How to Make Clean Vocal Tracks Sound Amazing | Tips | WhisperRoom™

How to Make Clean Vocal Tracks Sound Amazing

By: WhisperRoom™

April 27, 2022

Man recording vocals into a condenser microphone

A well-executed vocal performance is what we voice actors, singers, and narrators strive for. It gets even better when we have our studio set up for an ideal recording session. For instance, you correctly set the volume levels, and carefully choose the type of microphone and a recording environment that has little to no background noise.

However, even perfect conditions can produce unwanted noise in your recordings. Sounds such as lip smacks, breathing noises, ambiance, hisses, and hums will somehow find a way into your audio. 

Techniques for Creating Clean Vocal Tracks

Creating clean vocal tracks with amazing sound is achievable with the right techniques and equipment. Unwanted noises like lip smacks, breathing noises, ambient sounds, hisses, and hums can be mitigated in several ways. Techniques include using a pop filter to reduce popping sounds from plosive speech sounds, properly positioning your microphone to capture the ideal tone, addressing lip-smacking sounds with water and lip balm, and removing unwanted sounds in post-production using audio editing software. Moreover, avoiding ground loops and radio frequency interference can prevent hum and hissing sounds respectively. By applying these strategies, voice-over artists, video editors, YouTubers, and podcasters can produce high-quality, clean vocal tracks. 

Thankfully, there are several ways to tweak the audio and make clean vocal tracks that sound amazing. Voice-over artists, video editors, YouTubers, and podcasters can all benefit from the editing tips included in this article.

Plus, you can try them out the next time you’re working in post-production.

1. Dealing with Breathing Noise

A microphone will almost always capture the sound of breathing noises when recording vocals. Thankfully, there are many techniques to edit these noises and countless ways to make the audio sound great.

As with many aspects of audio production, views on this topic can differ significantly. Some individuals will leave all breathing sounds in place, while others will completely remove them from the track. We think it’s best to find a happy medium in your editing process. If unwanted breathing noises tend to plague your audio tracks, you will need to spend some time cleaning them up. Keep in mind, that it’s best not to go overboard with your edits. You may end up with choppy-sounding vocals or add a very unnatural sound to your voice.

When editing, start by cutting out any filler breaths that don’t add anything to the audio. These breaths happen in-between different sentences or during a break in the vocals and will stick out like a sore thumb. Thankfully, you can easily clean up filler breaths without altering too much of the audio since they take place during the silent parts of the recording.

Additionally, you don’t have to cut out all breathing noises. Sometimes it’s better to leave a breath that has a natural sound to it. If the breathing is too loud, just select that portion of the audio and turn down the volume level so it isn’t as prominent. This will help the sound of your voice stay authentic.

Producer Jon Sine shares his way of dealing with breathing and pop sounds.

2. Tools and Techniques to Reduce Breathing Noise and Achieve a Clean Vocal Sound

Another way to address unwanted breathing noise is to use proper recording techniques and equipment to help minimize what your microphone picks up.

The power of a pop filter

The most common way to stop these breathing noises and plosive speech sounds from entering your recording is by using a pop filter. This device is one of the most powerful tools to use with your microphone to achieve professional-quality recordings and clean vocal tracks. A basic pop filter consists of a thin nylon-type fabric stretched over an adjustable frame. The device commonly has an attachment or clamp so it can be positioned near the microphone and conveniently clamp on the mic stand.

When speaking into a microphone that has a pop filter attached to it, the fabric layer of the filter is made to fix or drastically reduce the “popping” sound that comes from pronouncing words with plosives. Saying words with ‘p’ and ‘t’ sounds usually makes undesirable popping noises. The pop filter keeps these hard-sounding consonants from reaching the diaphragm of your microphone.

How to use a pop filter

Start by securing the pop filter’s clamp to the base of your microphone stand in your desired location. Next, position the pop filter closely to the microphone, but don’t let it touch. Depending on the tone of your voice and the vocal style you are trying to achieve, we recommend positioning your mouth 3″ to 6″ from the pop filter. Finally, record your vocals like you normally would.

Image of a condenser microphone with a pop filter to ensure clean vocal tracks.

How to use a pop filter

Start by securing the pop filter’s clamp to the base of your microphone stand in your desired location. Next, position the pop filter closely to the microphone, but don’t let it touch. Depending on the tone of your voice and the vocal style you are trying to achieve, we recommend positioning your mouth 3″ to 6″ from the pop filter. Finally, record your vocals like you normally would.

Positioning the microphone

The way that the microphone is positioned to the vocalist/talent will influence the result of your recordings and affect the tone of your voice. A microphone positioned horizontally to the mouth at 2 o’clock or 10 o’clock is considered the default position for recording vocals and will capture the neutral characteristics of the mic. A brighter sound can be achieved by tilting the microphone upward towards the vocalist. Additionally, you can bring out the low end by aiming the microphone downward relative to the vocalist’s position.

3. How to Handle Lip Smacks

While the sentiment of kissing is appealing, the lip-smacking sound is undesirable when it sneaks into your recording. Are you bothered when you hear the sound of lip smacks? In general, our brains do a pretty good job of ignoring extraneous noise in our day-to-day activities, but recordings have a way of amplifying nuanced sounds. Keeping lip smacks and mouth clicks out of your recordings is a simple way to distinguish yourself from amateur talent.

Preferably, we can address lip-smacking sounds directly at the source. Having a glass of room-temperature water nearby during your recording time is a simple way to moisten your mouth and throat before performing. Additionally, lip balm helps your lips from making unwanted noises. If lip smacks and mouth clicks sneak into your audio file, eliminate them by using your audio editing software. These noises usually stick out as a small spike in the waveform and can be cut out or muted. Your audience will appreciate your detailed editing!

4. Hum and Hissing Sounds

If you find a buzz, hum, or hissing sound trying to sneak its way into your session, you need to address the issue. These noises are usually the result of the electronic gear that you are using. So how can we get rid of those noises?

Ground loops

Humming sounds typically come from a ground loop and are characterized by a 50 or 60 Hz hum. A ground loop happens when 2 or more AC plugs have different ground potentials and are connected with an audio cable to the computer’s recording software. AC outlets with varying potentials that cause this problem are most commonly found in older buildings.

Thankfully, fixing a ground loop is usually easy to do. If your audio equipment is plugged into multiple AC outlets you can break the loop by connecting everything to a single outlet with the use of a power strip. Additionally, a hum eliminator will also work if you need to use more than one outlet for your gear.

Three cables plugged into and extension cord.

Radio Frequency Interference (RFI)

Have you ever experienced distant high-pitched buzzing and hissing sounds that mysteriously sneak into your vocal recordings? These perplexing noises are commonly caused by electromagnetic interference.

Wireless phones, microwaves, fluorescent lights, TV/AM/FM transmitters, and many other devices can transmit high-frequency electromagnetic interference called radio frequency interference. This type of interference is most commonly picked up by an improperly shielded audio/microphone cable. Additionally, some vintage microphones and older gear make great hosts for RFI.

It is very difficult to fix recorded audio that has captured this kind of interference. Thankfully, there are ways to combat this issue before recording. Shielded XLR cables for your microphone usually help with the issue and it is important to check for any ground issues/ground loops. Also, remember to keep your cell phone away from the interface, microphone, and/or preamps when recording.

Final Thoughts

We hope this article helps you consider some different ways to ensure that you record clean vocal tracks every time. By properly approaching each of your sessions as a true professional, you can minimize frustrations and spend less time editing in post-production. Happy recording!

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