It’s become straightforward for anyone to create audio content. Be it music, podcasts, ASMR, or what have you—recording is now easier than ever.
However, many audio creators face one big question before even starting to record: should they record with or without effects?
Vocals should always be recorded as ‘dry’ as possible. This means they should have no effects on them and should be the raw recording of the vocalist’s performance so the producer can add effects in post-production.
As you read, I’ll explain why it’s a bad idea to record vocals with effects, how to ensure your recorded vocals are dry, the best effects to add in post-production, and some exceptions to this rule about vocal recordings.
Table of Contents
- Why It Isn’t Good To Record Vocals With Effects Already On
- Ensuring the Vocals Are As Dry as Possible
- Effects To Add in Post Production
- Exceptions to the Dry Vocals Rule
- Final Thoughts on Recording Vocals
Why It Isn’t Good To Record Vocals With Effects Already On
The main reason this is a bad idea is that if the effects are already on the vocals and either the effects or the lyrics aren’t perfect, the vocalist and producer must re-record the entire thing.
This can be infuriating to your vocalist, especially if they’re doing everything right.
Still, if you as the producer can’t get the effects dialed in, you’ll keep forcing them to record the same thing repeatedly until you get it just right. This can ruin an entire recording session.
A good starting point for the producer or mixer/masterer is to ensure the artist is mentally and physically comfortable to deliver their best performance.
If you’re consistently asking the vocalist to re-record sections they’ve just performed excellently but were messed up because of pre-added effects that weren’t quite perfect, they won’t be comfortable nor happy. In fact, they may not want to work with you again.
Ensuring the Vocals Are As Dry as Possible
Music industry professional producers recommend recording vocals without effects and then adding them later, after you record vocals, because this gives them more room for error during the mixing and mastering process.
Think of recording vocals as recording a video with an effect. If the effect isn’t to your liking, the whole video must be re-done. But if you add in the effects in post-production, no re-shoots will be necessary.
This same concept applies to music production, audio production, podcasts, and any medium where audio recording is involved.
The vocals should be as raw as possible so they can later be manipulated in post-production if you choose.
A good starting point is to record vocals as dry as possible is not as simple as just not adding effects. The room where the vocals are being recorded (vocal booth) can affect the cleanliness and rawness of the sound.
Vocalists and producers should avoid a recording studio with a lot of natural reverb when recording vocals.
And again, making sure your vocalist is as happy and comfortable as possible can help dry out the vocals and give you more of a blank canvas to work with in post-production.
Make sure they like their headphone mix and volume, and generally do your best to help them relax.
Effects To Add in Post Production
Some beneficial effects you should probably add to vocals after they’ve been recorded dry are additive or subtractive EQ.
Additive EQ boosts specific frequencies that are too low, whereas Subtractive EQ dampens the music sound of specific frequencies, such as high-frequency sounds that cause the mic to peak and distort.
A great tool to use in post-production is vocal saturation. In a nutshell, vocal saturation is a form of distortion that adds more pleasant harmonies to vocals. Think of it as the tamest form of auto-tune you could imagine.
Reverb is an effect used in pretty much any song you can name.
It adds a bit of fullness to the vocals and makes them feel more ‘live.’ Think about the chills you get when you hear every syllable from a vocalist in your headphones and it sounds as if they’re whispering directly into your ear.
That’s thanks to reverb.
Reverb is not a simple echo or deepness added to vocals. It fills out the vocals and takes away the tinniness from them, making them sound much more human and in-person.
Exceptions to the Dry Vocals Rule
As I’ve stressed above, the artist should record vocals as clean and dry as possible. Something as small as the audio bleed from the vocalist’s headphones can destroy a mix as you add effects in post-production.
But as with most rules here on earth, there are a few exceptions to the guidelines laid out above. If you’re using auto-tune or compression, it is appropriate to have these effects on as the vocalist records.
Vocal Recording with a Hardware Compressor or Software
Adding compression to a vocalist’s recorded voice is something you can do either during the actual recording or in post-production editing.
Enabling it during the vocal recording phase can save a bit of time during the mixing stage and mastering.
But I cannot stress this enough: compression should only be added as an effect during a vocalist’s recording if you’re an expert on compression settings.
Compression is the process of raising the volume of the softest sounds and dampening the loudest ones. Overall, you’ll be reducing the dynamic range of the recording.
If done correctly, it can make vocals sound punchier and have more power.
This is easier to do in post-production, but as I said, it is one of the few exceptions to the ‘dry vocals’ rule.
You can record with a compression effect, but only if you genuinely know what you are doing with the settings and are an experienced producer.
The second exception to the dry vocals rule is if you are using auto-tune. Auto-Tune is an audio processor that can measure and alter the pitch of vocals or instruments with pitch correction.
It’s best used in real-time when recording vocals.
One of my best friends has been making music for a decade, and he uses Auto-Tune on some of his songs. When I asked him his opinion on this question, he said he normally records his vocals auto-tune turned on if he’s going to use it in that particular song.
The reason is that it’s much harder to add in auto-tune in post-production.
Final Thoughts on Recording Vocals
If you are a music producer, sound professional, or mix engineer recording a perfect vocal performance, you should not be adding effects to the vocals until post-production.
Get the cleaning vocal sound you can and consider using a pop filter, a condenser microphone, and acoustic treatment with acoustic panels.
Otherwise, you’ll be wasting the vocalist’s time as you try to perfectly dial in the effects when you could easily just add the effects later as you mix the track.
Compression is an effect that can be used as the vocalist records, but the producer can easily do this in the post as well. The only actual exception to this rule is if you are using Auto-Tune.
Auto-Tune is so tricky to add in post-audio-production that it’s better to add it during recording vocals sound.
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