To record vocals over a beat you will need a microphone, cable, audio interface with preamp, headphones, digital audio workstation, a computer and a beat. The fundamental idea is to import the beat into the recording software where you will be able to record layers on top of it, these layers can consist of vocals and even additional instruments. This process is known as multitrack recording. Once all the desired layers have been recorded the production stage is completed and it is time for editing, mixing & mastering.
The music business has changed a lot in the last few years and along with it also the way of creating music. Not so long ago, to make music you needed a major investment and being independent wasn’t really an option, but luckily this is no longer the case. We live in a time where you can record a song in your basement, publish it and wake up to an overnight hit.
SETTING UP THE GEAR
Studio setups are different from place to place, but they have more things in common than differences. Connect the microphone, headphones and speakers to your recording interface, connect the interface to the computer and launch your recording software. It is a fairly easy signal flow.
If you acquired an instrumental online you are usually presented with the option to lease a flaten down beat (stereo) or a tracked out beat (stems).
A flatten down beat consists of a full instrumental mixed down to a single file which could be WAV or MP3 depending on the price and type of license. Great for independent productions that are on a budget.
Tracked out beats are not mixed, they come in multitrack format. This means you will get an individual WAV file for each element of the instrumental. These separate files are commonly known as stems. Giving you more flexibility to create a professional mix with a perfect pocket for vocals.
After you have leased or purchased a beat the next step would be to import it into your digital audio workstation. The process is the same whether you are using FL Studio, Pro Tools or any other multitrack recording software.
After importing the instrumental it is time to create a new track in your software and assign the input to the corresponding channel in your audio interface. Once this is done you have to arm the channel by pressing the R button, place headphones on for monitoring purposes, hit record and you should be good to drop some bars.
Record a couple of takes and pay attention to the loudness meters as well as the visual waveform representation to make sure it is not saturating. As a rule of thumb green and yellow is good and red is bad. Digital distortion can be your worst enemy when recording vocals. On the other hand, analog saturation introduces warm artifacts and harmonic content that has been used in productions for coloring or as a vintage effect.
THE PROXIMITY EFFECT
The proximity effect is produced when you speak too close to the microphone and saturate the capsule. This can introduce unwanted distortion and accentuate bass frequencies. Microphones come in many formats like condensers, dynamics, ribbon; and they all have a different response. Another factor that can also influence is the size and pattern of the mics diaphragm.
Try standing one or two feet away from the mic, turn on the phantom power, bring up the gain to half and start recording. Listen back and adjust distance and gain accordingly.
The use of a pop filter is recommended for every vocal recording and they serve two main purposes which are to eliminate or reduce plosive sounds and sibilance. Plosive sounds are produced when the letters P or T are enunciated, which translates in a sudden saturation of the channel in question. Sibilance on the other hand refers to the sizzling high frequency sounds from letter S.
If you are recording at home try to avoid tile floors, they tend to produce a natural unwanted reverb. Wood floors and carpet are much better for recording as they produce a dryer sound. Also staying away from windows is a good idea to avoid recording noises from the outside, specially when using a condenser mic. Of course this won’t be a problem if you have access to a treated vocal booth or room.
Acoustic treatment options for home studios are widely available at low cost. I personally recommend the use of a mic shell also known as microphone screen, this accessory sits on the back of the mic and helps get rid of the early reflections.
Vocal recordings can be cataloged into different categories like lead vocals, dubs, ad libs, dialog, tags, etc.
Lead vocals refer to the main voice on verses and choruses. Dubs consist in creating a duplicate take of a specific section, usually with the purpose of giving more body and depth to the voice. They are usually panned left and right to give the vocals stereo presence. The use of softwares like Synchro Arts Vocalign is a common practice, using the main vocals as a guide for dubs to line them up with mathematical precision.
Ad libs consist of a track underneath the main vocals and it usually contains improvised remarks to the verses. Dialogs can be produced with the help of a voice over artist of sampled from a movie or famous speech. Tags refer to the producers name or crew.
With today’s access to technology recording vocals over a beat can be done efficiently at home and on a fairly reduced budget. The days of needing a large studio are far gone. Of course the quality obtained in a controlled environment and using more expensive gear is better but many hit songs have been produced in bed rooms and not having access to a major studio should not stop you from achieving your dreams.
Recording in your bedroom or basement studio speaks of the determination of up and coming artists and also make up for a great story once your tracks blow up and you become next up. The only thing that sets you apart from the rest of artists is talent, not gear.