Recording an EP: vocals

The last element that we recorded was the vocals. Probably the part of the process that I felt most uncomfortable about. I’ve sung quite a lot in the past, and even chalked up a fair number of gigs as one of the lead singers as part of an acoustic duo with Pete Falloon. However, this was my first experience in a studio recording vocals, and I definitely felt a bit anxious about the whole thing and unsure of my capabilities. The phrase “leap of faith” springs to mind!

The vocals were recorded with a large-diaphragm condenser microphone. This type of mic is often used in voice recordings because of the even frequency response and its ability to capture the detail and nuances of a vocal performance. As is typical when recording vocals, we used a pop screen in front the microphone to prevent excessive “pops” from hard consonant sounds (such as “p” and “t”) overloading the recorded signal. We also used a vocal isolation shield – a large semicircular acoustic screen that is designed to limit natural acoustic reflections in the room that can be problematic at the mixing stage.

One of the great things about recording vocals is that you get results very quickly, and those results can be transformative. I remember layering up some chorus vocals on The Flood and being pretty gob-smacked by the sound I heard coming back. There’s something very strange about hearing three of four versions of yourself singing back at you for the first time – definitely an experience that I won’t forget. We spent a couple of sessions getting all the vocals down we wanted. Starting with the main vocal parts and then adding vocal harmonies sparingly here and there. I went into the last recording session expecting to tidy up one of verse vocals and ended up re-recording EVERY vocal on the record!

What?! why you decide to re-record all the vocals? I guess there are sort of two reasons. Firstly, the singing was going well, we were on a roll, so it felt good to keep going. Secondly, and probably more importantly, we felt that by recording all the vocals in a single session we were more likely to capture a consistent vocal sound across the EP as a whole. Differences in how warmed up your voice is, how confident and relaxed you are feeling, your stance and distance relative the microphone (e.g. the proximity effect) can all make a difference to the sound and feel of the vocal. It was a great call from Alex to get all the vocals down in a single session.

I remember getting home afterwards and feeling really elated. It was a great feeling to know that all the recording was complete and I think Alex (bassist and sound engineer) and I were both pleasantly surprised by where we had ended up. Having achieved the major milestone of finishing the vocals, it was time to move onto the task of mixing, which we’ll talk about next time.

Matt recording vocals during the final studio session.
Matt recording vocals during the final session.

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