More often than not, vocals are the most important part of a mix. The quality of the vocal is decided in the recording phase.
Without a good recording, you can’t produce good vocals. Trying to fix it in the mixing stage simply won’t work if the quality is poor to begin with.
There are several steps to a good vocal recording, some of which I’ll mention below. Skip any of these ingredients and the quality of the mix will suffer.
1. Treating Room Acoustics
When recording vocals, you want the room to be as dead as possible. Room resonances or reflections are not particularly desirable on vocals.
Due to the large dynamic range of vocals, heavy processing is often applied to balance out the volume. Any noticeable room noise on a vocal will be amplified under this heavy dynamic processing.
You don’t necessarily need to spend a fortune on acoustic treatment to improve the acoustics of the room. With that said, it’s unlikely that something like foam panels will do a great job.
If you already have proper acoustic panels, you can use them to create a temporary vocal booth around the vocalist.
Alternatively, I’ve heard stories of people using mattresses, duvets, heavy curtains and anything else that would absorb a lot of sound. If you shouted into it, how much sound would it absorb. The more the better.
2. Choosing a Microphone
Over the years, I’ve bought and sold lots of gear including mics. I’ve been through the journey of buying budget gear and upgraded to better gear, and in my experience, I’ve always got what I paid for.
There is absolutely a solid difference between a cheap and expensive microphone. Purchase the best microphone that your budget will allow.
3. Getting a Good Performance
When recording vocals, it’s the producer or engineer’s job to encourage the singer and make sure they are delivering their best performance. Make sure they feel comfortable and are really getting into the music.
Plugins can correct pitch, and timing can be edited. There are no plugins that can add emotion and feeling to a lifeless performance. This has to be delivered by the vocalist.
Remember that a good vocal is made in the recording phase. Focus 80% of your energy on recording vocals and 20% on mixing.