I suppose the recording of vocals is the one area of recording that the nerves start to automatically step in. Deep down everyone knows that the recording will sink or swim on the ability of the vocal to sell the song. Sure the other musicians have had their own stresses and strains throughout the recording process but everyone knows that what the public listen firstly to the song and the vocal but before we get into that we must decide what vocal mike to use and then get into it.
The Vocal Mike
The choice of vocal mike is really dependent on what mikes you have in your mike cupboard. I believe it's a good practice to setup your best mikes in a row and have the singer sing into each one and then compare them all. What worked yesterday for one singer mightn't work with another. So make sure you start off with the best mike for the situation. Let's face it, any of your best mikes will do the trick. I've heard great vocals recorded on a SM58.
The use of wind shields or pop filters as they are sometimes called is a good idea. If you want the singer to be in your head they have to be close to a mike, and I mean close, like 2.5 - 5cm(1" - 2") away. Therefore a wind shield is a good bet. P's, B's, C's, all produce a jet of air and it's that shot of air that causes the diaphragm to bottom out as it were and produce a pop sound. Wouldn't you be pissed off if you got the great performance but there was a big POP in the middle. (Sure you can whip it into soundforge and EQ it out but that's another story) The problem with windshields is that they effect the top end response but if you use an appropriate material it shouldn't effect the sound too much. You can purchase windshields but they are easy to make. Make a wire hoop out of an old coathanger and tape a strip of nylon stocking over it and gaffa it to a mike stand. There you are - a great wind shield! Incidentally I have found that PZM mikes don't pop even when extremely close and they don't have proximity effect. Check out this factor if you haven't already.
Presence on a vocal is important. A big factor is the room the singer is in. If it's live there will be a lot of room sound in the sound but if they are in a dead room it will be lower. I prefer a dead room for vocals.
The singer can use either headphones or speakers to sing too but the usual way is to use headphones. The most important factor here is to make sure that the sound and balance is right. Please make sure that the headphones are in stereo!!!! It's a good idea to spend the time to get a good stereo mix of the track with reverb and effects in the singers cans. Secondly make sure the singer can hear themselves clearly above the bandtrack and give them some nice reverb, it makes so much difference. Some singers like to sing with one can off (tucked up against their head) so that they can hear themselves properly. If your headphone balance is correct this should not be necessary.
Alternatively, you can get the singer to sing to a pair of speakers, either in the studio or in the control room. In this case their will be bandtrack spill into the vocal track but if you position the mike between the singer and the speakers with the speakers off axis (180 degrees) to the mike it shouldn't be too bad. Personally I prefer headphones.
You should consider using a compressor when recording vocals. I like to, not heavily but enough to keep the dynamic range under control. It's a bit like the windshield, it's a protection. Say around 3db on peaks at 6-1 to 10 - 1 ratio. Check out the compression page.
Multi-tracking vocal takes is a good idea. Get the singer to record four or five takes on different tracks. Then you can go through the each take and select the best performance of each take. That's cheating!!! I hear you say. Well, if it is, every major singing artist in the world is a cheat because they all do it. Bring up all the vocal takes on your console and set them all at the same level and assigned to the track you want your final vocal to land up on. Now go write out all the lyrics on a sheet and mark each take of each line that's OK like this:
Now, playing the track back mute and unmute each take that's OK and bounce them down to the final track like so: You will note how some get a double tick - I do that when I really like a delivery.
This could take some time as working out each line, line by line, is tedious but believe me the singer will love you for it (providing their ego is in tact) because you will have captured the best they can do and that is what recording is about!! Incidentally, I do all this on a computer now because it's so much easier, then I archive all the out takes in case I need to revert back to them later.
Recording harmony vocals really depends on how many harmony parts there are. You can put two or three singers on one mike, or two singers on one mike in a figure 8 position with one one each side or you can give each singer their own mike. It's up to you really, so long as the outcome is properly balanced parts. Headphone balance with a three part vocal group can be a problem so I recommend that if one can't hear themselves tell them to remove one can.
Multi-tracking Harmony Vocals
Tracking harmony vocals can be a problem - do I put each part on a separate track or mix them together etc. It really depends on how many tracks you can afford and if you are going to double track them. I usually double track harmony vocals as it creates a blend of parts. So I'll mix the parts straight away onto one track and then double it again onto another. If we then decide that there is another harmony to add and I don't have lots of tracks free I'll mix the first track with the new harmony and record it onto another track. Then I'll do the same with the double track and end up with three parts on one track and three parts on another. Then I'll wipe the first two tracks to free them up for other things.
Alternatively you can use one singer and put all the different parts onto different tracks and mix it all down later. Using one singer gives the harmony vocals a character of their own. The blend one singer has with themselves is great.
So who sings what
Let's say you've got three singers. You can either:
It really depends on the ability of the singers. The first is the hardest because the singers must be good to hold their own part, the second way is really good when you have a band where the backup singers aren't that good plus it's easier to balance.