Efficiently Recording Vocals
Updated: Sep 4
One mic, one vocalist, you'll be surprised how much busier you can get compared to tracking a band during recording.
I believe if you want to get efficient, and develop a solid workflow on your DAW and get edits done in a time effective manner, seriously start to think about how you can get the most out of a simple recording session like tracking vocals.
Get Your Engineering Basics SOLID
Before I go deeper into this, I would like to state, as a recording engineer, you are providing a service. Be respectful of the music you're recording and your clients, get them comfortable, and things will be easier for you down the line.
Clients will take their time to try different mics. But, don't take your time to set up the mics. If need be, be one step ahead, set up a few potential mics before the session.
It's a plug and go thing, don't waste 10mins deciding what compressor or EQ settings to use, do it in 1min or just use the 1176 ;))
Get familiar with your gear, know how much you can crank on your pre amps, ball park settings on your outboard processors, onboard EQ etc.
Obviously, if you're getting paid for a gig, you are expected to know how to work your way around the studio. Shit happens, many things can go wrong between the sound waves hitting the mic to Pro Tools before reaching your ears. So, know your signal flow. VERY VALUABLE SKILL.
Know Your Shortcuts
Heres a list of shortcuts and their functionality that I use very often, both in session and mixing. I definitely left out some, but these are probably the useful ones!
Set Up A Template
If Im doing a vocal session, first thing I do is import my template in. It has everything I need for a vocal recording. Reverb, delay, autotune, -8ve double, distortion, telephone effect, delay throws etc. Know the key, the tempo, the style of delivery.
Personalize your own template and set up whatever effects that might be useful. (Be careful of latency with certain plug-ins)
Know Your Clients
This is probably the most important out of everything. Work towards your client's style, NOT YOURS. This applies to mixing as well, if you're hired, make it a point to try to make it work, according to your client's specifications, you'll learn SO MUCH MORE. Simply because you are out of your comfort zone.
In context to recording, does your clients like to record multiple takes of the entire tune or section by section? Do they like to vibe to the music or kill it in one take? All this will affect the way you conduct the session, and do edits on the fly. Let's dive into some scenarios.
Likes to take a bunch of takes before comping
Straight to the point, doesn't like to waste time
Prefers punches to be precise and at a certain spot of the song
Knowing these few characteristics, I know what I should do as an engineer to run the session efficiently.
Make sure everything is ready to go before the session. Mic set up, working, outboard processors, EQ, REV sends all at a ballpark setting. (Force yourself out of the comfort zone of not taking an entire length of the song to get your levels and processing. Get it there ASAP)
I'll probably be using a lot of new playlist, duplicate playlist command. (Be organized, mute the clips that are repeated in the playlist whenever you have the time, makes your life easier when it comes to comping.)
Have a pen and paper next to you, he/she will tell you where to punch them in. If you can't cope, write it down.
As much as possible, listen to the lyrics or ask for the lyrics. There will be a point where the vocalist will say "Take me back to the previous verse where I sang 'I love peanut butter...'."
Read out the take numbers while listening to the takes during comping. (That way, they have a number to shout out if they hear the right take, instead of going "The previous take from 2 takes ago.")
Know your shortcuts for efficient comping. (Refer to list)
Easy going, relaxed.
Always take a few takes to warm up.
Makes up the parts as they go.
Likes to hear and sing along to the previous take before punching in.
Always know thats the final take while tracking.
According to these characteristics, I'll run my session differently to client A.
I have some time to get my processing during their warm up takes. (Let them know that you're adjusting levels!)
You're going to have alot of mumbling and humming. Do the logical thing and not save those takes.
Edits are done on the fly, some edits can be done while they are recording. Don't just stare at the screen.
Have 2 tracks ready, and go between track 1 and 2 while tracking. This allows the vocalist to hear and sing along to the previous take, and punch in seamlessly. (Edit the repeated parts on the fly)
Know your shortcuts for efficient editing.
Lastly, if you're in a situation where you're in separate rooms, always always have an extra track up as talkback. You want to hear what the vocalist is saying while playing back the previous take. You can always mute and unmute it accordingly.
Lastly lastly, if you're in a session with multiple singers, choir etc, learn to identify the person in control. Look at him/her for signals, AND LEARN THEIR HAND SIGNALS FAST.
To wrap things up, don't underestimate the simplicity of an "easy" session, there are always things to organize and edit to make it easier for both you and your client. So start incorporating these habits into your workflow!