The article below comes from the latest edition of Electronic Musician (emusician.com). It was written by Michael Cooper who really seems to know his stuff. It’s a long article, but if you are serious about recording great vocal performances you should read this in its entirety. I’ve been in this business for about 15 years and even I took away some great tips. At times it gets a bit technical, but continue reading. He blends advice for techies and newbies alike quite nicely.
Best of luck and please remember to contact us if you have any vocal tracking needs or simply want to discuss a technique in Michael’s article. We love to talk shop!
A SOUP-TO-NUTS GUIDE TO RECORDING KILLER LEAD VOCAL TRACKS
By MICHAEL COOPER
THERE’S A good reason why music-production illuminati dub the lead vocal the “money track”: If it’s not fantastic, you don’t have a record. To casual listeners, it hardly matters how good the instrumental tracks sound. The lead vocal is the thing that grabs their attention and impels them to listen to a recording, or hit the Skip button.
In this article, I’ll detail the techniques that have worked for me when recording lead vocal tracks over the past 30 years. My focus will be on overdubbing vocals to existing instrumental tracks, but much of what I’ll cover applies equally to tracking a singer simultaneously with a band. It all begins with common-sense tips.
Prepare Ahead of Time Nothing drains a singer’s mojo faster than waiting forever while his mic is set up, a preamp and compressor are patched into the signal path, a new DAW track is created, and a headphone mix is devised and routed to his cans. If possible, make sure all these tasks are completed before the singer arrives at your studio. That way, you can immediately get down to making magic together after a couple minutes of ice-breaking chitchat.
I’ll talk in-depth about equipment selection and setup shortly, but a few words about mic choice bear discussion now, before your session begins. If you’ll be working with a singer for the first time, ask her well before the session what her favorite mic is for recording; that is, one that has yielded flattering results on her other sessions. Try using the same mic model if you own it. If it’s not in your arsenal and you can’t justify renting it, choose another mic from your collection that has a similar frequency response, polar pattern, and bass proximity effect.
An alternative tack is to set up a few of your best vocal mics before the session and have the vocalist briefly sing into each one so you can hear which is the best match for her voice. The drawback to this approach is it takes time, something that the project’s budget might not allow. Fortunately, there is a simple way to choose the perfect mic on the spot. But first, a little feng shui is in order.
The rest of this article includes topics like…
- Pamper the Talent (I wrote a similar article recently titled, Putting a singer at ease in the studio)
- Hang it High – Microphone placement
- Patch in Preamp and Compressor Before the Talent Arrives
- Tweak the Cue Mix
- Fix Now or Comp Later
- Using Polar Patterns to Shape Tone
- And much more.