Recording Vocal without Headphones

recording vocal without headphonesIn this episode, I am going to walk you through a tried and true technique for recording a vocal that will get you amazing vocal takes every time. It has to do with not using headphones when recording vocal.

You may be thinking it is a crazy idea for recording vocal, but I bet you would be hard pressed to tell the different between loud vocal headphones placed next to a vocal microphone, and microphone placed in the control room using this technique when recording vocal.

Today is about recording vocal takes that are amazing. Perhaps the most amazing and expressive results that you have achieved so far while recording vocal.

Maybe you find yourself in a jam where the vocalist get really discouraged when they are trying to record. They come back in and they realize wow I was really off pitch.

This is a perfect vocal recording technique for those types of situations. Today is all about recording vocal without headphones.

How to Decide Which Vocal Recording Technique to Use

You can do this in the control room, which is a popular place to do it, but you can do it in the live room. You can do it with a stage wedge or a monitor that would typically be used for live applications. You do not just have to do it in your control room of your studio.

It is about getting the comfort level of your vocalist much higher than what they ever could while hearing the sound of their voice through headphones.

Headphones are a really unnatural thing to use while recording vocal. Vocalist do not typically sit around their house singing into a microphone and monitoring the sound of their voice through headphones.

When they learned to sing they probably sang in the car. They sang in the shower. They sang in natural environments and natural rooms.

Maybe they sang in a stairwell where it was really echo-y. These are natural places…native states, of vocalists. If we put them there, they are going to give us better vocal takes. After all, if we get them in a more comfort zone, then the music will be better.

Step one is to find a place that you can get your vocalist to stand in the room and were you can also play the music through speakers so that they can be singing along to the music. They will sing to what they hear in the room, and without any headphones they will sing back.

Recording Time

From here, what we really need to do is put the whole studio on lock down. Not necessarily locking the doors, but every knob, every variation in the audio track that you are playing to the vocalist. Even the height of the microphone. You do not want to touch a thing.

Go ahead and record your tracks. Three or four tracks. To be honest with you, with this technique I typically do two or three tracks. After that the vocalist is pretty confident they have the take that they need.

From there, this is the secret sauce of this technique. You are going to ask the vocalist for the portions of the song that they are singing (it does not have to be during the guitar solo) they are just going to stand behind the microphone and breathe as quietly as possible. They are not going to say anything. They are just going to stand behind the microphone.

It is important that they stand behind the microphone because even them being behind the microphone is changing how the microphone is getting noise from the room.

Two Vocal Tracks – One for Noise, and One for Vocal

Ok so here is where the magic happens. You have a track that has all the junk. This is our noise. This is stuff we do not want. And because we have gone to this trouble of having our own track for it we can really use it. We can use it to subtract out and process the good stuff.

So this is the track of the actual vocal and it has noise in it as well. But when we bring up a track, and keep the volumes the same, both at zero or unity gain, then we can flip the phase of the noise track, and the noise will be subtracted out of the vocal track.

And so why do we want to make it harder for them to perform better. This technique, although it may not be as good as sound proof headphones that do not bleed at all and putting them in a vocal booth. To be honest that may not give me the best recording. They may feel awkward in the booth. They may not feel as inspired to sing and do their best. I would rather get the more inspired version of their song, than record the bored, nervous and anxious version of their song.


Hello, my name is Ryan Earnhardt. I am a personal mentor to audio engineers, and a debt free studio owner, Lumen Audio, located in the mountains around Asheville NC.

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