If you get the opportunity to ask any experienced recording engineers what their preferred vocal chain is in the recording studio, you will most likely get replies that list three basic things such as a compressor, preamp and microphone. It is a wonderful thing to be able to record vocals through compression, and we would highly recommend that you do so if it is available to you.
Recording through compression gives you a even, consistent and smoother recording that is ready to be mixed immediately. But what happens if you only have a very basic audio interface to work with? For example, a setup that has no compressors and a home-based studio that is constructed from a tight budget. How can a vocalist record his or her vocals without compression? This article is here to help alleviate the slight disadvantage.
Take advantage of the dynamics of your voice
For years without a compressor, a professional record can still be made. In fact, many vocalists in the past were pretty aware that they could overload the microphone as well as the tape machine. Hence, they developed a technique or skill; some considered it to be an art form, called working the mic. It is easily noticeable that the human voice is dynamic in all aspects. Meaning your voice can go from super loud to super quiet in a blink of an eye.
However those skills are not unique to vocals only. What adds to the challenge may be a guitar part or drum kit. Even if a vocalist manages to sing at one overall even level, he or she is still unable to give a very consistent performance due to things like lyrical emotion and vowels.
Pay attention to your emotions and vowels
If you or someone else chooses to sing a closed vowel like the “eee” sound or the “ooo” sound, you won’t push a lot of air. But the moment you sing an “aay” or “aah” sound, your mouths open up naturally and the volume increases. Our minds may think that we are singing at one dynamic, but the truth is we will exclude a variety of other dynamics depending on the vowels we attempt to vocalize.
The next thing you should keep in mind is that since you are not playing with an instrument, which can express and make you feel a certain emotion much easier, you will be singing words that have meaning and you might naturally ebb and flow with you volume. This depends on what words you are singing at the moment. If the words are introspective and sombre, you will tend to sing much softer. If the words evoke passion or anger, you will want to sing loudly. Such emotions can vary throughout the entire duration of the song.
Simply put, lyrical emotions and vowels alone can stretch the dynamic range of any given vocalist, thus giving the microphone or preamp potential problems.
Work the microphone
Back in the day, there were a group of people that invented an automated volume knob (known as a compressor) to combat the problem of system overload. Compressors would automatically ‘listen’ to the vocalist and if he or she sang too softly it would turn their volume up, and likewise turn the volume down if they sang too loudly. This gives the vocalists a more even and smooth performance during recordings. Hence, that is one of the reasons why you can just sing and let the compressor do the rest these days.
Thus, that raises the question of what people had to do before compressors were invented. They simply worked the microphone. You could call that a virtual dance with the microphone. For example, vocalists would sneak up a little more closer to the mic to deliver a more intimate vocal or back away further from the mic when they need to belt out a note. The process involves situational awareness as well as some planning beforehand. Working the microphone also works with other instruments.
You should not become too dependent on technology on certain occasions. One example would be the convenience and automation that compressors provide. Even if you need to record from a small home studio where an external compressor is not available, you can still give your best performance by working the mic. Don’t stand too still and sing like a robot, actually perform like you are in a live situation as you execute some old-school compression techniques with the dynamics of your body. All in all, you should aim to have a more engage and intentional performance when recording without the help of modern compressors and preamps.
If you are searching for reliable studios that facilitate live recordings in Melbourne, contact The Band Booth today as we have five professional studio setups for you to choose from.