Vocal Recording Techniques: Mic Placement

Recording on the Mic

Okay, so you found yourself a banger of a beat and got the license for it. You vibed to it and came up with lyrics that are hotter than fish grease!  Now it’s time to record them and create your new hit song! You are tasked with capturing your best vocal performance and extracting the highest quality sound possible to be forever etched on a recording for the world to hear. If you don’t have access to a dedicated recording studio, chances are, you’ll be recording at the comfort of your own home…by yourself.

So how then can you create an industry-quality vocal recording right out of your home studio? There are so many factors that go into recording professional-sounding vocals. This includes having and using the right equipment properly, acoustically treating your environment, and knowing how to use effects processors such as compression and EQ. Although you may not be using “million-dollar” equipment, you can get pretty darn close to replicating it. With just a few simple techniques, you can create vocal recordings that a discerning ear will have difficulty in believing that you recorded your song at your home studio.  In this blog post, I’ll be talking about a very important, yet often overlooked, aspect of recording great vocals: Mic Placement.

 

Why Mic Placement?

Just imagine this scenario: you’ve got a decent mic setup. Your room is acoustically treated with foam paneling and diffusors. You know in the back of your mind that “everything” can be fixed in post-production with your kick-ass compressor, EQ, and effects plugins, right?  Boom, you’ve laid down your vocals and now it’s time to listen to your performance.  You close your eyes and prepare for the magic you’re about to hear.  Whoa, wait a minute.  You find that your vocals sound too muffled, too bright, too deep, and the levels are jumping all over the place.  Furthermore, the recording doesn’t even sound like your natural voice!  You try some compression here, a little EQ there, apply some effects, and it’s still not sounding like how you had envisioned it.  You laid down that performance perfectly and now you’ve got to redo it all over again!

I’ve seen this situation play out far too often when mixing vocals. No amount of processing can completely fix a bad recording, period. Assuming your setup and input levels are in check, proper mic placement is crucial in producing a good vocal recording. It’s one of the easiest variables to control to ensure that the right tone and all the nuances of sound coming out of your mouth and into the mic are captured naturally.

 

Mic Placement Techniques

There are several different ways to achieve different recording tones based on the desired result. First, you’ll need to take into consideration the type of artist you are.  If you’re a rap artist whose voice is naturally laid back without a lot of dynamic range (like Snoop Dogg), then you should stand around 4 to 6 inches away from the mic. This allows for a warm, full sound.  If your style is more of the loud and aggressive type (like Eminem), then you should stand about a foot away from the mic. Regardless of your style, a good starting point is to keep a distance of about 7 inches away from the pop shield of your mic.  A simple way to measure this is to make the “Hang Loose” sign with your hand.  Bring up your hand to your face and touch your lips with your thumb while your pinky touches the pop shield (or vice versa).

That’s your starting distance.  From this point, you can adjust based off your style and sound that compliments the beat and the vibe you’re going for. The closer you move towards the mic, your voice will sound deeper and thicker.  The further away you move from the mic, you will generally have a thinner, crispier sound, along with an increased likelihood of capturing the room’s acoustics.  Try out several distances to find the right sound that fits your flow.  Of course it goes without saying, you will need to keep an even keel of your signal inputs to assess your volume levels and avoid any unwanted peaking. Once your vocal levels start to peak, you’ve done irreparable damage to your recording and will need to start over. Getting your levels right is a must so pay attention to your input meters as you do this!

 

Keep it Steady!

When you’re recording your performance, resist the urge to jump, clap, stomp your feet, or make any other movement that may be captured on the mic. I know the beat hits hard and you just gotta vibe to it. But save all that for the live performance. Remember, your duty is to capture a clean, professional-sounding recording!  On one occasion, I made an artist change out his clothes because all I could hear on the recording was his nylon jacket and sweatpants being ruffled around as he made the slightest movements!  Trying to fix that in post-production is like trying to separate the yolk from a scrambled egg!

Experienced vocalists and recording artists truly know how to utilize proper mic techniques. They’ve learned how to move closer to the mic for more intimate passages and to move farther away for louder verses. If you’re an artist that likes to switch up your flow within a song, this technique will save you (and possibly your producer or engineer) a lot of Asprin!

 

Summary

There are a lot of variables involved in capturing and recording the best-sounding vocals.  Understanding some basic mic techniques can result in good, clean recordings that will not require a lot of post-processing to make you sound “great.”  Experiment, get creative, and apply these techniques to see how they work for you!

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