Vocal Recording Basics Part 1: Where to Start
Before even discussing equipment or techniques, we have to start with our end goal. Audio equipment manufacturers, bloggers, and recording magazines love selling you things you don’t need. There are plenty of honest people sharing quality recommendations, but others prey on your lack of information to boost their profit margin. The most expensive microphone sounds completely awful when addressed from ten feet away. The right steps will generate far better results than any piece of equipment, which means that you can save money and create a professional recording.
Have a look online and you’ll see hundreds of articles about how to create a professional-sounding vocal recording. Most of them disagree, and I believe it’s due to mismatching expectations. Recording for a world-class singer in the most pristine detail is different from recording vocal overdubs for a youtube video, creating a podcast, or narrating an audiobook.
Purists argue for using the most high-end equipment and processes in every instance, but this comes with major drawbacks. A high-end recording is time and money-intensive, not to mention impractical. Further, the difference between properly recording in a home or apartment studio versus a million studio are indistinguishable for the majority of audiences. Is it worth spending ten times as much time and money to gain a 10% overall improvement in quality?
Before setting up any recording environment, I suggest considering the applications for the end user. Will the user be listening online in a lossy format, such as an audiobook or web stream? Will the listener most likely be listening on a laptop, car, or mobile device, as opposed to a theater or hi-fi system? Is the recording newsworthy and time-sensitive, as opposed to a recording that will be listened to repeatedly and last for generations?
If the answer is ‘yes’ to two or more of the above situations, then a professional studio set up just isn’t needed. Your audio recording should sound clear and professional, but done on the smallest viable budget and timeframe. There’s no need for acoustic treatment, a sound engineer, or $1000+ microphones. Instead, all you’ll need is a quiet room, an inexpensive condenser microphone, and proper technique.