5 Steps to Recording Remote Vocals

by | Mar 26, 2008 | Op/Ed

EQ Magazine continues to be a great source of ideas.  It seems to be mostly aimed at production houses, garage band junkies, audio-tech people, and sophisticated audiophiles too… but I find a lot of great ads for mics and sound equipment, as well as editing suggestions for various DAW sound-editing programs that most voice-actors use.

The following is ripped right off the pages of the latest issue.  I even borrowed the title above from the article, written by Cliff Goldmacher who says as an intro:

"…Sure, you can load your DAW software onto a laptop, grab a mic and a few cables, and take your show on the road.  However, even the best gear takes a back seat to ingenuity and good engineering sense.  As a veteran of many a remote-recording session, here are some tips I’ve learned regarding the acoustic space, mic selection, the signal path, and monitoring."

#1 – Preparation
Preparation means checking out the space before the session.  For example, you may find that certain times of the day are more conducive to recording than others.  (this step also had suggestions for preparing instrument tracks before taking your laptop on the road to add the singer’s voice — told you EQ was mostly aimed at musicians….but read on)

#2 The  Acoustic Space

Believe it or not, closets make great vocal booths.  The more clothes, shoes, pillows, blankets, and towels in there, the better!  If the space is still too live, drape a few blankets from ceiling to floor.  It’s crucial that the artist not face a hard, flat surface.  Avoid creating reflections that the mic will pick up.  Also, deaden the ceiling directly above the singer.  a blanket and a few thumbtacks can be highly effective.  You need enough room to fit the voice-actor, a mic stand, and possibly a music stand.  Ideally, you’ll be able to run a mic cable and headphone extension cord under the closet door, and set up your recording gear right outside.

#3  Choosing a mic
You’ll want a mic that minimizes any unevenness in the recording environment.  I’ve had very good luck with the Shure SM7.  Originally designed as a broadcast mic, the SM7 also allows the voice-artist to gt right up on the pop screen while still delivering a clean, warm vocal sound.  You’ll want this proximity for the same reason you deadened the space — to minimize any stray room sound in the recording.  Condenser mics are tricky because they can sometimes be too sensitive.  However, a great compromise is a condenser mic designed for both live and studio applications.  For example, because the Shure KSM9 was engineered for noisy, live situations, it does an excellent job of avoiding almost all off-axis reflections, while deliering a clear, detained vocal recording.

#4  Signal Path
If you want to compress the vocal signal on its way into your DAW, here’s a software workaround so you can leave the hardware at home.  Bring the vocal signal into an auxiliary track with a compression plug-in.  Set the attack and release to medium, the ration at about 3:1, and then adjust the threshold to tak around 3dB off of the hottest signal on the way in.  Then bus this track to an audio track that captures the compressed audio.

#5  Monitoring
Portability is key, so bring in-ear monitors instead of bulky headphones.  While not inexpensive, a good set of in-ear monitors provides accurate, detailed audio information, and blocks out distracting external sounds.  Unlike most over-the-ear headphones, in-ear monitors virtually eliminate headphone bleed, as well.  As most portable audio interfaces offer only one headphone jack, you’ll probably need a headphone splitter (with separate volume controls for each set of phones) to send the signal to your voice-actor and you.

My favorite expression about recorded data is "If it doesn’t exist in two places, it doesn’t exist."  Before leaving, burn a DVD, or copy your audio to the client’s hard drive as a backup.  Who knows what can happen to a laptop on the way back to your studio?





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