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Recording Standout Vocal Tracks

December 1, 2010


It’s easy to get into a rut when recording vocals. Most singers automatically set up a cardioid mic, level with their mouth; they never pause to consider a different strategy. But while standard recording methods might produce good results that don’t offend, sometimes taking a more novel approach will yield a truly headturning vocal track that stands out from the pack.

Kiss an Omni Mic
The problem with cardioid and other directional mics (such as those that have a hyper-cardioid, super-cardioid, or figure-8 polar pattern) is that they have an inherent bass-proximity effect: The closer you get to a directional mic, the more bass boost your vocal track will exhibit. That’s not necessarily a big issue if you maintain the same distance from the mic at all times while singing. But should you vary how close you stand to the mic, many vocal lines will have a completely different tone from the others. For a consistent sound, you may need to adjust bass-cut equalization line-by-line during mixdown to clean up varying amounts of mud and boominess on your vocal track.

An omnidirectional microphone exhibits no proximity effect, no matter how close you are to the mic. This allows you to get within kissing distance of the mic’s capsule and still produce a crystal-clear sound. Sing as close to an omni mic as possible, and your tracks will boast technicolor detail and compelling urgency that demand attention. If the mic overloads, switch on the pad to prevent distortion.

Use a Bi-Directional Mic with EQ
If your trademark is a singing voice with naturally very deep bass, an omni mic may not do you justice. Try using a bi-directional mic (or a multi-pattern mic set to bi-directional mode) instead. All other things being equal, a bi-directional (aka figure-8) mic will produce the most low bass. Try singing about a foot away from the mic, and keep that distance consistent. During mixdown, use a parametric equalizer’s bellcurve filter to cut roughly 4dB at around 150Hz and set the filter’s Q control to about 1.2. That will clean up any muddiness that the bi-directional mode produced but leave the lowest bass frequencies intact. Don’t be afraid to apply a little bit of narrow bass boost at around 60Hz to enhance that glorious low end you were born with, and apply a bit of boost at 4kHz to improve presence. The result: a clear, detailed vocal with mineshaft-deep bottom end.

Think Small (Diaphragm)
Most vocal tracks are cut using a large-diaphragm condenser mic. Small-diaphragm condensers generally capture more detail than their larger cousins, but their lightweight diaphragms tend to pop very easily when exposed to vocal plosives and wind from heavy breathers. For a vocal track brimming with detail, try singing over the top of—instead of directly into—an omni small-diaphragm condenser mic. Omni mode is typically the least sensitive to plosives and wind turbulence and therefore less likely to pop. And if you sing 90 degrees off-axis (that is, perpendicular) to the mic’s diaphragm, wind from your mouth will safely project over its top. Use a Popper Stopper windscreen for added protection.

Forget Good Posture—Slouch!
There’s a good reason why many singers prowl the stage bent over like the Hunchback of Notre Dame while belting it out: diaphragm support. For more power in your vocal delivery, try setting up your mic about a foot lower than your lips and angle it up toward your mouth at roughly a 45-degree angle. You’ll need to bend forward in order to sing directly into the mic. Doing so will compress your diaphragm, providing greater support that will turbo-charge your vocals.

Starve Your Headphone Mix
Listening to too many tracks while singing can confuse your sense of pitch and groove. Limit your headphone mix to drums, bass, one or two chordal instruments, and your live vocals. Hearing instruments that play melody lines, especially in your vocal range, will tend to distract and make you sing off-key, so take ’em out of the cans. To improve your vocal phrasing, goose the kick and snare drums in your cue mix to reinforce the beat and backbeat. Add little or no reverb and other effects to your vocals in the headphone mix, because they will also throw you off-pitch. A vocal that sounds great with such a sparse headphone mix will sound unbelievable once the other instruments and effects are added during mixdown.

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