How to prepare your home studio for recording vocals

Your microphone isn’t everything when it comes to recording quality vocals.

In fact, the world’s most expensive mic can’t demonstrate its full potential if it’s set up poorly, and on the other hand, a budget option can capture some pretty amazing results if we’re smart about what we do with it. Below, we offer a few tips for how you can best prepare your home studio for recording vocals. Make sure to also check out the video above, where we go into further detail around each topic.

Find the right position in your room

Walk around the room you plan to record in, and try clapping your hands, clicking your fingers, or vocalizing. As you do so, listen to the acoustics of your room and identify where the least amount of reflections are present. If you’re unsure, unwanted reflections are typically most pronounced in open spaces with flat, hard surfaces. To counteract this, try starting out with a set back part of the room or a closet / wardrobe.

Optimize acoustics and the environment

If you’re still struggling with reflections after finding the optimal position in your room, there are a number of home studio treatments that you can use to further remedy them.

  • Lay down a rug or carpet, especially where the vocalist is going to stand. This will help dampen reflections and minimize potential noise coming from below such as noisy neighbors, creaky floorboards, and any subconscious foot tapping.
  • Pad windows with blankets, pillows, and heavy-duty curtains. If you have an unused microphone stand, extend it into a T-shape and fold a heavy duvet or quilt over it. This can form the basis of a DIY vocal booth, or a protective barrier between your setup and the unwanted noise source.
  • If you’re using a closet as your makeshift vocal booth, open the doors and drape towels or quilts over the top. Be careful and use your ears to decide if this sounds boxy or unpleasant. A/B test a quick recording inside and outside of your closet booth to determine which sounds better, since completely deadening the sound isn’t necessarily desirable; you don’t want to sound like you’re in a cardboard box.
  • For larger rooms, consider mounting rock wool or fiberglass insulation panels to your walls. These dense panels are said to absorb a larger frequency range than the smaller, foam acoustic panels we often see in home studios (and they’re surprisingly much cheaper too)! That said, note that you’ll need to cover these in some material first, as fiber glass can get into your skin if you’re not careful.
  • Use a reflection filter. These range from $50 – $350, but truthfully they all do a very similar job. I gravitate towards the sE SPACE and Aston Halo reflection filters; both are made from quality material and curve nicely around the vocalist. Since the microphone is mounted to the accessory, just make sure it sits deep inside it and isn’t exposed, as this will void the filter’s benefits.
  • Fill the surrounding space with items and materials. The more sparse your space, the better chance the sound has at bouncing around the room. Filling the space with soft furniture will help absorb sound, while items such as a filled bookcase will help diffuse sound.

Avoid key vocal recording mistakes

Sometimes, half the battle is just avoiding key mistakes and pitfalls. Below are four faux pas to be weary of as you’re recording vocals.

  • Background noise. The most common form of background noise is headphone bleed, or the playback sound which escapes our headphones and travels back into the microphone along with the vocal. That said, there are also other noises to look out for such as televisions, household chatter, low rumbles from passing cars, outdoor construction, AC units, and even the whirring of our external hard drives and computer fans.
  • Electrical interference. Phones are known to cause interference with our electronics (and it’s best to put these on silent while recording anyway). There’s also the low buzz or hiss you can sometimes hear when you turn the gain on your microphone up, which is known as ground hum. There will always be some low-level sound, but it can be made worse by bad earthing and overloaded electrical sockets or power extension cables. You can reduce electrical hum by plugging straight into your main power supply, and unplugging the other things you aren’t using.
  • Clipping audio. Clipping can be caused by a combination of factors including mic placement, vocalist technique, and the level of your input gain. To avoid this issue, set your gain accordingly by performing the loudest part of the song and making sure it doesn’t clip, or go into the red on your DAW’s level meter. From there, your vocalist should be encouraged to use mic technique, coming closer to the microphone for quiet performances and backing off for the louder notes.
  • Artifacts. These are vocal or technical anomalies which aren’t meant to be there, such as plosives, clicks, and crackles. Attenuate plosives by using a pop shield, avoid clicks by having the singer stand a little further back, and remove crackles by repairing or replacing faulty cables and dodgy inputs. Above all, always do a sound check and a rough run-through with your vocalist before starting – it’ll save a ton of time in the long run.

Hopefully these tips help you better prepare your home studio for recording great-sounding vocals. Do you have any questions around any of the topics covered? Are there any neat tricks or hacks that we didn’t showcase above? Let us know in the comments below.

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August 23, 2020

Kate Wild Kate Wild is a singer, top-line writer, and arranger who is also the founder and director of 91Vocals, a royalty-free vocal sample label.