In this post we'll try and present you with a few good tips and tricks that should help you to choose the best way to approach the situation. We also cover a real life recording session with Angie Brown, one of the most respected vocalists on the house music scene. Hopefuly this will give even more insight on how things work during a profession recording session.
Analyze the singer’s Voice
The singer will have the most influence on the final sound, no matter what recording setup is used. The tone of their voice is worth analysing before you start out. What do you like about it? What do you want to enhance?
Deal with unwanted Sibilance
Some vocalists naturally pronounce s’s or ch’s stronger than others. If the vocal sounds particularly harsh in these areas, try and treat beforehand rather than relying on a de-esser later. Asking the singer to stand back from the mic or sing just under or over it can help, but this can also cause the vocal to become a little thin and lose some low end. A better technique might be to ask the vocalist to try and pronounce these sounds differently, just make sure it doesn't have a negative impact on their performance.
Observe the singer’s microphone technique
If you watch an experienced singer record, you will see how they move around the microphone, stepping back or changing the angle to the mic on the loud passages, and getting close up on the quieter phrases. This gives a different sound and also acts as a natural compressor, meaning the equipment doesn't need to work as hard. Again, it all depends on the desired effect. Close up will give a full, detailed sound, and further away will give a more natural sound and pick up more of the room.
Make a joke, keep the singer in the right mood
Singers tend to perform best when they are relaxed and at ease, so try to make a few jokes. If you’re terrible at jokes then great, you looking a bit stupid will probably make them feel more comfortable in themselves! If they have particularly big ego’s, bite your tongue and give them a little massage (their ego’s that is, a shoulder massage could have the opposite effect!) Also, remember that they are human, and they can’t sing forever. Ask regularly how they are feeling, do they want some water? If you can’t get a good take and they are getting frustrated, move on to the next section and come back to it later.
Find the best spot in the room
The room will have a big impact on the sound. Recording in a small untreated room will create all sorts of issues, so spend time getting it to sound the best you can. Ask the singer to sing a few scales as smoothly as they can, and see if any notes jump out as being a lot louder or a lot quieter. Some issues can be hard to treat. Anything below 1khz is going to need some proper broadband absorption or diffusion.
Choose the right gear for the job
The equipment you use can really make the difference between something sounding like it was recorded at home and something that sounds ‘high end’ or ‘expensive.’ That being said, there are some good quality microphones and preamps out there at reasonable prices, (check out sE Electronics and Focusrite) that, in the right hands, can produce great sounding results.
The microphone, preamps and convertors (if recording to digital) all effect how the signal is processed before it reaches its destination. The microphone captures the sound and turns it into an electronic signal, which is then boosted by the preamp, and converted, to digital by an AD convertor. Each one of these processes will have an effect on the sound. Some will sound fairly natural, others will add harmonics and noticeable distortion (tube preamps for example), some will emphasize different aspects of the sound and some will just sound, well, a bit naff. Deciding which is appropriate is often a case of trial of error, and in many cases doing the best with the equipment you have. At the end of the day, if it sounds good, it IS good!