10 Tips for Recording Vocals at Home

10 Tips for Recording Vocals at Home

Why does the internet need more content about recording vocals at home? There are hundreds and articles and videos about this already, right?

Well then, why do I still have artists and producers send me terribly recorded vocals laden with distortion (rhetorical). I sometimes still get vocals from artists that are recorded without any care. While it's still possible to get a good mix out of poorly recorded vocals, it's not the best version of your song. If you ignore these tips, I'll still mix your record and it will sound great - Not everyone can make the trip to my studio in Brooklyn, NY to record with proper engineering supervision. That said, if you take just a few extra steps it will really elevate the quality of your recordings and your final product.

1) Know what type of microphone you have

Different microphones have different best practices for recording. The most common mics (I have found) for recording vocals at home are large diaphragm condensor microphones, dynamic microphones, and thirdly, ribbon mics. This fact is going to dictate some of the ensuing best practices.

2) Know the hardware settings on your microphone and what effect they have on your recording

Some microphones have physical switches on them that dictate some functions. If your mic doesn't have any switches, that's ok too! Just be aware of what you're buying and what the applications for your use cases might be. Most artists recording vocals at home, you probably don't need to know about every setting. I would suggest the following:

typical cardioid pattern indicator on microphone
Exhibit A: Cardioid pattern

2a) Polar pattern

If your mic has a polar pattern switch, it should probably be on the cardiod setting. That setting will probably be accompanied by an illustration something like EXHIBIT A, but check your mic's product manual for certain. The pickup pattern setting dictates how the directional pick-up of the microphone is focused, and the cardiod setting is most commonly used to pickup a source like a vocal that is placed in front of the capsule while minimising noise from behind the microphone.

Typical high-pass filter indicator
Exhibit B: High-pass filter

2b) High-pass filter

If your mic has a high-pass filter switch? It might be accompanied an illustration something like EXHIBIT B. You don't need to have this set at all to record vocals at home, because a high pass filter can be added in post and the mixing stage. However, If you choose to use it to capture the audio high-passed, I would suggest not to engage any high pass above 80 kHz (and certainly not higher than 100 kHz) as this information may be useful for a achieving more full-bodied vocal sounds.

3) Be the right distance away from your microphone (6-12 inches for condensor mics, 2-6 for dynamic microphones)

Don't be too close. Why? When you are closer to the microphone, bass and midrange frequencies become more pronounced in the recording. This is a result of the proximity effect (we won't get too technical). Point is, this makes for a potentially boomy, muddy vocal recording. This might be what you're going for if your recording somthing likea podcast, radio, or other applications where this sound is actually the standard. When it comes to music, You typically don't want an overpowering proximity effect. To get a good recording without the proximity effect, maintain a distance of 6-12 inches for condensor mics (I like to use the "chyaaaa brah", shaka symbol, whatever it's called for condensors, get pitted), 2-6 inches for dynamic mics.

an example of shaka brah hand symbol for how far you should be from the microphone

Don't be too far. Why? Your microphone is capturing sound waves being generated by the source (your voice) as well has sound waves that missed the mic, bounced off of the walls and surfaces of your space, and then hit the mic capsule. As your mouth moves further away from the capsule, the balance between the intensity of the waves coming directly from your mouth and the waves that have already reflected around the room changes in favor of the latter. That's why as you move further away from the mic, you hear more of the room. Also included in the "other" category of waves coming from places other than directly from your mouth, includes electrical noise, air conditioner/refridgerator humming, ambient noise, your computer fan, your windbreaker rubbing together, etc. Some call this the "Signal to Noise" ratio, which brings us to the next point...

4) Do test takes and listen back critically for unwanted noise

Pay attention to your room and what’s going on… Is your computer, air conditioner, or a mini-fridge making a humming noise? Is your roommate watching tiktoks while you’re trying to record? Are your pants making a weird swishy noise? Is there a hair dryer on? 

Do some test takes and listen back to the raw audio in solo. Do you hear any of those noises? Do you hear any electical buzz or hum from a bad mic cable or mic connection? 

Not only do microphones pick up all of this noise and print it on your recording, but when your engineer mixes your vocals all of these noises are audibly raised as a result of mixing techniques like compression, saturation, EQ, etc.

All it takes is a test to see if there's any unwanted noise in your recording. It takes just a minute, and will save you a lot of headache later on. And, yes, your engineer probably has tools to reduce unwanted noise but to the point I just made about mixing techniques, sometimes there are positive and negative impacts and the engineer is left to decide if there's a net gain on the final result with each one.

5) Angle of (mic) address

This is differnt from distance, more the angle at which you address the mic. Think about how sound is hitting the diaphram of the microphone. When the sound waves are approaching the diaphragm in a parallel fashion (or, the direction at which the source is projecting audio is perpencicular to the surface of the diaphragm.

You may have heard that microphones and speakers are like the same physics working in opposite directions. When you are listening to a speaker that's right in front of you, it sounds different than when you are off-center from the speaker or even behind the speaker, right? Using that same principle, think about how you might want to address your microphone.


Our mouths and vocal cords are part of the resonating biology behind our voices, and so are our nasal cavities and chest cavities. Angle the mic slightly up to the middle of your face, and your recording might sound more nasaly. Angle the mic slightly down towards your chest or throat, and it might sound more full. Play around with this yourself to see how it sounds. It might be that point the capsule of the mic right at your mouth is best for your situation and voice.

6) Use a pop filter

Put it somewhere between you and the mic. The air pressure of plosive consonants like P’s, and distortions from “S” and “T” sounds etc, can make the quality of your vocal recording sound more amateur. I use a metal screen pop filter because it's easy to clean, durable, and does the best job.

an example of clipped audio waveform being displayed in pro tools
Example of clipped waveforms

7) Adjust the gain on your interface to avoid clipping.

Gain is approaching technical/potentially intimidating to discuss so I'll keep it simple. If your input/interface gain is too hot, you might clip the signal, which means your vocal recording has (most likely, unwanted) distorition printed on it. You will know you clipped when you listen back and hear the distortion, and/or you see any red light indicator on your interface or the channel you're recording into on your DAW. It' can't be undone in post or mixing, so it's best to avoid clipping. This is done by ensuing the gain setting on your interface is at the right level. An easy "set it and forget it" gain strategy is the following:

  • Hit record. Approach the mic and be at the appropriate distance (outlined above).
  • Sing the highest/loudest note you will sing that session (or, at all even, ever).
  • Did you clip? OK! Turn your input gain down a little bit and try again. Do repeat until you do not clip.

Even if your recorded signal is very quiet, your engineer can always just turn the gain up on their side in the post process. Another common misconception to file under this tip, is that the size of the soundwaves in your DAW is not indicative of if the recorded signal from your mic is too hot or not. You can most likely adjust the size of the soundwaves by toggling it in your UI - Think of his as zooming in or out. That said, if you clip the signal, your DAW probably represents this with a literal truncated soundwave that has flat formations at the peak of the soundwaves.

8) Learn the basics of room acoustics and how to use what's available to your advantage

Without getting lost in the sauce of the science behind professional acoustic treatments, learn about the basics of room reflections and easy ways to reduce them. Reduce flat hard surfaces with items like a carpet, soft padded furniture like a bed or couch, exposing your wardrobe, and other bulky, soft objects are all going to help treat your room acoustics. Another hot tip is bookshelves with book, records, or random objects in the shelve that create an uneven reflection surface to diffuse sound waves. Proper room treatment is a whole subject in it's own right and there are numerous resources available that can explain it better than I can here. Point being you don’t need to shove yourself in your closet, and you probably shouldn't. A closet full of foam will sound boxy and dead - You might be better served by recording in a room with a little bit of character. Also, do not record in your bathroom (unless you want your recording to sound like a bathroom).

9) Use a mic stand.

I figured this would go without saying but if you're recording at home, you shouldn't just hold the mic in your hand and record. Microphones are sensitive to noise, right? So, the friction from the mic housing rubbing against your hands and fingers, moving around in the air, and rattling the internal components of the microphone could/will create unwanted and un-editable distortions, plosives, low-end booms in your recording. Secondly, a mic stand will help you maintain a consistent distance from the microphone to avoid varying proximity effect (mentioned above) as well as keep your room reflections consistent. If you move your mic about in your room during the same recording session, the room reflections will chane depending on where the mic is in the room, where your mouth (the source) is projecting, etc. All of those factors could result in an inconsistent, amature recording. 

10) Record at home for practice and to make demos, but lay down the final take in a studio.

Some might think the best strategy is to flush out your song at home and practice your recording so you can go into a studio with a nice microphone, better treatment, and get the most bang for your buck out of the time spent tracking. Many artists I work with take this approach. The befeits are a reduced $$ investment in your home set up, and less time stressing over creating the perfect home recording situation, which for some, just may not be attainable. A $20,000 vocal chain may never return on the investment if you can't prevent your dog from barking, prevent radio frequencies from being picked up by your gear and printed on your signal, or if you have a small living space where your roommates/spouse are free to hear your worst takes while you try to hit that high note.

I hope this helps your with your home recording endeavors! Let us know if you have any questions.

As for what's up like, 'RIGHT NOW' right now?

a picture of me working from home today

Day off from the studio today, so I'm just keeping my guitar chops in check and making taco bowls for wifey and I. There was biblical rain/flooding on my bike ride home from the studio in Brooklyn at about 1:30am last night. Not many people out at that time on a Monday and I should have taken a video. Guess I'm not a content king.

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Ciao ciao.