Working on vocals can be a frustrating process. They are the most important element of a song and need to sound incredible. To make sure you get the best results even before mixing them in the full context of the song, you should do the following steps.
Table of Contents:
1 - Recording
Having a great recording of something will make up 80%. The other 20% will happen in mixing. If you start with a mindset like "okay I will fix this later in the mix", you won't get that awesome sounding vocal. If your recording is not good, you probably just end up recording something again which will be super frustrating, and it's a big-time waste. Here are some tips you should be aware of when recording:
First, make sure you're in a quiet room. To get the best results, get in a small room with a lot of sound-absorbing elements. You don't necessarily need those expensive sound absorbers on the wall. A room with a lot of pillows, a couch and other absorbing elements works too. You can also use a towel to make sure no reflections are going on through the room. Other things to mention are noises like cars outside the window, a washing machine or an air conditioner. At first, you might not notice them but some mics are super sensitive for things like that so just double-check everything before recording! The last step in this section is making sure you set the right preamp gain so you get a solid amount of headroom. You can't fix a recording that's clipping.
2 - Performance
Ok, this part is important and can be hard to handle. If you're a singer you have to be a hundred percent true to yourself and find the mistakes you make. It's normal that you don't get a phenomenal take in the first minutes. Pro's record single words a hundred times and might just change up the lyrics because it's too hard to sing. So don't stress yourself and create a good vocal performance you're happy with. If you're the producer working with a vocalist, make sure you don't put too much pressure on them. Good energy in the studio will always bring you better results.
Make sure you record different takes. Different takes are great for harmonies later on and also for combing them together if something sounds a bit off in one take.
Other things you should check for are unwanted noises, inhales/exhales, and clicky sounds. For breathing sounds, you have to decide where you want them and where you should remove them. Often they are necessary for a natural sound. On the other hand, they can sound weird. Be careful with removing them. Find a good balance. Clicky sounds sometimes appear when the vocalist taps the mic or moves on the ground. That's completely normal, just make sure you remove them. If they appear in a word, again you can use this part on another take and just replace them.
3 - Tweaking
The first thing you have to do is gain automating your vocal. Use a gain plugin and automate it. Your vocal should always be loud and clear to hear. Automate everything around the same level. You might think that that is what a compressor is for. And yes you're right. But using gain automation at first will bring a way more natural and less over-compressed sound. Of course, you can apply a compressor later too and you even should do that, but you will notice that you will need way less compression than usual.
The last thing to do is to make sure everything is in the correct pitch. Sometimes there are tones that aren't perfect. You can use manual pitch correction or just an auto-tune plugin.
Now you have a perfect balance and can start applying FX and all the other stuff you want to do!
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