Recording Standout Vocal Tracks
BY MICHAEL COOPER
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
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.
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.