The vocals are almost always in the spotlight of a song, yet sometimes they receive far less attention during setup than other instruments like the drums.
In this excerpt from Audio Recording Basic Training, you’ll not only get a few great tips, but an exercise that will lead you through the different ways of vocal miking that will show you their pros and cons.
Just like with a great sounding instrument, many times with a good singer you’ll get the “sound” automatically just by putting him/her in front of the right microphone. On the other hand, with a bad or inexperienced singer even a high priced microphone or signal processing won’t add the polish you’re looking for.
That said, if you start with the correct technique, you’re halfway there.
There are a number of things to remember before you begin to place the mic:
— The best mic in the house won’t necessarily get the best vocal sounds, so don’t be afraid to experiment with different mics.
— Decoupling of the stand from the floor will help get rid of many unwanted low-frequency rumbles that occur from truck traffic, machinery being used down the street, footsteps, and things that are even lower in frequency than normal hearing. Just place the stand on a couple of mouse pads or a rug for an inexpensive solution.
—One of the main things that you’re trying to do with mic placement is eliminate pops, lip smacks, and breath blasts.
—An easy way to have a vocalist gauge the distance from the mic is by hand lengths. An open hand is approximately eight inches while a fist is about four inches. By saying, “Stay a hand away”, the vocalist can easily judge his distance and usually doesn’t forget (see image at right).
Exercise: Recording The Lead Vocal
A) Place the mic even with the vocalist’s lips about one hand away (see the figure on the left) and have him or her sing the verse of a song. Did you hear any pops or breath blasts?
B) Move the vocalist back to about two hands away and sing the same part of the song. Turn up the gain so it’s the same as before. Did you hear any pops or breath blasts now?
C) Move the vocalist back to one hand away and readjust the gain. Place the mic even with the vocalist’s nose and have the him sing the verse of a song. Did you hear any pops or breath blasts? Did the sound of the vocal change? Is it more or less defined?
D) Now place the mic even with the vocalist’s eyes and point it down towards the lips. Have him sing the verse of a song. Did you hear any pops or breath blasts? Did the sound of the vocal change? Is it more or less defined?
E) Now place the mic even with the vocalist’s lips about one hand away again. Either change the pickup pattern to omnidirectional or change the mic to one with an omni pattern. Have him sing the verse of a song again. Did you hear any pops or breath blasts? Did the sound of the vocal change? Is it more or less defined?
F) Place the mic so there’s no breath blasts or pops.
Bobby Owsinski is an author, producer, music industry veteran and technical consultant who has written numerous books covering all aspects of audio recording. For more information be sure to check out his website and blog.