Recording vocals in Ableton Live 11 provides singers and rappers with a powerful and flexible environment for capturing high-quality vocal performances.
With its intuitive interface, built-in effects, and robust editing tools, Ableton makes it easy to get professional sounding vocal tracks whether you’re recording in a professional studio or your bedroom closet.
In this guide, we’ll walk through the complete vocal recording workflow in Live 11, from setup to editing to mixing.
Setup Your Audio Interface & Microphone
The foundation of any vocal recording setup is having the right audio interface and microphone. Here are some tips:
- Audio interface – Choose an interface with enough inputs/outputs to suit your needs. Most vocalists will be fine with a simple 2 input/2 output interface like the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. Make sure the interface has phantom power for condenser mics.
- Microphone – Popular studio vocal mics include large diaphragm condensers like the Neumann U87 or warm dynamic mics like the Shure SM7b. For home studios, the Audio-Technica AT2020 or Blue Yeti provide excellent quality at an affordable price.
- Pop filter – Place a pop filter between your mouth and the mic to reduce plosives and sibilance.
- Headphones – Closed-back headphones like the Sony MDR-7506 allow you to hear your voice and the track playback clearly.
Once you’ve got the gear, connect the mic to your audio interface with an XLR cable, plug your headphones into the interface, and you’re ready to start recording.
Set Up Your Ableton Live Session
When starting a new vocal recording session in Ableton Live 11, here are some key steps:
- Create audio and MIDI tracks – Make an audio track to record your vocals to and MIDI tracks for any virtual instruments you want to record.
- Set your sample rate – Ableton supports sample rates up to 192kHz. For vocals, 44.1kHz or 48kHz is sufficient. Higher rates use more disk space.
- Input/Output configuration – In Audio Preferences, select your audio interface for the input/output. Set your headphone output and set monitoring to “In”.
- Arm your vocal track – Click the “Arm Session Recording” button on your vocal track so it’s ready to record.
- Add effects – Insert effects like reverb and delay on your vocal track to hear while recording.
- Route returns – If using send effects, route their returns to a new track and set it as the monitor track.
Once configured, your vocal track is ready to record!
Record Your Vocal Takes
When recording vocal takes in Ableton Live, follow these tips to nail the perfect performance:
- Dial in your input gain – With your mic positioned, speak/sing at performance level and adjust the input gain so peaks hit around -12dB.
- Record enabling – With your vocal track armed, click the Record button in the transport to enable recording. The track will switch to record mode.
- Punch in/out – To record specific sections, set Locators and use the Punch In/Out buttons. Useful for fixing lines.
- Do multiple takes – Record your main take but don’t be shy about trying different renditions. Comp them later.
- Give a count-in – Click the Metronome button and enable “Pre-Roll” under the Record Quantization dropdown.
- Take breaks – Vocals can be strenuous. Take breaks between takes to rest your voice.
- Record harmonies – Record each harmony part separately on its own track.
Following these tips will give you clean vocal recordings ready for editing and production.
Edit & Comp Your Vocal Takes
Once your vocal tracks are recorded, it’s time to edit and comp the best takes together. Here’s how in Live 11:
- Tune it – Fix pitchy vocals with Melodyne or Ableton’s Built-in Pitch editor under Audio Effects.
- Edit out mistakes – Delete or mute mistakes between good takes.
- Comp takes – [Cmd+C] to copy good phrases from different takes and paste them together into the best composite take.
- Crossfade comped sections – Use short fades between comped phrases to smooth the transitions.
- Manage takes – Right click a vocal track and select “Show in Browser” to manage and audition all your takes.
- Align verses – Line up repeated verse/chorus sections using the Arrangement View.
- Normalize – Select all vocal clips and choose Normalize to get a consistent level between takes.
Proper editing and comping ensures your best vocal performances make it into the final track.
Process Your Vocals
Now that the vocals are comped, it’s time to add polish with Ableton’s processing effects:
- EQ – Shape the tone. Boost presence bands, attenuate nasal resonances.
- Compression – Use subtle ratios like 2:1 to smooth out levels. De-ess for sibilance.
- Reverb – Use a plate or hall reverb as an insert for “glue”. Add a room reverb on an aux for depth.
- Delay – Echo effects like an eighth note or dotted eighth delay widen and air out vocals.
- Harmonizer – The Pitch Shifter creates oriented harmonies. For more complex harmonies, use Waves OVox.
- De-Esser – Focus this dynamic EQ in the 3-7kHz range to tame harsh sibilant esses.
- Saturation – Use a tube/tape saturator to add pleasing warmth and character.
Mix the processed vocals with the instrumental track while A/Bing the dry vocal to maintain clarity.
Mix & Automate Your Vocals
The final step is mixing the processed vocal tracks into the song:
- Level balance – Get the vocal sit right in the mix using faders. Vocals typically sit just above the instrumental level.
- Panning – Doubletracked leads are often panned L/R. Backing vox are panned wider or centered.
- EQ – Further EQ the vocal to sit in its frequency pocket in the mix. Notch out clashing frequencies.
- Compression – Use a mix buss compressor to glue the vocal to the instrumental tone.
- Effects automation – Write automation clips to create movement in effects like reverb and delay.
- Fader automation – Draw in fader rides to smoothly duck vocals under instruments or boost lines.
Take time to refine the balance, tone, effects, and movement of the vocal tracks. Let the emotional delivery shine through at the forefront of your mix!
Vocal Production Tricks
Here are some additional pro vocal production tips for Ableton Live 11:
- Capture room tone – Record 10 seconds of “silence” in the room to use for noise reduction later.
- Use virtual instruments as sketch pads – Build vocal melodies and harmonies with synths first, then re-record with your voice.
- Pitch correction as effect – Rather than fixing pitch of the entire vocal, use pitch correction effects just on problem words/phrases.
- Manipulate formants – Keep formants consistent when pitch shifting vocals to maintain tonal quality.
- Print effects – When you nail the perfect vocal effect setting, print the effect directly to audio to free up CPU.
- Layer vocals – Thicken lead vocals by duplicating and hard panning L/R. Pitch shift one up/down 5-10 cents.
Using these pro tips, you can take your Ableton vocal production to the next level!
Recording vocals in Ableton Live provides flexible tools to capture top-quality vocal tracks. Using the right microphone and interface setup, configuring tracks for recording, comping the best takes, processing with Ableton’s effects, and artfully mixing/automating, you can achieve clean, polished, radio-ready vocal recordings entirely within Live. With practice and experimentation, Ableton can help vocalists translate their musical ideas from inspiration to fully produced song.
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