You may want to record vocals to do your own mix or to send it to someone else to arrange and do the final mix.

Whatever the need, if you are recording vocals, here are a few details to make sure you are doing the best recording with available resources.

Recording levels

Get the maximum signal in, without clipping at the highest levels.

  • sing the the loudest part, maybe somewhere to the middle or end of the song, maybe a higher pitch position.
  • adjust the input at the soundcard or at the software whichever applicable so that there is no clipping – the red light.
  • then leave a head room of 1db or 2db using the preamp trim knob or other input level control (like a fader in the soundcard's software interface) In the real take, the levels can be higher than during the test.

When you have connected a mic to a preamp, look at the clipping and level indicator on the hardware to make sure there is no clipping.

When mic is connected to inputs with only software control, you need to adjust the input levels and avoid clipping with the software faders.

It is important that you try and get the maximum signal in – the entry point is where the signal to noise ratio of the recording is determined.

Bit rate and sampling frequency

why use 24 bit rate – headroom advantage

Many modern sound cards offer 24 bit recording.

Set 24 as the bit rate of your project when recording.

In 24 bit recording, even a 10 db boost to make a soft signal louder, is ok. The noise levels will still be within tolerable limits. This is a very relevant practical advantage 24 bit has over 16 bit recording.

This does not mean that we can be too lax. Keeping the preamp of the sound card to record at as high a level as possible is still relevant.

Though 24 bit does allow more headroom, keeping around 12db headroom can result in the same signal to noise ratio as a 16 bit recording at its maximum level.

When you have a 24 bit sound card, keep the signal levels to the highest as possible and make the best recording possible making use of the 24 bit advantage (as compared to 16 bit) and not get complacent because of the headroom allowance.

Which sampling frequency to use

Audio CDs are 16bit / 44.1khz.

Recording at 24bits has its advantages as mentioned above, though finally it is converted to 16bits. The individual elements when recorded with 24 bit has advantage though the final mix down and playback is at 16bits.

Many good producers record at 88.2kHz frequency rate.

Higher the frequency rate, higher the size of the audio recorded and more computer resources used.

Many of us record at 48kHz, which gives a lesser audio file size and puts less strain on computer resources.

88.2 – multiple advantage or not

One advantage told about 88.2 over 48 is that 88.2 is a multiple of 44.1 and hence when finally converted to 44.1 (audio cd specification), 88.2 will convert seamlessly while 48 can leave audio artifacts.

Many experts have the opinion that in the digital domain, this consideration is no more needed. That if you are purely using digital methods, 48 will not have any disadvantage over 88.2 just because the latter is a multiple of the final frequency rate (44.1).

Use 48 kHz if you are using a moderately powerful computer for your work. If resources allow, go for 88.2 kHz recording sampling rate.

Project setup You will find the bitrate and sampling frequency settings in 'project setup' (Nuendo or cubase) or some similar tab.

mic, preamp and cables

Mic connected to a preamp is the starting point of the recorded signal. Having a good preamp – mic combination has a lot of importance in the recording chain.

sm58 is the most popular vocal mic, the most used mic in performances. It is a dynamic mic.

Recording studios usually use condenser mics for recording vocals. Condenser mics have better high frequency response and overall clarity when compared to dynamic mics.

More about soundcard, audio interfaces, preamps.

Cables We don't need any exotic or expensive cables to make our recordings. Make sure the cable does not make any noise. Check the jacks, the connectors, to make sure they don't have any loose contacts.

output format

mono wav

If you are preparing the vocal track for further mixing :

  1. edit your vocal track (s) as you need
  2. bounce the pieces within the track
    • In Nuendo /Cubase you can select the content of the whole individual vocal track, then use Bounce from the Edit menu or by right clicking on the selected vocal content. 

Now, in the sequencer window, the vocal track content appears as a single piece without cuts. Rename it to something you can identify.

Find out where your sequencer stores all audio files that you record for the project. In Nuendo/Cubase, all audio material is stored in a folder named 'Audio' within the folder where you have saved your project.

Bouncing gives you a single wav file, which you can find in the folder where your sequencer stores all audio files of your project.

Now you find the renamed vocal wav file from the audio folder of your sequencer. This file is the uneffected vocal track you recorded. Use it according to your needs.

Stereo interleaved wav

For some reason, if you can't take the file from the audio folder,

  1. turn off any effects on the vocal track.
  2. choose the beginning and end of the vocal content you want
  3. mono the channel
  4. set the output level to as high as possible, but without clipping at the loudest parts – this you have to try at different parts and adjust the fader.
  5. export as wav file – stereo interleaved wav format (you will find this option in all modern sequencers)

If you want effects to be part of the final vocal track, just don't turn off the effects as mentioned in step 1.