your performance to sound while you’re there. Scratch vocals are especially helpful to decide your vocal inflections - not just what you’re saying, but how you want to express each word.
Me and Richy actually do three rounds of scratch vocals in separate sessions before we take a song to the studio. When we’re working on a new song, we usually start with a voice memo to capture the emotion and vibe while he’s writing. In the next session we’ll do the first round of scratch vocals with a mic so we have a proper reference track we can listen to. In the final session, he’ll lay down his vocal performance exactly the way he wants it to sound in the final song. Then, we hit the studio.
Same with your song structure. If your song has different sections - such as a verse, bridge, and hook - you should know how you want to record them ahead of time. For example, let’s say you have a song where in practice sessions you’re nailing the verses but you’re having trouble with the hook. In the studio you might want to lay down the hook first to get the hard part out of the way, and only then move to the verses.
Make sure all of your music files are organized before you hit the studio. You should bring the beat and the version of the song with your scratch vocals as separate files. If you have the track out, you should bring that too. All of your files should be clearly labeled so that the recording engineer knows what they are. And make sure to know the BPM of each song before going in too.
At the Studio
If you have a great vocal take and need to record again just to fix a couple words in your verse, that’s cool. It’s OK to do some vocal punching in the studio if you have to. Your job is to do whatever it takes to get the best sounding song as possible. Shout out to my brother Parabellum Raps who put me onto this interview with Alchemist and Evidence who break down this concept really well.
Remember to treat the recording engineer with respect. Your engineer is responsible for how dope you sound, so you want to make sure you have a good vibe with them. Good tracking engineers have a LOT of experience recording other artists, and will have useful feedback to help you get the best vocal performance possible. For example, if your engineer gives you advice on how to have stronger mic technique, you should listen.
Choosing a Recording Space
Not all recording spaces are created equal. Whether you’re looking at a low-budget recording situation or a professional recording studio, you need to make sure you’re getting great value for your money.
You can figure this out by listening to the music that the studio or home recording space has worked on. Pay attention to artists who record there and how their records sound. You’re listening for both the sound quality of vocals and the style and genre of music. For example, if your music uses a lot of autotune, pay attention to the studio’s autotune game with other artists they work with.
It all comes back to your artistic vision: your goal is to find a recording space that is under your budget and gets you as close as possible to the way you want your vocals to sound as an artist. This is going to be different for everyone, so you need to find the situation that works best for you.
The biggest advantage to recording yourself over using a professional studio is that you’re not racing against the clock. Not worrying about time while you make music is a good thing creatively.
However, there are disadvantages to recording yourself. You have to make an investment in recording equipment. You have to manage the technical process of recording, which can distract from your focus on giving the best performance possible. You do also need a desktop, laptop, or advanced tablet computer to be able to record vocals from home.
Getting a high quality vocal requires:
Great recording gear. You can grab some for pretty cheap.
A great recording environment.
Great mic technique.
There are a lot of amazing resources on how to get high quality vocals at home and on a budget. In this section I’ll send you where you need to go.
First, you should understand what pieces of gear you need to to record vocals. You should know what an audio interface, recording software (DAW), mic, headphones, XLR cable, mic stand, and pop filter are. Graham Cochrane from the Recording Revolution breaks down what these terms mean and what your low-budget options are.
Then, you want to decide how you want your voice to sound. Justin Omoi describes how mic choice and mic positioning affect your vocal tone.
The room that you’re recording in is just as important as your gear. D.Reevez Beats walks through comb filtering and modal ringing, which are effects of acoustics that can hurt the quality of your vocals when you record at home.
You can also take a look at buying the Kaotica Eyeball, which helps clean up the sound of the room you’re recording in and works as a pop filter. I use the Eyeball for my home recordings. It really helps because my room sounds like shit.
Here are some more advanced articles on home recording:
If you actually watched all of these videos and read all of these articles, you know more about how to get high quality vocals at home than most other artists :)
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