Figuring out how to record vocals at home can be tough on a limited budget. However, it’s still possible to get great sounding results as long as you know what to look for.
In this guide, we’ll cover budget gear you can use to record vocals at home and list some best practices for recording vocals.
Choosing the Right Gear
Choosing the right gear is an important step in recording vocals at home. There comes a point where going “too cheap” is bound to give you less than stellar results. However, not all of us have thousands of dollars to drop on recording equipment.
Below, we’ll discuss what gear you need to get started.
To record vocals at home, you will at the very least need a microphone. So let’s cover that first.
Choosing a Microphone – Analog or USB?
You first need to decide which type of microphone you want: analog or USB.
In order to use an analog microphone, you will need an XLR microphone cable.
You will also need an audio interface. An audio interface is used to convert the analog signal from a microphone to a digital signal that your computer can read and record.
An audio interface will have an XLR input that the microphone cable can plug into. It may also have outputs for plugging in reference monitors (studio speakers) and it should have a headphone output so you can monitor your track while recording.
Using analog microphones combined with an audio interface is the traditional route for studio and home recording. However, it can be a more expensive route than using a USB microphone setup.
In short, here are a few pros and cons of each:
- USB microphones are typically a cheaper option since this route requires less gear.
- There are a limited number of USB microphones available.
- It can be more difficult to dial in the gain (microphone level) using a USB microphone as it’s all done via software.
- You may be limited to the number of microphones you can use at one time due to software limitations, limitation of the USB microphone itself, or the number of USB ports you have. Driver compatibility can also become an issue.
- Analog microphones range widely in price. However, this route will almost always be more expensive even if you purchase a cheap microphone since you will also need to purchase an audio interface and XLR cable.
- There is a wider selection of analog microphones.
- Dialing in the microphone gain level is easier since you can just use a knob on your audio interface.
- Recording multiple audio sources at one time is typically easier with analog microphones since you can always upgrade to an audio interface with more microphone inputs.
- USB microphones are a good option if you only plan to record yourself (or one audio source at a time) and you don’t want to spend a lot of money. Analog microphones are a better option if you really want to invest in home recording, want more control, or if you ever want to record more than one audio source at a time (like a drum set or a full band).
Microphone Stand & Pop Filter
Regardless of which type of microphone you go with, you will need a microphone stand and a pop filter.
When looking for a microphone stand, a boom stand is likely your best option. This type of stand has an arm that you can adjust in height and in angle. With a boom stand, you can place the microphone stand away from you and extend the microphone arm to position.
This way, you’ll be less likely to bump into the stand and cause unwanted noise in your recording.
A pop filter is like a shield for the microphone. It prevents plosives, like words that start with “P” and “B”, from being too loud.
When we pronounce words that start with these letters, we tend to let out more air from our mouth. This burst of air can be picked up from the microphone and it causes an unpleasing effect on vocals.
So using a pop filter is a must, especially in rap vocals since artists tend to speak quickly and over exaggerate these words.
Picking a Pair of Headphones
Lastly, you’ll need a decent pair of headphones. You never want to record vocals while listening to your mix over speakers as this sound will be picked up in your vocal recording.
The most important thing to look for in recording headphones is the amount of noise that “leaks” through the headphones. Some types of headphones will allow sound to “leak” through the earpiece. This noise can then be picked up in the microphone and ruin your vocal tracks.
In-ear headphones are one option. However, over-the-ear, closed-back headphones are a popular option. These types of headphones fit over your ear and do not allow any sound to escape. This makes them a good choice for recording.
For studio gear recommendations, check out this guide.
Getting Ready to Record
With your gear picked out, you’re now ready to record. However, there are still a few things to consider before jumping in:
Choosing a Space
First, consider the space where you will be recording. In most cases, you will want to get as dry of a vocal recording as you can. This will allow you or your mixing engineer to add in reverb later as needed. However, if you record in a room that’s too open and has a lot of reverb, the vocal track will be difficult to work with.
Remember, reverb can always be added later but it can’t be taken away from a track that already has a lot of it in it. Therefore, recording in a dry room is essential.
You can test how much reverb is in your room by simply clapping. If you clap and there is a lot of echo, you will want to eliminate it or move to a different room.
If the room has too much reverb, you have a few options. Of course, you can try a different room. Many people choose to record in a large closet when possible. However, you can also add in furniture to reduce the amount of reverb.
Furniture such as recliners, couches, mattresses, even rugs can all work to absorb reverb. Hanging up moving blankets on the wall in your room is a quick and cheap way to reduce reverb in a room.
In addition to the room reverb, you also need to consider other room noise. Noise from your computer, a fan, a vent, clicking, people talking, etc. can all leak into your recording.
If you need to record with a friend in the room, make sure they remain absolutely quiet when recording. If you have a noisy computer, try cleaning the fans inside the computer or replacing them. Or, borrow a friend’s laptop.
Turn off any fans and if you’re recording near a vent, consider moving or turning off the heat or AC in your home while recording.
The next thing to consider is microphone placement. This includes the height of your microphone and the distance between you and the microphone itself.
First, adjust your microphone stand so that the microphone is level with your mouth. From there, you should try to remain at relatively the same distance from the microphone during the entire recording process.
When you move too close and too far away, it can be difficult to even out the volume level even with compression.
You also need to consider your proximity to the microphone. Generally, when you are close to the microphone, your voice will sound more “boomy”. Additionally, any changes in volume will be amplified in your track when you are close to the microphone.
As you move farther away from the mic, your voice will start to sound thinner. You’ll also introduce more room noise or reverb into your recording.
A good distance to shoot for is about 6 to 12” away from the microphone. This isn’t a set rule but this distance allows for a clear representation of your voice and changes in volume won’t be as drastic in your record vocal track (making it easier to work with come mixing time).
You can maintain this distance by using a pop filter. By placing a pop filter a few inches from the microphone and standing a few inches away from the pop filter, you should be in this 6 to 12” range while recording.
Other tips for recording:
- It doesn’t matter whether you’re using a USB or analog microphone, you always want to make sure your microphone gain level is set so that your vocals never clip. This means that the recorded vocals have gone over 0 dB. Once this happens, your audio track will distort, which is never something you want when using digital gear. Most audio interfaces will have an LED that tells you when the audio signal has clipped. When using a USB microphone, you will need to refer to your software.
- Pay special attention to how you are pronouncing your words. Make sure to enunciate and speak clearly.
- Always record multiple takes so that you or your mixing engineer can go back later and choose the best vocal track for your final mix.