Get Started Recording Great Vocals
We live in an amazing time for home recording. After decades of developments in the world of recording technology, home recording is now more accessible than at any time in history. Not only is the equipment more readily available, but the range of tools is more expansive than ever, with offerings available for both small and large budgets.
For many vocalists and voice-users, in time the idea of recording themselves evolves from a vague seed of an idea to a very real, tangible possibility. For some, this means creating videos for social media, for others it means starting a podcast, and for others it can mean home recording their very first songs, or even their own EP.
To everyone who is at that point right now, congratulations!
Recording yourself is a huge step towards becoming a strong and confident vocalist; as well as giving you an opportunity to hear yourself as others hear you, you're developing skills that go hand-in-hand with singing. Self-drive, listening, self-analysis and self-improvement are all vital and invaluable tools for the modern-day vocalist, speaker and performer, and all develop concurrently as you use recording to help hone your craft.
Whatever end goal you have in mind for your upcoming vocal recording, there are certain things you must consider before embarking on the first steps.
To be up front, this blog isn't about to offer you all the things you must buy before doing any kind of recording, that's not our style. On top of that, it's not entirely truthful.
On paper, recording a voice is incredibly simple... all you need is a voice, a microphone, and a program or app that will track and save what you lay down. Using nothing but a mobile phone and voice notes app, you can have a simple voice track complete and ready to go just moments after you finish your final note. After all, Charlie Puth named his album "Voicenotes" as it was what he used to make initial recordings for each song!
If it was all that easy though, the world of recording equipment would be far smaller and there would be no need for the countless videos and blogs exploring the ins and outs of making a great recording. While the fundamentals of recording are this simple, there are a million and one variables that change the quality, sound, and feel of your take.
That's why we're here to help you gain enough of an understanding to get started with making your own great vocal track.
Let's start from the top!
HOW YOU CAN GET STARTED RECORDING GREAT VOCALS
1. Prepare your Space
2. Set up your Microphone
3. Learn your Program
4. Warm up your Voice
Bonus - Finalise your Track
1. PREPARE YOUR SPACE
First things first, consider your recording location. In an ideal world, a home recording is best made in a quiet room where you can focus entirely on your task without noise and distractions. If that's not available to you, do your best to find the closest thing in your home or space. Once you have, take a fifteen-minute time out to sit in that location/room with your eyes closed and ears open. Stay aware to all you can hear and make a mental note (or a physical one) to keep it in mind.
Can you hear air conditioning? An occasional beep from some appliance or fire alarm? Is there noise from a school or passing aircraft? Is your washing machine louder than you realised?
In everyday life your brain is bombarded with auditory input, much of which it labels unimportant and suppresses from your attention (It's the only way we can focus in a world with this much sensory input!). Any habitual and commonplace sounds fall into that category, meaning that you may not realise what really exists until you make an effort to hear it. While these sounds may not seem loud enough to have any impact on your recording, anything that is within reach and can be switched off or unplugged should be.
Other uncontrollable or unpredictable sounds (including pets) should be removed from the space wherever possible.
After spending a little time exploring the ambient noise, speak and sing in your chosen location and listen to the acoustics. Every individual space will have its own acoustic setting, affected by everything inside it - some rooms with have a distinct echo, others may seem to have a dry sound. Does your space offer the sound you want?
Some singers choose to make content in stairwells, bathrooms or carparks for the lush and echoing sound that reverberates and reinforces their voice, and in those cases, they've chosen the perfect location for the desired sound.
The majority of recordings, however, are made in rooms with some sound insulation and minimal echo to create a clean recording. When you don't have the ability and/or budget to start installing proper soundproofing, this is where all your home furnishings will come to good use! Rugs, curtains, couches, and cushions all help to absorb unwanted reflections and contribute to a great quality recording. Be smart in your furnishings and you can quickly lesson the brightness and echo of any household room!
2. SET UP YOUR MICROPHONE
There are innumerable microphones available in the world - microphones of all shapes and sizes, for all purposes, with their own specialties.
Sound recorded on one mic (microphone) can sound a world away from the exact same sound recorded on a different mic, and this is both their beauty and their complexity.
When getting started with home recording, choosing a microphone doesn't need to be confusing or intimidating!
The first thing to avoid is using the microphone on your phone, tablet or computer unless you are looking for a lower quality feel to your recording, or where quality and clean sound isn't important. This can be the case in some songwriting or producing where it's used for a specific effect, however as a standard practice, having a cleaner, higher quality sound will be the best way to let your vocals shine.
For most home recording you'll want to have an external microphone, preferably one that's designed for vocals. Not only will it record better audio, but a good microphone can pick up intricate details and colour in your vocal tone or expression that make your voice something special. Imagine listening to an Adele, Lewis Capaldi or Norah Jones song if they had recorded on a microphone that wasn't designed to capture the richness, warmth, emotion or detail in their voices... it would be a waste! Don't sabotage your own performance by using a poor quality microphone set up.
The simplest microphone to start with is a great quality USB microphone which will plug directly into your computer. Although USB mics used to have a reputation of being poor quality, these days the selection has grown significantly and the quality with it.
Bear in mind though, if you are also looking to use that mic for live performance situations you will run into trouble with a USB mic. For a mic that will take you between recording and live performing, it's far better to start with an XLR mic alongside a small mixer or audio interface. As an XLR mic has and XLR output rather than USB, you will need to also purchase a mixer or audio interface to be the go-between for the microphone and your computer.
In addition to this, having a microphone stand and pair of headphones will help make your life far easier. Using headphones, you'll be able to listen to any backing track or click track while singing the vocal line, all the while keeping your vocal track clean and free of unneccessary sound.
3. LEARN YOUR PROGRAM
Every home recording set up needs a program that will record and save tracks, reliably and consistently. When taking your first baby steps into this world, the best advice I could suggest is to stay simple and stay free. Audacity and Garageband are fantastic and well-respected names, both of which have been used millions of times by musicians and vocalists throughout the world.
If you dream of doing more with your recording - for example layering vocals, adding instrumentals - the world of DAWs* is where you'll likely end up. The best advice? Try everything you can for free where possible! The look, feel, and capabilities of individual DAWs are quite varied, and some have particular specialties which may be useful to you.
*DAWs = Digital Audio Workstations. That is, programs like Logic, Ableton, Cakewalk by Bandlab, Cubase, FL Studio, Pro Tools...
4. WARM UP YOUR VOICE
Before you press that enticing little red record button, your body should be energised and your voice should be warmed up and ready to go. We would definitely suggest beginning with a roll down and some easy stretching to wake up your muscles, followed by some gentle neck or shoulder rolls. Don't forget to take note of any tight muscles or unusual sensations in your body, whether muscular or otherwise.
Follow this with some breathing exercises, lip bubbles and gentle vocalising - use the Audition Vocal Toolbox app's Gentle Warmup or 10-Minute Combo playlists for a pre-made warm up, or mix up our tracks to customise your own.
Once you're feeling vocally and physically ready, it's time to make some magic happen.
BONUS. POST (FINALISING)
Once you've laid down your first tracks, congratulations! You've officially entered the world of voice recording and we're so proud.
When finalising your recording, first of all, don't let saving it slip your mind. You would be amazed how easy that can happen!
Secondly, you may want to export or render your audio. Depending on the program itself, to have the recording available in a readily accessible audio format you will need to take that one extra step. When rendering/exporting, you may be given the option of choosing between mp3 or wav... and every time we would recommend using wav (a higher quality lossless format).
Now that everything is recorded, saved and exported it's ready to go for its next life - whether that's staying put, sending to a producer, agent, band or panel we wish you (and it) the very best.
Finally, and very importantly, don't forget to give your voice some love and do a post-singing cooldown!