Voice recording like a pro

Sep 15, 2022

Although nowadays we can find studios where you can book an hour of recording for $20-50, not everyone can afford to record in a good studio with professional equipment and trained staff. The truth is that more and more people are recording their songs at home, in their home studio, either to use it as a demo of their project and then record somewhere else or directly to send the tracks to an engineer to mix them. That’s why I’m going to give you some tips to get a professional voice recording from your home studio.

What equipment do you need for voice recording?

When we talk about the equipment needed to get a good vocal recording, the first thing you have to think about is the budget you have to spend, as I don’t know now I will give you 2 examples with 2 different budgets to help you make a quicker decision, but first let’s see some common mistakes when choosing the equipment.

  • Buy everything as cheap as possible because you have been told by the store that with that equipment you have enough to start. When you do this, I know from experience that after a year or even less, you will need better equipment because you will want more quality, so you will end up buying 2 or 3 times.
  • Buy the most expensive because you want to sound professional. You don’t need to buy the best to sound professional quality, you can get the same quality with less expensive equipment.
  • Spend a lot of money on one thing and the rest is cheaper. If you spend a lot of money on a microphone but you have a very cheap preamp, you will only get the so-called bottleneck effect, that expensive mic will not sound at 100% of its quality because the preamp or the audio interface will reduce its performance.
  • Buying equipment and not treating the acoustics. For me acoustics is the first thing you must correct when you want to get a perfect voice recording, something I recommend is to get an anti-reflection filter, but regardless of the filter, there are areas of your room that must be treated to remove resonances and ugly reverberations in the recording.

Let’s go with the two examples of equipment I have selected for you, with both you are going to get professional quality and you won’t need to upgrade that equipment for many years, probably never. You need to have a computer that is capable of running smoothly with the daw you are going to use for recording, with as much ram as you can afford, at least 16 gb of ram and a good processor will make everything run smoothly.

Professional voice recording with amateur equipment (780 €)

1. Audio interface – Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen (111 € approx). It is the 3rd generation of a card that has become a best seller, USB-C connection, 1 microphone input, 1 line / instrument input and 24 Bit / 192 Khz quality.  See in detail.

2. Micrófono – Akg C214 (389 € aprox.). Es un micro todoterreno con el que puedes conseguir muy buena calidad en tu grabación de voces, lo usé durante años y te puedo asegurar que es una bestia. See in detail.

3. Headphones – Sennheiser HD-280 Pro (98 € approx.). Very good quality closed headphones, ideal for recording as they have an attenuation level of 32 db, which is not bad at all.  See in detail

4. DawThis is the program you are going to use to record your voice, add effects, mix…etc. The most commonly used are Cubase, Logic pro x and Ableton Live. All these brands have beginner versions that can be purchased for around 90 € and more professional versions that are a bit more expensive, for the moment I recommend you try beginner versions and you will always have time to improve your software.

5. Anti-reflection filter – SE Electronics Reflexion filter X (92 € approx.). If you want to make recordings in your home studio and you don’t plan to make a vocal recording booth, a reflection filter is a must buy and it will help you a lot to get very good quality recording takes. See in detail.

Voice recording with medium-high quality equipment (3083 € + Daw of your choice)

1. Audio interface – Universal Audio Apollo Twin MkII Duo Heritage (888 € approx). It is an audio interface that is a real delight, supports UAD audio plugins that are also processed in the DSP of the card, so it does not consume performance of the computer core, I use the first version and I can not be happier with it. It is a real breakthrough to get a clear sound in your voice recording. See in detail..

2. Microphone preamp – If you have a card like the Apollo, take advantage of its full potential by acquiring a software preamp with UAD’s Unison technology (the best preamps in the world in plugin form), and I especially recommend the Manley Voxbox Channel Strip (299 € approx. although you can get it at a better price on sale dates), it is a voice recording channel – preamp with an impressive quality that in its hardware version can cost you almost 2000 € and sounds great. See in detail..

3. Microphone – Neumann TLM 103 ( 1022 € approx. ). Although sometimes we don’t have to look at the brand of something to know if it is good, Neumann is synonymous of quality, and this microphone is a classic in many studios nowadays, it has an incredible clarity and is the perfect choice to voice recording.  See in detail..

4. Headphones – Sennheiser HD-300 Pro ( 175 € approx. ). Very good quality closed headphones, ideal for recording and very comfortable. See in detail..

5. Daw – This is the program you will use to record your voice, add effects, mix…etc. The most used are Cubase, Logic pro x and Ableton Live. The price depends on each brand, Cubase Pro around 500 €, Logic 229 € (only for Mac) and Ableton Suite 599 €.

6. Reflexion filter – SE Electronics Reflexion filter Pro ( 199 € approx. ). If you want to make recordings in your home studio and you do not plan to make a vocal recording booth, an anti-reflexion filter is a must buy and it will help you a lot to get very good quality recording takes. See in detail..

16 tips for better recordings at home or home studio

You already have the equipment, but just because you have the best mic and the best preamp doesn’t mean you’re going to sound better than anyone else, it’s one of the things I like most about music, when I see someone with little means achieving great results. That’s why there are a few things to keep in mind when recording that can greatly improve your recordings.

1. Record the best take in the shortest time possible. After 15 years of recording different artists in my studio, I can assure you that when they try over and over again to record the same take, they lose focus and freshness.

2. Keep an adequate distance from the mic. About 15 cm is usually a good distance, if you get closer there can be a proximity effect that makes it difficult to understand what you are saying and if you get too far away the signal will be more affected by the shortcomings of the room. I have seen this a lot when mixing vocals recorded in other studios and it is something that can ruin your vocal recording.

3. Use a pop filter. Large diaphragm microphones tend to exaggerate the “P” and “B” so using this type of filter helps to reduce that ugly effect of the recordings, also works very well to calculate the distance to the microphone, separate it 10 cm from the microphone and you leave about 5 or 7 cm between your mouth and the filter.

4. Use an anti-reflection filter. This is very important especially if you are not recording in a recording booth. If you want to record in the same room where you have the computer, no problem, even Dr. Dre prefers to do so with the artists he records, although of course he has a booth of many thousands of euros. What these filters do is to isolate the microphone from annoying noises and reflections produced by the rooms, they have different positions to place the microphone and get more or less dry voices according to your taste.

5. If you are thinking of adding any effect, I only advise you to use compression when recording. This is something more personal to my way of working, I don’t usually equalize the voice, nor add de-essers, nor add any other effect that is not compression, I prefer to do it in the mixing phase, you will save having to repeat recordings when you make a mistake equalizing or reducing too much the “S” if you don’t have enough experience. Also when compressing try to reduce 2 to 3 db at most, just to try to get a more uniform volume.

6. When you are with the voice recording, try not to let your voice go above -9 dbs. Leave enough headroom so that your voice can be treated by the person who is going to mix it and has enough space to work with. When you record at -2 or -3 db the voice will sound very saturated. Do not record too low either, because when you increase the gain of the voice, unwanted sounds will also rise.

7. If you are going to record several songs on the same day, make sure you take some breaks between songs, because the voice can be affected and the last takes will not be like the first ones.

8. Don’t record the whole song on one track, do several main takes and add secondary tracks. I’ll explain later how many tracks to record to make the most of the vocal part.

9. Learn to breathe well between words. Breaths can always be worked on in the mixing part but the better the lead vocal, the more natural everything will sound.

10. Don’t record thinking that a bad take will be fixed in the mix. Think about recording as well as you can and give it a point of improvement in the mix.

11. Rehearse before recording and learn the lyrics. If you want to flow over the song you have to go for it with confidence, if you are going to be reading a piece of paper while recording you will forget the performance.

12. Write the lyrics on a piece of paper and underline where you want to put choruses, where you want to breathe, where you want to leave gaps to reinforce with a secondary voice, where you will put a scream, a laugh, an ouuu. This will help you to finish the recording sooner and avoid long pauses that only make you cool down. You have to prepare a recording structure and be prepared.

13. Never edit any track until you finish the voice recording. At the end you can tweak what you need, but now you are in front of the microphone and that time is sacred.

14. Ambience is very important. If you are going to record a song with a lot of feeling that you want to sound very intimate, leave only a small light on, it seems silly but these things can make you get to convey in a brutal way the feeling you had when you wrote the song.

15. The mood influences the message. If you want to record a song talking about your love for your mother, you can’t go in to record if you have just had an argument with your girlfriend, this is the only way to convey to the listener what you really wanted to convey. It’s not a bad idea to have a picture of your mother in front of you while you are recording.

16. As nowadays we don’t separate from our cell phones at all, make sure you put it on airplane mode when recording if you don’t want to have any surprises when you get a perfect shot.

As you can see, there are many things that seem silly but are very important to sound good when recording vocals at home or home studio. Don’t forget that a song is art and art is feeling.

How many vocal shots do you need

This part depends a lot on the way each artist works. But I have a scheme that works for me and I usually give it to the artists that send me their songs to mix, both for the verse vocals and the hook. The best way not to lose concentration when recording is to have a clear plan of what you should record for sure, and then once you have recorded it, add whatever extra your body asks for. Below is a basic voice recording scheme that usually works very well.

Voice recording tracks in the verse

1. Lead voice or main voice, in this track you would record the main voice of the verse.

2. Reinforcement voice, is a secondary track, very similar to the main track but reinforcing certain parts of the verse, here it is not worth duplicating the main voice, they have to be different takes.

3. Voice L, is a track where we highlight parts of the verse with more emotion and that will sound on the left side of the stereo field.

4. Voice R, the same as voice L, in the same parts of the verse but it will sound on the right side, it is not worth duplicating the voice either, they have to be different takes.

5. Voices Adlibs, in this track we record the ohh, praaa, shuuu, laughs…etc.

Voice tracks in the hook or refrain

We will record the same tracks as in the verse but add:

1. Extra L voice, where we record the same take as the lead voice but pitched lower or higher and it will sound on the left side but less open than the L voice.

2. Extra R voice, where we record the same take as the main voice but pitched lower or higher and it will sound on the right side but less open than the R voice.

With these 2 extra tracks we get to give a point of strength to the hook to make it stand out. I also recommend recording the intro and outro separately to have a better structured recording. This is a base so that you don’t go crazy recording 3 equal lead vocals for example, or find yourself at the end of the vocal recording with 20 or 30 tracks without knowing which one you are going to end up using. It is as bad to record too few tracks as it is to record too many, there are artists that work differently but in my experience this scheme is a good starting point, which you will improve according to your tastes.

Export tracks for the mixing phase

Once you have finished recording, the best thing you can do if you want to get a professional quality in your song is to send the tracks to a qualified person, and I’m not talking about the friend who knows how to mix, I’m talking about experienced people who know how to give a plus of quality to your song, because a badly mixed song is not going to be heard, you can be very good but if you don’t sound good you don’t sound good at all. I know many people that even if they know how to mix, they prefer someone else to mix the song because that person will listen to the tracks with a different point of view, and will see more easily where to improve your tracks.

Finally, export each track separately in wav quality at 24 bits/ 44.1 khz. Without any added effects. In one folder put the verse files and in another folder put the hook files.

I hope I have helped you to record quality vocals at home or in your home studio. If you have any questions, I’m happy to help you. You can contact me at my email [email protected].




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