In my home studio, I have never recorded a vocal in just one take. Even if you are recording a great singer and the first take you record sounds pretty much perfect, things can still go wrong with that “perfect” take. These issues may not be apparent at the recording stage, so recording vocals in one take can be a big risk.
As a general rule, when recording vocals at least three takes should be recorded. Even if the first take appears flawless, it can contain problems that are not noticeable until the mixing stage. The extra takes provide contingency recordings without those issues that can be used instead.
These extra takes can be a life-saver when it comes to mixing. They can potentially prevent you from having to go right back to the vocal recording stage again, or even having to arrange to get the singer back into your studio. More creative options are also open to you that wouldn’t be without the additional takes.
If you are interested in checking out the best recording gear such as audio interfaces, studio monitor speakers, microphones, etc., you can find them at Amazon by clicking here.
Record a minimum of 3 vocal takes as a safety net
Even if your singer is excellent and the first take seems flawless; record additional takes anyway.
The general consensus is that three vocal takes is a good balance between the extra work required to record them and the safety net it gives you. Personally, I would record more than 3; probably somewhere between 6 and 10. But that may be because most of the time I am recording myself singing, and I’m not that good a singer!
One of the main reasons for the extra takes is that you can think a take is perfect, but problems with it only become apparent later at the mixing stage. The type of issue you might have could be one or more of…
- Out-of-tune note(s) when played against other instruments
- Spurious background noise
- Timing errors
- Volume inconsistencies
- Noise from the mic stand (maybe the singer bumped into it during the take)
Some of these may be able to be fixed by editing. And the use of tools such as autotune can help. But there are other potential problems with auto-tuning vocals. Check out these guides for more information on autotune and pitch correction…
It is so much easier if you have another take you could use that doesn’t have these problems. Those additional takes give you that “safety net”, which you will later thank yourself for when you are mixing your song.
You also have the option of only using a part of one of the extra takes to fix a problem in the original take. Which leads nicely onto the next section…
Combine the best of several takes by comping
Comping is the process of combining sections of multiple takes, to give you one super-take.
This is a great way to use the best bits of each take as the final vocal track in your song. If something is bad on one take, you can use that part from another take where it is better. As long as you have all the parts of the vocal sounding good on at least one of your takes, you do not need to chase recording that one perfect take.
I do this all the time in my home studio with vocals. It’s a great option if you are recording a vocalist who isn’t great – like me!
A good quality microphone is an obvious essential for recording great vocal takes in your home studio. There are 2 microphones I have been regularly using for vocals for years and highly recommend…
- Rode NT1-A condenser microphone (Amazon affiliate link)
- Shure SM58 dynamic microphone (Amazon affiliate link)
I have used both of these mics for vocals on music I have commercially released. Check out this article comparing dynamic and condenser microphones for help deciding which one could be right for you.
Takes do not have to be complete
Say during recording you notice a problem with one small part of a take, but the rest of the take is great. You don’t have to record another complete take to get a good version of the problem part.
You have the option to punch-in just the part of the track that has the problem. This is a common recording technique that all DAWs are capable of. It is a way of just recording one part of a track, rather than having to record the whole track again.
This can also be great if there is a section that maybe you’re undecided about how it should be sung. You can capture multiple partial takes sung in different ways via punch-ins, and see which one works best.
Combine this method with the comping technique from the last section, and you have a very powerful toolset for combining takes to get the best possible final track.
As a side note, you may have trouble getting great vocal takes due to nerves during singing; so-called “red light fever”. I wrote an article that can help you, that gives you some tips and tricks to overcome those vocal recording nerves.
Extra takes enable double tracking
A common modern vocal recording technique is to record two identical tracks. You then play them back at the same time in your song, so it sounds like there are two identical singers singing the vocal at the same time. This is called double-tracking.
Obviously, you can only do this if you record multiple takes of your vocal. Sometimes triple-tracking, even quadruple-tracking is used.
This multiple-tracking is a great technique for emphasizing a particular section in your song, for example in the chorus. It can help make the vocal more dynamic and interesting throughout your song, double-tracking some sections and leaving others single-tracked.
Combined with selective use of panning, multiple-tracking can make a vocal sound huge.
To get great vocal takes and to properly understand the effect of things like multi-tracking, you need to be able to hear your vocals clearly. A good pair of closed-back studio headphones are essential for this. I highly recommend the Sony MDR-7506 headphones (affiliate link), available from Amazon for a great price. These are the headphones I use in my home studio for all my recording activities.
Multiple takes give you creative options
Recording multiple takes lets you try different things creatively that you wouldn’t be able to do with just one take.
For example, after discussing the possibilities with the singer, you could try different ways of singing the vocal. This could be singing in a relaxed way, really belting it out, aggressive, melancholy or sentimental, etc.
You could also try changing the ambience or atmosphere in the room to try and provoke different feelings in the performance. Changing the lighting or even the temperature in your recording room is a great way of doing this. Recording takes at different times in the day can also be a good way to get a different vibe in a vocal performance.
Recording at different positions and orientations in your room can also make a big difference in the sound of a vocal take. That’s why I wrote my article on recording vocals in a small room. It will help you find the best location for vocal recording in your home studio room, and how to setup that room to get the best sound possible.
Singers are human – take your time
The human voice is a delicate human instrument. It gets tired over time, and if it is overworked in a short period of time then it will need to rest to recover. All your takes do not have to take place in one session. You can record in multiple relatively short periods of time during a day, interspersed with regular breaks.
Recording using this type of schedule gives you an additional benefit. You and the singer may develop ideas during the day on how particular parts should be performed. This can improve over time, and with discussions during the breaks you may make substantial improvements to your song.
If you are both the singer and the recording engineer, remember to take breaks yourself. Listen back regularly to what you have recorded. Maybe play it to someone else if possible, and use their feedback to make sure you haven’t missed anything obvious.
This includes listening out for unwanted audio artifacts such as distortion. My article on preventing vocal distortion is a recommended resource for tips to help you get the cleanest sounding recording possible.
Recording using computers? Take backups!
If you are doing anything at all using a computer, including recording vocals, then you need to take backups. I’m sure you have been in the position at some point where you have lost some work, and had to redo that work due to a computer failure of some sort.
The extra takes act as backups for the original vocal take. If one of the files containing a vocal take gets corrupted due to a bad sector on a disk or a similar error, at least you have another file you can use without having to record it all again from scratch.
No one ever regretted having too many takes. But people have certainly regretted not having enough takes, when they discover some sort of problem with one of them. It’s much better to have those extra takes that you can throw away if you don’t use them, than to not have enough and have to go right back to the vocal recording process.
And just one final reminder – don’t forget to use a pop filter! This will help drastically eliminate annoying “plosives” – loud ‘p’ and ‘b’ sounds – that can ruin a vocal take. Check out my article on when you need to use a pop filter for the lowdown on how and when to correctly use one.
Here is some of my favorite home studio gear…
Thanks for reading this article. I hope you found it helpful in your home music-making activities. Here are a few of the tools that I personally use in my home studio. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to use any of them I’ll earn a small commission.
Audio interface: My personal choice for audio interfaces are the Focusrite Scarlett series. I have been using these for years, and they have always given me great-sounding recordings. For a very reasonable price from Amazon you can buy the excellent Focusrite Scarlett 4i4, or if you don’t need MIDI capability the Focusrite Solo is a great choice.
Amp sim: Guitar amplifier simulator software has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, such that I record all my electric guitar parts using amp sims these days. One of the very best is the incredible Amplitube from IK Multimedia, which I have used on many of my songs.
Headphones for recording: My favorite headphones for recording are the Sony MDR-7506s, which I use for monitoring during all my recording sessions. They can also be found in many pro recording studios. Get the Sony MDR-7506 headphones from Amazon here.
General-purpose microphone: You can’t go wrong with a good ol’ Shure SM-57, one of the most versatile and ubiquitous microphones around. I’ve been using one in my home studio for as long as I can remember. Amazon offers the Shure SM-57 for a very competitive price.
To see all of my most up-to-date recommendations, check out this resource I made for you!