Here are ten quick tips to think about the next time you record vocals:
1) Warm Up:
Every vocalist needs to warm up. You wouldn't run a marathon without stretching first, would you? Vocalists should warm up for at least 15 mins. before laying down a great performance.
2) Don't record vocals in the morning:
No vocalist is at their best if they've just rolled out of bed. If possible, try to schedule the vocalist in the mid-afternoon or evening. Use mornings for setting up and testing ideas. Always try to give the vocalist plenty of notice in advance before the recording session.
Make it your job to ensure that the vocalist has space to move, the room is at the right temperature, and there's nice ambient lighting to help set the mood.
Spend time getting the balance in the headphones that the vocalist wants. Add reverb to their vocal sound if they want it, and be prepared to adjust levels as the session progresses. Watch out for the vocalist drifting out of tune, this is often because they can't hear themselves but are too polite to mention that!
5) Be extra kind and sensitive:
Vocalists are a very sensitive breed! A lot of pressure rides on them to really deliver - on stage and in the vocal booth. One of the greater skills we can possess is the art of encouragement and support. Being able to coax amazing performances using expert direction is a real plus. Patience and confidence building are also important. The ability to keep the vocalist focused is essential. Always use tact!
Spend time getting the vocal phrasing right. Subtle changes can transform an OK take into something exciting. Make sure the vocalist articulates the end of words as much as the beginning: this is vital for a sense of passion and engagement. Even if some rewriting has to take place, it's better than compromising with an awkward line.
7) Vocal ticks:
It's tempting to edit out breaths and other bits and pieces from the take. These details are an essential component of any vocal performance and can make your track sound more alive, no matter what your style!
8) Choice of microphone:
Condenser microphones are generally a better choice for vocals than dynamics. A Neumann U87 or TLM 103 are good choices if you have the budget. Experienced vocalists will have their own preferences. Accommodate them if you can.
Some engineers swear by compressing a vocal on the way into the DAW. This can work, but you can't remove compression once it has been recorded. Be sure you have tried this out with good results or you may end up ruining an otherwise perfect take. Another strategy is to set up the vocal mic with lots of headroom and just make sure to avoid any clipping if the vocalist suddenly starts getting loud. You can always add compression during mixing.
10) The room:
I saved the most important one for last! Don't forget that your recording will only sound as good as your room. If you have any nasty resonance build up, reflective surfaces, closets without acoustical treatment, etc., then steps 1 - 9 are kind of pointless. Obviously, this would need to be taken into consideration long before any vocal tracking were to take place. You can always use something like a Reflexion Filter (by sE Electronics) or something similar to improve your space.
I hope this helps and HEY!, make it a great day!