One of the easiest ways of telling the difference between a professional sounding track and one that was done by an amateur is how the vocals were handled. Well done vocals can turn a good song into a great song. But poorly handled vocals can turn a good song into a pile of unlistenable garbage. We will take a look a four areas that you can focus on in your own productions to get your vocals to have that professional shine.
Proper microphone technique is the first step to a great sounding vocal. I am quite surprised by the number of singers that come into our studio and display poor microphone techniques. Many of these singers have had years of experience behind the microphone, but either can't break their habits or simply don't know that their techniques are poor.
First, it is important to be comfortable behind the microphone. If you are tense or overly nervous it will certainly show and will be heard in your performance. So the first step is not to be afraid of the mic or of singing into it. Sing directly into the center of the microphone and not across it. But you don't want to sing too closely into the mic, a few inches away is a good starting point. This is where understanding the proximity effect, your own voice and the microphone you are using is very important. A good starting point is 6 to 12 inches away from the microphone. Position the mic where the diaphragm is a little above the vocalist's mouth. There isn't a magic distance number that works for every microphone, every person and every situation, so experiment to see what works for you. The more comfortable you are with your singing the better your performance is going to be. Come to the mic ready to put on your best performance. If you come to the mic rested, rehearsed, inspired, motivated and focused you will be well on your way to a great sounding vocal.
START WITH A GOOD SPACE
Rather you are recording your vocals in a studio or in your home it is important to record them in an environment that is suited for audio. If you are recording your vocals in a small, untreated room, then it is very likely that they will sound boxy. Many people make the mistake of recording in the closet or a similar small space. This is not a good idea and you would be better off setting up your microphone close to the center of a larger room instead. Closed in spaces often have reflection issues and possible comb filtering problems as well.
The room that you record in is one of the most important parts to getting a great vocal. It is very true. It may be even more important that your performance itself. Think about it. If you are off on a note or two then it is a pretty easy fix to go back in and fix those notes. These days there are a ton of programs on the market that are designed to do just that. They are designed to correct notes, pitch, etc. in areas where the vocalist may have been off slightly. On the other hand if your room is off then it can't be saved by a good vocalist or a great microphone. If you take the best singer in the world (whoever that may be) use the most expensive best microphone and then put them in a untreated closet. It will still sound like garbage.
PROBLEMS WITH PLOSIVES
The 'P' word is a problem when it comes to recording vocals. That 'P' word is plosives. Plosives also known as a stop consonant or occlusive become a problem in letters like P, T, B and G to name a few. Plosives and their evil cousin sibilance are often misunderstood and not handled correctly. Plosives get their name from the explosive sound you hear when the letters P, B and T are pronounced. These letters create extra sound when pronounced which briefly overloads your microphone and causes distortion. Plosives should be avoided if at all possible. Pop filters and different pronouncing techniques will help take care of these.
Sibilance is a little different. Sibilance happens when artist pronounce letters like S and T's. These two letters deal in the high frequency range and can cause some problems in the recording. In my experience it is better to deal with this at the recording stage rather then the mixing stage.
UP AND DOWN ARRANGEMENT
When you sing your song it should have up's and downs like any relationship. That is what your song is, it is a relationship between itself and the listener. You want to take your listeners somewhere through music. A great way to do this is to plan out your song before you begin. Plan out your dynamics and let the emotion build in the song. This will greatly depend on the lyrics of the song, your vocal delivery, etc. For example a basic song format might be, your first build is from Verse 1 through the first chorus, then Verse 2 will build slightly more and then exploding at the bridge part. There is no magic formula here, but arrangement is really important in how successful your vocals come off.
The information here will not resolve any and all the issues that may come up with the vocals in your track. However the more information you have the easier it will be for you to handle vocal issues when they come up.
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Article written by Alex Butler
Alex is an audio engineer, studio producer and freelance writer based out of Seattle, WA.