Chris D. Smith's Vocal Recording Process

Talkin Music

Staff member
Article by Chris D. Smith from The Den Studios, UK.

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Vocal tracks are the part of a song which everyone remembers, to the general music listening public they are the most important element in a piece of music. This article is written to give you a bit of an insight into how vocals are recorded and techniques used to arrange them.

Very early on during the recording process I usually record what is called a "scratch" vocal track. This is used as a rough guide whilst recording and arranging the rest of the musical parts. It is important to make a good job of recording this scratch vocal, the singer usually feels little pressure to get the perfect take and so will usually do a very good job of singing it. It needs to be captured well in case it is actually better than the "real" vocal take.

Everyone has their own way of recording vocals, this is mine. I start by setting my microphone up at roughly the right height and getting the preamp ready with a little gain before the vocalist enters the room. I also add a small amount of reverb to the microphone. These steps mean that as soon as the singer enters the room we can start working, there is no hanging around for them to get nervous.

The first take is always recorded and used as the sound check take where I'll tweak the gain on the microphone preamp, fine tune the light compression that I use and settle the reverb setting.

Generally I leave any EQ until the mixing stage, I prefer to get the microphone into a position that I like the sound of.

Once this sound check is finished, I set up a new playlist within my DAW and then start recording vocals. I usually record no more than 3 different takes of the vocals and then I'll "comp" them together.

A "comp" or composite vocal is a final vocal track made up of the best bits from the 3 takes. After I have cut these together I'll listen through for anything I think could be improved on and re-record those sections until everyone is happy.

When the lead vocal is completed I then usually record a double track of the chorus section. This involves singing the chorus part along with the original take, as closely as humanly possible in pitch and timing. If the singer needs a little help with this I can tighten things up using the tools in my recording software.

Once I have a tight double track I'll usually record a triple track, this is much the same process but I'll now mute the original lead vocal and record the triple track using only the double tracked vocal as a guide. Again this needs to be very tightly timed and pitched.

The idea of this is as follows. When mixing I leave the original lead vocal panned centrally. I pan the double track fully left and the triple track fully right. The double and triple tracks are much lower in volume than the lead vocal.

One final trick I like to do with these vocals is add a delay. I set up 2 separate mono delays panned fully left and right. I then send the double which is panned left to the delay that is panned to the right, and the vocal that is panned right into the delay that is panned to the left.

The result is a thick doubling of the original vocal line whilst still maintaining the clarity of the rest of the lead vocal. You can play with different delay times to create different sonic effects and add high and low cut filters to the delays to blend them in a little more by losing some of the top and bottom frequencies.


Hope you enjoyed the article, Thnx to Chris D. for sharing his process of recording vocals. Don't forget to join the Talkin Music community today and join the conversation or post any questions.
That sounds like it work great to add the fullness that the vocals require and so often lack. I have been learning and teaching myself kind of this same principal and similar methods, but through trial and error. So having you expound on so precisely on your method and technique that you use is very much appreciated. No doubt it has enlightened me with valuable information and will definitely save me some grief from having to figure out the rest the hard way.
Hey guys!! I was having trouble recording really loud vocals. The thing is, I only have one mic at hand (Blue Yeti USB Condenser Mic) but since it's pretty sensitive, singing excessively loud gets the audio to clip. So far, I thought of de-amplifying it while recording, would that work?? Or do I have to get a dynamic mic. I prefer not to sing further away from the mic because I feel like it gives a 'faraway' tone to the whole thing, and I would prefer not to have that.