• Philip Marsden

5 Biggest Vocal Recording Mistakes

Recording vocals is one of the most challenging things in music production, I know it took me a while to really hone in my skills and be able to get a polished recording every time when I was starting out. Nowadays, in the mixing and mastering world, I get to work on a ton of different vocal recordings all the way from home studio demos, to professionally recorded material and this has given me a great insight into what make or breaks an amazing vocal track, so today I want to share the 5 most common vocal recording mistakes I come across and how you can avoid them to make a great sounding record. Let’s dive in!


1. Holding back

One of the first things you should do before you record vocals is make sure you're in the zone, both mentally and physically. There’s nothing worse than a performance where you can tell the singer is holding back slightly, as if they’re not giving it their all or they’re trying to keep it down to avoid annoying the neighbours.

Make sure your environment allows you to express yourself fully. Get the lighting right, burn a candle, eliminate distractions and make sure you won’t be disturbed. The vocal is the centre of a pop song and if it’s not connecting with the listener, everything falls apart. If you’re trying to convey an emotion in your music, be it anger, joy or sadness, you need to make sure that’s coming across fully in your performance. Make sure you’re not holding anything back!


2. Not spending time to set up correctly

I get it, when inspiration strikes you just want to throw the mic up and get that idea recorded, or maybe you’re just not that fussed by the technical side of home recording, but if you want competitive sounding records you should definitely be spending some time perfecting your mic setup before you hit record. Is the mic facing the right way? Is it properly on a stand and cradled in a shock mount? Where should you be standing so that it sounds as good as possible? Is there too much sibilance? These are all things you should be thinking about and optimising before recording any final takes. If you take an extra 10 minutes to experiment and get it right, it really makes a huge difference to the quality of the audio! Check out my vocal recording guide here for a bit more info on mic placement and mic technique.


3. Not using a pop filter

The amount of recordings happening without a pop filter is surprising. If you’re already using one, great, but if not you definitely get hold of one as soon as possible. They’re a very cheap purchase that will dramatically increase the quality of your recordings! A pop filter will prevent plosive sounds (B’s, P’s etc) from pushing air into your mic capsule and eliminate the boomy sound that you might hear when you’re singing a word that starts with one of those letters. Excessive plosives are very difficult to convincingly get rid of in the editing stage, so it’s really important to make sure they’re not creeping into your recordings.


4. Too much or too little gain

A recording with too much, or too little gain will be near enough unsalvageable in editing. Too much gain, and your mic preamp will start to “clip” or distort. Too little, and you’ll have a ton of background noise to contend with in the recording. Luckily, this is a really easy problem to avoid. Simply make sure that your meters are averaging around -18db in your software when you’re recording. If they’re much lower, crank the gain up a bit on your interface, but if you see any red lights or if the meter is getting a little close to 0db, bring it down. It’s always good to simply check this with the loudest part of your song before you start recording.


5. Ignoring room acoustics

In an untreated room, a £1000 microphone can sound like a £10 one. But in a great room, a cheap mic can sound fantastic. The space you record in really makes a huge difference! If you have the budget, I’d definitely recommend buying some simple acoustic treatment to reduce reflections and resonances in your home studio. If you don’t have the budget for that, fear not! There are still things you can do to improve it at no expense.

A lot of people recommend recording in the corner of your room to eliminate room acoustics, but honestly I’ve only ever found this to make it worse. The corners of a room are where most of the bass and lower frequencies build up, so although you eliminate some high end reflections, you will probably get a muddy, unclear low end to your vocal sound. It’s also pretty cramped!

Set up somewhere comfortable and hang blankets/duvets/towels around the room to dampen reflections, starting immediately behind yourself, where reflections will be bouncing off of nearby walls and into the front of the microphone. Don't make the mistake of hanging one blanket, hearing a difference and settling for it. Experiment! Listen back to some sound checks and find the best position for yourself and the acoustic treatment.


I hope this helps you get better vocal recordings! If you have any questions or would like me to listen to something you’re working on don’t hesitate to get in touch. If you want more advice on vocal production, check out my free download below for a detailed, start-to-finish guide.