Recording and processing vocals in controlled environments like professional music studios has its advantages. Surely, getting good sounding vocals with a right choice of microphones, preamps, isolated rooms, etc. can be easy. On the other hand, recording and processing vocals in a home studio (like many of us do), can be a daunting task. We are hearing human voices every day and therefore we know how they should sound. In my opinion, the biggest mistake people tend to make when it comes to vocal processing is to overextend the use of equalizers, compressors and other tools used to treat the vocals. In the next tutorial, I will go through 5 basic tips that will help you sculpt your vocal recording properly.
Before we begin, I should mention that good choice of a microphone is essential. Spend as much time as you need to decide what color and what characteristics your voice recording should have. If you want a warmer sound, select a dynamic microphone. When recording, make a maximum distance of 2 to 5 inches. But if you want a clean and open sound, a condenser microphone with large diaphragm is the way to go. In this case, you would need to stand a bit further from the microphone, lets say 5 to 10 inches.
1. Choose cutting before boosting
This advice could be applicable when using an equalizer in general. In order to make a vocal warmer, you should cut the high frequency area of the sound spectrum rather than boosting the low`s. It’s always good to cut something in order to sound better. In the same way, boosting is mainly done to give a different character to a certain sound, in other words to sound different.
2. Go easy on boosting and cutting
A vocal that was well recorded in the first place doesn’t need radical cutting or boosting. Scope of 5 decibels up or down should be quite sufficient. More than that will make your vocals sound unnatural in most of cases.
3. Cut everything below 50 Hz
When you look at the spectrum analyzer, most vocals are centered between 120 Hz and 250 Hz. Bearing that in mind, everything below 50 Hz is just unnecessary noise and rumble. So you should cut everything below that value in order to avoid interfering with other elements of the song.
4. To improve clarity of the vocal try boosting between 2 and 6 kHz.
In some cases vocal sounds too warm and can’t come to surface. In this case boost above mentioned frequency range with a wide bandwidth for about 3 dB`s. This will help the vocal to achieve clarity.
5. Get rid of the muddiness
Vocals aside, muddiness is one of the greatest enemies of a good mix. For example, if you need to record a band with a couple of guitars and vocalist, guitars will take a large portion of the frequency spectrum between 250 Hz and 350 Hz. Therefore you can make a 3dB cut on the vocals around 300 Hz. This is applicable if the vocals already sound full. If it sounds thin, this technique should be avoided.
I hope you will find these tips helpful, but please keep in mind one last thing. If something sounds good, it doesn’t need any treatment. Trust your ears the most since they are the best judge.