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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Vocal Recording Checklist

Whether you're a producer or engineer, vocal recording can be one of the most challenging types of sessions you'll have during a project. Here's a checklist to help you keep the vocalist comfortable, get a great sound, and get the best performance possible.

1. Did you select the correct mic for the singer’s voice? Choose a mic with a lot of body for a thin voice and one with enhanced high end for a dark voice.

2. Did you select the correct microphone preamp? Certain mics come alive when they’re paired with the right preamp. Also, a certain mic/preamp combination can be just the right color for a vocal. Experiment.

3. Did you select the correct microphone pickup pattern? Not every vocal needs to be recorded with a cardioid pattern. An omni pattern will cut down on proximity effect and a figure 8 can help with isolation from speakers or other instruments.

4. Is proximity effect wanted or needed? Remember that the closer you get to a cardioid mic, the more the low end will become exaggerated. This could make the vocal too big for the track. Try the mic on omni if you really need to get a close and intimate sound.

5. Is the singer the correct distance away? Too far away and you’ll hear more room, which could change the vocal sound or take away the intimacy. Too close and the vocal might sound too big or too close due to the proximity effect of a cardioid mic. If the singer is singing softly and breathy, keep the singer close to the mic. If the singer is shouting, screaming, or just plain loud, back the singer off the mic from two to three feet.

6. Is the singer drifting off-axis? Some vocalists drift around the room and off-axis of the mic if they feel it’s too far away. Put up a dummy mic that they can get close to so they can feel anchored. This also helps when putting up different mics to determine which one works best for the vocalist.

7. Is the singer popping the mic? Try any of the following:
a) place the mic at eye level and point it down at the singers mouth
b) turn the mic slightly off-axis,
c) switch the pattern to omni
d) back the singer off the mic until the pops disappear
e) use a pop screen.

8. Would a handheld mic work better? Some singers aren’t comfortable unless they feel like they’re on stage. Give them an SM-58 and don’t worry about the sound. A great performance beats a great sound any day (and a 58 isn’t all that bad combined with the right preamp).

9. Are you limiting the signal? Just a few dB of limiting can help keep the vocal under control and stop overloading the signal chain. Don’t use software compressor/limiters because of the latency.

10. Is the headphone mix at the correct level? The phone mix is crucial to a good performance. If the track is too loud, the vocalist may sing too hard which might not be the sound you want. He may also sing sharp as a result. If the track is too soft, the singer may not sing aggressive enough.

11. Is the ambience conducive to a good vocal? Most singers like the light down low when they sing.

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