Everybody seems to think you can’t get a good vocal recording without a vocal booth.

I say nay.

I’ve sung in many a vocal booth, and while it would be nice to have one, that ain’t gonna happen.

They’re huge.

They’re expensive.

And they’re not the ONLY way to get a great-sounding vocal track.

Here’s what I do.

Being in a home studio, noise is inevitable. Fan noise from your computer or hard drive, air conditioner noise, traffic noise, etc.

Would a professional vocal booth solve a lot of these noise problems?


BUT…there’s another way.

And this way doesn’t work every single time, but I’m almost always pleasantly surprised by the results I get.

What’s the secret?

Using gates and/or expanders to create that “vocal booth” sound.

Think about it.

When you’re listening to a vocal track, you generally don’t hear the various noises from the room until the singer stops singing. It’s those spaces between phrases where the noise becomes apparent.

So I slap an expander/gate on there, and it takes care of the noise.

Suddenly the vocal sounds like it was recorded in a nice, quiet booth.

Now, this takes some tweaking, and there’s a right and a wrong way to do it.

One of the new bonus videos I’m adding to Understanding Compression later this week will cover my approach to using gates/expanders.

Just another of many reasons why you should jump on the Understanding Compression bandwagon:


Joe Gilder

9 Responses to “Poor Man’s “Vocal Booth” Sound”

  1. Mike Sorensen

    You’ll do me out of a job Joe 😉  Seriously though that’s a great idea and I’ve seen it employed by even top studio producers over the years.  Still if you want to get rid of that low bass energy 100%… well I’m not here to sell, just to tell you it can be done.  🙂

    Have a great weekend

  2. Xan Angelfvkk

    I used to run a recording studio in a purpose built facility that indeed had a vocal booth. But we generally found it a hassle to use and it sounded “boxy” (proly could have done with some more dampening. It eventually became the junk room & later, a kitchenette! hehe

    Most people preferred to track in the main room, or myself which I still do in the control room with the studio monitors. I hate using headphones. Ov course there is bleed, but nothing a good ‘ol gate and at times a little manual scrubbing can’t fix.

    Currently my “studio” is my old house truck, so there really isn’t a choice. But also ov course I do plenty ov vocals on location in forests, cemetaries etc. Actually the last one was for a cover ov Non’s “Total War” and I did that deep in an old WWII gun emplacement on Wright’s Hill in Wellington NZ. It was about 7pmish and pitch black when I decended the vertical tunnel into the gun emplacement to do this with my gear. Was a lot ov fun. 🙂

  3. Roger

    To be
    honest, I would follow the principle that Anup Thomas did almost every time. If
    I’m going to track a vocal in a noisy environment, I would always do the best I
    could to prevent unwanted noise from reaching the input channel.
    Using a dynamic
    mic with a narrow polar pattern and some kind of sound insulation/dampening would be my
    bet. In a live rock concert, there was always a lot of decibels present on stage
    (the concept of InEar monitoring is not that old), so the sound engineer would
    never use a omnidirectional condenser microphone that would pick up everything
    around it with high sensivity (I know that this is a over the top example). I
    believe that a simple gate with a dynamic mic (narrow polar pattern) would be a
    lot easier to control. In a way, a properly ‘tuned’ expander would emulate some
    of that behavior, but if you’re tracking in such a noisy environment, you have
    to set your expectations accordingly. I believe that this is the basic concept
    of recording that is repeated so many times around here: “Get it right at the
    source”! J

  4. Anup J. Thomas

    Hi. While in India my friends and I tried recording using the various things we learned here and elsewhere. A vocal booth would have been insanely awesome, but the only studio belonged to our college and they hated western music. Finding any space to record was hard enough for us, let alone a noise-free one. We had concrete walls and tiled floors. Carpet and woodframe/drywall walls aren’t common there. This is what we wound up doing:

    We used the largest bedroom we could find that was also relatively quiet. We then picked a corner of the room to do the recordings, and taped curtains on both sides of the corner. We also had a rug underneath. We faced our dynamic mic toward that corner, as close to it as we could get while still having space for the singer or guitarist. We also hung a quilt along with our window curtain to block out the nasty diesel truck engine noises. The AC and fan were turned off while recording (and that wasn’t fun), and we took out any mechanical clocks from the room.

    The idea was that since it was impractical for any of us to soundproof our rooms (heat buildup, finance, unavailability of materials), and ergo couldn’t reduce room reflections, we would minimize how much of those reflections would get into the mic. The curtains and rug would absorb as much reflections as they could from getting picked up into the mic, which had a cardiod pickup pattern (which we though would ignore whatever was going on in the rest of the room).

    The results were pretty good. Whenever we played back the vocals we recorded (through crappy speakers mind you), it really sounded like the person was in the room singing, enough so to fool our cats that have grown accustomed and bored to all the music in the house =)

    For anyone interested, we used a Presonus Firestudio Project that my friend bought from here, a Blue enCORE 200 mic (with the windscreen removed) I also got from here, a homemade pop filter made of pantyhose and a wire hanger, and Sennheiser HD 380 Pro headphones for tracking.

    Anyone have any opinions on anything I did wrong, or should have done with limited resources?


    • Joe Gilder

      No right or wrong answers really. Just trial and error. You’ve got to listen on headphones probably after recording to make sure it sounds like you want it to sound.

      • Anup J. Thomas

        I figure with all the learning there is to do with recording, it’s best for me to focus all my efforts now on capturing the source to best I can (mic placement, room insulation, common sense), then start applying the things I’ve learned with editing and mixing later without having anything more to record (your 5 steps method reached a lot of people). So much time and potential music was wasted in the past just because our ‘sound guy’ wanted to mix and edit in the middle of our takes =(


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