Even the best vocalists could occasionally use a little studio help to get their vocal tracks shining. Here are some tips for making vocals sound stronger, and for making them stand out in any home recording mix.
1. Consider double tracking the vocals. By recording a second take of a song’s vocal track along with the first, you can strengthen the appropriate frequencies and give the singer a lot more presence. This works especially well in rock songs, and it’s a time honored technique–great vocalists like Harry Nilsson used it frequently, so it doesn’t say anything bad about the vocalist. There are some plugins and effects on popular home recording programs that offer the ability to double-track vocals digitally, usually by detuning and applying a slight delay, but nothing works as well as simply asking the vocalist to take it again from the top.
2. Give the vocals their own place in the song. There’s nothing more important than making sure that all of the instruments in a song have their own isolated position, and since the vocals are usually the most important part of a song, that goes double for them. Usually, you’ll want to pan the other instruments slightly to the side, except the kick drum and maybe the bass. The vocals are dead center–again, most of the time. Make sure that no other instruments are interfering with the vocalist’s tone; often keyboards or guitars might be playing in approximately the same frequency range, causing a confusing sound to the ear. Use EQ to scope out a position in the song where the singer is alone, and his voice will become stronger and easier to listen to.
3. Make sure the other instruments aren’t vying for the singer’s attention. On the same point, make sure that the lead guitarist or keyboardist isn’t doing anything counter-rhythmic that interferes with the attention that the listener must give to the vocals. If the lead guitar is going crazy and soloing while the vocalist is trying to sing, that’s going to be a problem. Since the vocals are always more important, the lead guitarist will have to change his part, or you’ll have to cut that offensive solo out of the tune.
Some of these might seem elementary, but by keeping them in mind, your vocal recordings will become more consistently clear and comfortable for your listeners to listen to. If you have any other tips for making home recorded vocals sound stronger, post them in the comments section below.