Professional Sound - Indepth

Recording Vocals Without Headphones? by George Kourounis

What? Is he crazy? You can’t record vocals without headphones! That would be absurd… Well, why not? Once you know the rules then you can start to break them – and anyway, some singers hate wearing them.

First of all, yes, it is easier to record vocal tracks while the singer is wearing headphones because you have more control over the recording environment. Dealing with things such as feedback, headphone leakage and communications with the control room are much easier when the singer has a pair of cans strpped to the side of his head. But there are other ways to record singers that may be less ‘orthodox’, but worth experimenting with.

Set up your vocal mic as you normally would, but instead of using headphones, use the studio speakers for you audio playback. Don’t send much (or any) vocals through the cue feed in order to revent feedback and adjust the volume of the speakers so that the singer can hear himself and is comfortable with the level. Now what you need to do is set up another microphone and point it away from the vocalist towards the studio speakers. This mic is there to pick up the sound of the speakers, which is basically the same as the unwanted leakage entering our vocal mic. Once in the control room, take the signal from the second microphone, invert its phase by 180 degrees and combine it with your vocal signal. This will cause your leakage to cancel itself out, leaving you with your original voice… sans leakage.

Granted, this technique is not foolproof and you definitely wouldn’t want to use it on every session, but you’d be surprised at how good the raw sound can be. Also, since many singers don’t like the unnatural sensation of singing with headphones on, this is a viable alternative. After all, most singers don’t practice with headphones on, at least the ones I know.

George Kourounis, Recording Engineer & Studio Instructor – Trebas Institute

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About Andrew King
Andrew King is the Editor-in-Chief at Professional Sound. He is also a co-host of Canadian Musician Radio and NWC Webinars’ series of free music and entertainment industry webinars.
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