How can I make the best of voice recording on my chintzy setup?
August 30, 2015 4:18 PM   Subscribe

I'm currently writing a song and part of that includes recording lots of vocals. I have available --my computer, an apple laptop, with a built-in mike --garage band --my headphones with a voice input/mike Help me make it the best it can be!

Should I use the computer, the headphones, or experiment?

Is there anything I can do to make this chintzy setup sound less chintzy?

Any big mistakes to avoid?

I have an A/C and a fan running in the background, obviously should turn those off, right?

Any particular things I should keep in mind when singing? I am a great singer within about a 3 note range but since I'm writing the song, that's not a problem. I mean more like "don't breathe too much" or "keep an equal distance from the mike the whole time".

Think "I am stuck in a bunker with only this equipment and I am going to record the fuck out of this song, what do I do"

not "I am going to go to the shop and buy a bunch of things" because, well, I'm not going to do that
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Propellerheads has a free tool called Take for recording from your iPhone mic.
posted by grobstein at 4:28 PM on August 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

There are filters in garage band that will help but the real key is do a lot of takes. Like a lot a lot. Different distances, breath levels. Whisper one, shout one. Enunciate some, slur some. But keep as many as possible in different tracks too. Then play around with hearing 2 at once. Especially powerful is a sharp clear take sung loudly far from the mic louder in the mix over a quieter whispery take with more bass/vocal fry underpinning it. You can get the right sound out of singing right into a laptop if you do enough takes.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:54 PM on August 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

And yeah definitely turn all noises off.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:55 PM on August 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Be prepared to run some test tracks that you wont use. I would do a test with your each of your mics, then decide which you want to use.

Take the track you like better, and adjust the reverb/echo on it ... it does miracles for smoothing stuff out.

Yes, try to keep an equal distance/equal vocal strength. Look at the waveform on your test track and look for places where the volume lights up the red limit meter will help you adjust for that. If you get to a part where you're belting, with a little practice you can figure out how far to back off the mic, or back off your performance.

If your test track is a full runthrough, duplicate the track with the reverb settings, delete the material in there and do a new take. Your scratch track may be the best take of the day, or it may have elements that you want to put in the final mix, so dont trash it until you know for sure!

Somewhere in the same interface as reverb there is a monitor setting that will put the audio of what you are recording (including the effects settings) back into your headphones as you record. Decide whether this is helpful, or a hindrance to you.

Save frequently, and make multiple versions if you find you need to strip it back down.

Have fun!!
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 5:06 PM on August 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, and if you have an area of natural resonance in your house like a tile bath/shower or a bit of cathedral ceiling, try recording a track there.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 6:02 PM on August 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

The acoustics of the room are going to affect the recording. Distance from the mic will have an effect on that as well. Try recording in a closet, the hanging clothes will help dampen echo/reverb, and then you can play around with effects more freely in garageband. Use headphones to isolate the vocal track from the rest of the music. Lots of singers keep one ear out of the headphones so they can hear themselves clearly.
posted by buriednexttoyou at 6:06 PM on August 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

Make your peace with the fact that you will probably get a lot of background hiss/static anyway just from amplifying the signal from the microphone -- line noise, hums from computer fans, etc. EQ can really brighten up a dead-sounding vocal track. Experiment with each mic, and with different distances away from them, as they can give totally different characters to your voice and which sound you want is going to kind of depend on the song.

Have fun! (And no obligation, but I'd be excited to hear the results! :))
posted by en forme de poire at 6:47 PM on August 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

Do you have access to a small sedan? Record your vocal takes in it. The small, mostly carpeted space with very few right angles is your cheapest best chance of getting a really dry vocal take, which you can then boost up with reverb in Garage Band.
posted by Doleful Creature at 10:06 PM on August 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Silly mistakes I've made while noodling:
- Recording my voice (usually because I just have the feels right then or whatever) before I have some kind of rhythm down, even if it's just the metronome. It's obviously possible to fiddle with things after the fact, but it can be annoying to have to do that to a take you otherwise like that's a fraction of a beat off in that one place (and not in a desirably off way, vs. falling into neat phrasing or whatever).
- Accidentally recording the sound of the metronome or a rough arrangement along with my voice, when layering vocals. (2nd headphones.)

I agree with doing lots of takes and testing out different placements to work out how to approach the recording side of things, but I also find that my 16th take is usually a lot less good than my 2nd or 3rd (because of vocal fatigue [nb though, I have less than ideal technique], not feeling it as much, getting sick of the line and maybe the whole damn song, etc. For me anyway, the first take is usually junk, something decent might happen between #2 and #7, and it tends to go downhill after that. Also, might just be me, but if I do it for too long at once, or if I try to mix right after doing multiple takes, I'm likely to feel uncomfortably wired, or even get a headache. At the same time, it's easy to get into a zone [or to feel compelled to e.g. finish it all before going to bed]. But moving sound out of your body [and taking it in again, for the mixing], is a physical process. So if you're at it for a while, maybe remember to drink water, and take breaks now and then if you feel yourself getting tired.)

2nd being keen to hear the song, if you feel like sharing it :)
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:56 PM on August 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

(I feel like recording is more stressful than performing - feels less loose, you're conscious of wanting to make something vaguely permanent, etc. So also, once you've figured out the recording angle, maybe shut your eyes, or dim the lights, or do whatever mood-setting you need to do to let it feel spontaneous and enjoyable.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:10 AM on August 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'd like to elaborate on the location thing, since you've gotten both kinds of advice!

The studio approach is to be in a sound isolating environment, e.g. closet, car, temporary sound booth for a dry signal that you then modify with effects.

The lo-fi approach is to seek the echo-y places like the shower that will create a reverb and atmosphere from the get-go. In addition, hearing the resonance as you go will often encourage a better performance.

There is a metromone setting in Garage Band which does not record. Though sometimes I like to instead pick one of the stock drum beats and set a percussion track as a base, which may or may not make it into the final mix.

And, forgive me if this is already DUH, but you want all the previously recorded tracks you are using to be playing in your headphones when you multi-track, regardless of whether you are monitoring the track you are currently recording. Otherwise, it's another room noise that gets recorded along with your voice.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 7:51 AM on August 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

No answers to improve on anything above, but I thought for a second I wrote your question. Check your MeMail.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:51 AM on August 31, 2015

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