Recording Vocals on a Budget
Learning how to record your own vocal demos is one of the best ways to expand your audience and get noticed by a record label. But for many people, choosing the right equipment and comparing specs and stats can be a confusing process, making it difficult to get started.
Your demo doesn't need to be release ready in terms of quality—you just need the right amount of clarity and sparkle to engage listeners. It's a bonus if you can get it done without breaking the bank too. So we've put together a list of all necessary equipment you need to build a winning and affordable vocal recording setup at home.
Gauge ECM-87 ($150 New)
This is a great, no frills mic from Los Angeles audio company Gauge Microphones. Although it's a little bit hyped in the high frequencies, it's nonetheless a versatile and affordable mic capable of capturing just about any vocal style.
Side note: the ECM-87 is also great for recording acoustic guitars and other acoustic instruments, so you get a cool 2-for-1 deal with this mic.
Shure SM58 ($99 New)
People often think that the Shure SM58 is only meant for live settings—but it can work like magic on some vocalists.
Borrow or loan one from your school, a friend or local venue to see if you like the sound before buying. You don’t always need to spend a lot of money to get a great vocal sound.
Apogee One ($100 Used)
The Apogee One is a solid starter interface. It has one mic input, can fit in your bag easily, and the preamp and conversion is shockingly good for the price. It's also dead simple to use. Plug in, download the Apogee driver and you're good to go. Get it used, these things are robust and built to last. Just make sure to check
compatibility with your computer before you get it!
SE Reflexion Filter ($150 New)
Reflection filters help reduce room ambience picked up by microphones while recording. A lot of companies sell reflective filters as 'portable vocal booths'—don't let this fool you. However, they will help make your recordings sound cleaner when used right. When recording with a reflection filter, make sure the wall behind the singer (not the microphone) is treated, otherwise unwanted sound will reflect off of it and into the mic. For a DIY setup, you can use a mattress or carpet to cover the wall.
Here's where you should flex your budget. If you don't have a great monitoring setup, it's important to to have a headphone reference you can trust.
The Audio Technica ATH Series Headphones are solid. Less expensive pairs begins at $50 and you can scale all the way up to $300. Try them out—shoot for comfort and isolation so you don't get too much bleed. The models at the lower price point struggle a little bit with isolation, so splurge a little here if you can!
You'll need a couple generic basics:
Pop Filter ($30 New)
XLR Cables ($10-15 New)
They come for free with the Gauge mic!
Mic Stand ($30 New)
You can buy one at just about any music store.
Put aside a bit of cash to make your space comfortable. Get some candles, some snacks, whatever will make you happy when you enter the space. When people are evaluating demos, they can hear beyond the 'sound' of the vocal—they're looking for conviction, feeling, and songwriting! The more comfortable you are in your recording space, the better your demo will be.
If you want to take your demo to the next level, follow our step-by-step guide to mixing and treating vocals.