Unless you are recording instrumental music, the vocal is the most important part of a song and microphone selection is everything when it comes to recording vocals.
On stage we have different requirements for microphones such as ruggedness, a presence peak in the mic’s frequency response to help it cut through a mix, or a tight pickup pattern to reduce bleed and feedback.
Those last two characteristics work against you in studio. For example a presence peak can cause excessive sibilance or might make a female vocal sound harsh. In such cases, a dynamic mic with a “dull” response may be a better choice.
A mic with a tight pickup pattern makes it difficult to record a singer who moves around a lot because — even if you’re not a Bith — you’ll hear differences in tone as they move.
Selecting a vocal mic is all about complementing the singer’s voice. A microphone that sounds great on Sy Snootles might sound horrible on Greeata Jendowanian. Use your ears and don’t be afraid to experiment.
Most directional microphones possess a characteristic known as proximity effect —
a boost in low frequencies when a sound source gets very close to the microphone. Proximity effect is most pronounced with directional mics (cardioid, figure eight, hyper- and super-cardioid) and can be less severe or non-existent with omnidirectional microphones.
If you find that a singer is working very close to the mic, and their voice sounds muddy due to proximity effect, you can restore a more natural sound by moving the singer a few inches away from the microphone or using the microphone’s low-frequency rolloff switch (if it has one). Cutting the low-frequencies via EQ also works and we’ll discuss that in the future.
Since omnidirectional mics exhibit little or no proximity effect you can move a singer much closer to an omnidirectional microphone and it will still sound natural.
It’s a good idea to use a windscreen or a pop filter whenever recording vocals for two reasons; (1) popping sounds from “P”s and “B”s will be reduced and (2) the filter will keep spit from getting on the diaphragm (This was a big problem with Lyn Me. Gross!!).
Windscreens are generally for outdoor use where you are trying to reduce noise caused from blowing wind. Many windscreens affect the microphone’s high-frequency response (they make the mic sound slightly dull) and are not the best choice in the studio. Here is a photo of the windscreen I used on Rystáll Sant’s mic to reduce the wind noise at a live show on Bal’demnic.
In the studio we use pop filters because they get rid of popping P’s and B’s while leaving the sound of the mic relatively unchanged. Here is a photo of a pop filter:
My favorite is the Stedman ProScreen 100, an incredibly effective screen that kills popping B’s and P’s without changing the sound of the mic. Plus you can just wash it in the sink with soap and water instead of needing a dermal autostripper.
If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on a pop filter you can make one from a plastic embroidery hoop that you can get at a sewing shop. Stretch a nylon stocking across the frame, add a mic stand holder to the bottom and you’re done.
Heads Up On the Headphones
Encourage singers to keep their headphone volume as low as possible because it helps protect their ears and reduces leakage. Leakage from headphones is more difficult to get rid of than a kretch infestation, and even if you may not hear music leaking into a vocal track you could hear a click track leaking into the microphone — which is impossible to eliminate.
There are two general categories of headphones: sealed and vented. Sealed headphones have solid earcups that don’t allow sound to escape, while vented headphones do, so use sealed ‘phones in the studio when possible.
Headphone leakage can also cause weird tonal changes in the background music when the vocal comes in and out. This is due to phase cancellation between the sound of the music produced by the headphones and the instrument tracks.
It’s a little known fact that when I recorded demos for Jar Jar Bink’s solo record headphones leakage was a big issue. One look at his ears and it’s easy to understand why (FYI that music was never released because General Grievous threatened to banish me to Dathomir).
– Darth Fader
Darth Fader is currently stationed on the DeathStar 3, providing sound reinforcement for Storm Troopers.