Top 10 Voice Recording Tips

Whether you’re making a song or producing podcasts or other narrative content, the quality of the vocal track can make or break a recording. If you’re having a hard time recording quality vocals in your home studio, here are some voice recording tips that solve common issues.

Set The Right Mic Distance

If you record too far away from the mic, the sound will be thin and wimpy and you’ll be able to hear a lot of room sound, not necessarily a good thing in home studios. The correct mic distance depends on what mic you’re using and how loud the performer is, so you’ll need to experiment to find the sweet spot. A good rule of thumb is to get as close to the mic as you can without clipping or generating extra bass from the proximity effect.

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Watch Out For Plosives

When you pronounce “p” and “b” sounds, you exhale sharply from your mouth. This blast of air leads to unnatural popping sounds on your recorded tracks that you can’t take out later. Guard against plosives by using a pop filter, which acts as a screen that softens the rush of air from your mouth without altering the sound of your voice. You can buy pop filters at music stores or make one yourself with pantyhose and a wire hanger.

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Stop Sibilance Before It Happens

Sibilance is the term for the sharp hissing noise that microphones sometimes pick up when people pronounce “s” sounds. Harsh sibilance is one factor that separates amateur-sounding voice-overs from ones that sound pro. Although sibilance can be removed with special “de-essing” plugins, your best bet is to keep your mic from picking up sibilance in the first place by placing it slightly above or below the mouth of the singer or speaker.

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Use Compression To Even Out Volume

Good vocalists will move away from the mic when they get louder and closer when they lose volume, but even with good mic technique raw vocal tracks will sound uneven. Compression will ensure that the vocals are audible throughout the recording and make them sit more comfortably in the mix. Use a little compression when you record, and then experiment with soft and hard compressors afterward to find a sound that works well for your mix.

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Don’t Be Afraid Of Multiple Takes

There’s a certain romance in nailing a killer performance in one uninterrupted take, but this rarely happens in the wild. Using punch-ins and stitching together multiple takes will allow you to construct the best possible performance. It’s not a matter of covering up lack of talent; even world-class singers use punch-ins because in the studio they’re looking to capture better-than-real-life performances.

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Isolate The Performance As Much As Possible

The rooms that most people record in don’t add anything good to the sound of vocals. Weird echoes and reverbs from walls can make your voice sound phase-y or thin. To get the best possible quality, it’s best to minimize room sound by using isolation. To create your own home isolation booth, all you need to do is find a small space and cover the walls with soft or irregular materials to dampen reverberation. We previously provided a tutorial on making an isolation booth using either egg cartons or foam padding, but if you don’t want to commit a whole section of your house to isolation, you can improvise an isolation booth by draping some kind of soft or irregular material over you while you perform to dampen reverberation. A blanket can work well, or you could even take this guy’s advice and use a foam sombrero!

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Practice Beforehand!

This should be an obvious point for singers who needs to stay in-key (although plenty of singers still somehow neglect this important step), but it’s vital to practice spoken vocals too. You want voice-overs and narration to sound natural and unforced. It’s easy to not notice awkward turns of phrase or tongue-twisters when you’re typing up a script, so make sure to read your part aloud several times to work out any kinks before you hit record.

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Work On Your Vocal Technique

This is another one that might only seem important for singers, but is actually worthwhile for anyone producing vocal content. Improper technique can make your voice sound pinched, weak or harsh. Standing up straight, remembering to breathe with your diaphragm rather than your chest, and relaxing your face will all make your voice sound richer and warmer. If you haven’t talked much yet on a day you’re recording vocals, warm up with tongue twisters or other vocal workouts to get your voice going. Stay hydrated so you don’t sound raspy.

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Use Reverb To Round Out Your Sound

It seems strange to spend so much time removing reverb from the space you record in only to add it back later, but there’s method behind the madness. The rooms in your house likely have bad-sounding reverb, whereas your recording software will give you a variety of pleasant, professional-sounding reverb plugins to choose from. Vocal tracks recorded in isolation booths sound unnaturally dry and crisp without a little reverb sweetening. Experiment with different reverb plugins, and don’t overdo it. Add just enough reverb to make the vocals sound like they exist in a real space. Most of the time, you don’t want your tracks to sound like you recorded them in a cathedral or a basketball arena.

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Experiment With Your Voice

Most people are shocked the first time they hear their voice recorded because it sounds so different from the way it does in their heads. You may find that the tone of your natural speaking or singing voice has some undesirable qualities when recorded. Experiment with deepening or heightening the pitch of your voice and altering your vocal tone to see if you can find a “microphone voice” that suits recording better than your conversational tone. Just be careful not to go overboard. The stereotypical “announcer voice” is very out of fashion right now and will distract from your project unless it’s used ironically.

Voice Recording Tips – Summary

With these tips in hand, you’ll be well on your way to recording rich, pleasant-sounding vocal tracks. Although good equipment certainly helps create quality tracks, the best equipment can be ruined by bad technique. Even if you can only afford to record with a $20 dynamic mic in your garage, following this guide will let you make the most out of your equipment and capture the best possible sound within the constraints of your setup.

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