29 Apr How to Record Your Own Studio Quality Vocal … In Your Bedroom!
If you are recording your own vocals in your home or apartment, then this post is for you! My name is Trystan Matthews and I am the owner and founder of Demo My Song. Ever since I first started making recordings, which not unlike most teens, was in the garage of my parents house using my trusty old Yamaha MT-50 cassette recorder, I’ve always wanted to make the best sounding recordings possible regardless of any limitations I may have had at the time whether it was location or equipment.
In my early adulthood I moved… a lot…which amongst other things taught me to deal with a new set of acoustical problems with each bedroom, basement, or I admit, bathroom I was forced to record in. Sometimes I got really lucky and other times… not so much. Here I will share some of the things I have learned over the years, mostly from trial and error, that will hopefully reduce some of your guesswork the next time you go to record your vocals at home.
The advent of in-expensive recording platforms for both the mac and pc has made recording on a budget or in a home studio more possible than ever… but as you have probably found, making a studio quality recording in your bedroom isn’t as easy as just plugging a microphone into your computer.
The first thing you should always consider is the room you plan to record in. The quality of your vocal recording, and even the overall timbre of the sound that is being captured by the microphone, can vary greatly on your room’s acoustics. Let’s take a look at a few room type “do’s and don’ts” based on size and shape.
Perhaps the easiest mistake one can make is recording in a room that is fully symmetrical, i.e. a perfect square. Square rooms are especially prone to “standing waves” which occurs when continuous sounds, at given frequencies, bounce off the walls surrounding the sound source and re-combine in a displeasing manner creating peaks (nodes) and nulls (anti-nodes) in sound pressure. Standing waves are also the cause of a phenomenon known as “one-note” bass in which certain bass notes, playing for example out of your home stereo system, sound louder than others, especially when listening at different locations throughout the room. Inversely, the very same note may sound weak or soft at other points in the room. For those who have no other option but to record in a square room, not to worry, there are some things which I will share will you a bit later than can help combat your “squareness.”
The “ping pong” effect, which has a sound best described as a “fluttery” echo and is most easily audible following a percussive noise such as a handclap is also a common problem with just about any room with two opposing walls which are perfectly parallel. Its effects are audible in most homes but furniture alone usually offsets it to the point that it’s not very noticeable. The next time you are moving out of your house or apartment you might take note how much the sound of a room changes as you move your belongings out, especially furniture or floor coverings. It can be quite dramatic!
Another room type that can be very problematic for vocal recording is just about any room with low ceilings. Anyone who has ever recorded vocals in a standard sized basement can attest to that. The early reflections bouncing off the overhead ceiling and creeping back into the microphone creates an instantly displeasing sound which is best described as “wish washy” or “unfocused.” If recording vocals in a room with low ceilings is your only option, you might try sitting on a stool or chair for your takes.
For this post I will assume that most of those reading will be recording in a standard sized bedroom, or perhaps living room. While square rooms are to be avoided if possible, a rectangular room, which is undoubtedly the most common room shape, will do just fine.
If you have the option, I recommend recording vocals in a room with carpet. Or, as is popular in recording studios with reflective floors, you can place a throw rug directly underneath the vocalist and microphone. This helps absorb some of the sound that would otherwise reflect back off the floor and into the microphone.
If your budget allows, you may spring for some sound absorbing panels specifically designed for sound absorption. Most of the ones sold in music stores made of pyramid or triangular foam work great to absorb high frequencies but do practically nothing for lower frequencies. For that, I recommend making your own wideband absorbers like the ones we made.
If you would rather do this on the cheap, then a simple solution for sound treating a room is with the use of heavy drapes or blankets hung, preferably, several inches to two feet from the wall. Unwanted low frequencies are a common problem when recording in small rooms and they have a tendency to build-up in the corners of the room. Consider placing sound absorbing material in the corners to help reduce this problem. Heavy sleeping bags work pretty well for this and can be attained quite cheaply. Pillows also work well to “kill” corners but you may have to get creative to make them stay in place on the walls. If you have any large windows in the room, consider also closing the drapes or curtains or again simply cover the window with some sort of heavy fabric.
Stay tuned for Pt. 2 of this post in which I will be sharing with you tips on microphones, mic placement, as well as some basic vocal recording techniques.
In the meantime, I would like to hear some of your experiences with recoding vocals. Leave us a comment below!