What Level Should You Record Your Vocals?

Sound Engineer Kevin Alexander shares tips on getting the right level when recording vocals.


Sound Engineer | Technologist | Co-founder of Singdaptive

This week’s Tips from the Team are all about recording your vocals! Today, we hear from sound engineer, technologist and Singdaptive co-founder, Kevin Alexander, on what level is ideal to record your vocals at.

How Much Should I Worry About Getting the Right Recording Level?

Tips from the Team Transcript: I’m a singer and I got my level meter up. It’s going back and forth or up and down, depending on how your’s looks. What number do I want? When I sing, do I want a three, a six, a minus two, an infinite, what number is the right number to have my level meter at? Well, there isn’t really a right number because it’s going to move around. You’re not going to sing at the same level. The level is going to vary between the difference in your loudest part and your quietest part, and everything in between. So really what’s most important is there’s a certain level you don’t want to go above. Technically speaking it’s 0 dBfs. That’s the technical digital number that you don’t want to go above. Now, really the way to think about it is you just never want to see a red light on your level meter.

You don’t want to what’s called, “clip” the signal. That’s the point where any gear, whether it’s analog or digital, goes outside of its normal operating condition and just can’t work anymore. You might hear distortion. You might hear phasing problems, who knows what might happen. So red is bad. Generally green is always good and orange is more just there to warn you that you’re getting close to red. So these colors that often products have, are really useful. But then people worry, “What’s too low? I’m really low on the meter. That can’t be good. Isn’t it better if the level is higher?”

Well, here’s the thing. In modern recording, if any of the equipment you’ve bought has been made in the past five or 10 years, for the most part, if something’s quiet, we can just essentially turn it up. And you’re not going to be able to hear that as a problem. The reason why sound engineers worry about low levels is in olden times, when gear was different, there was an inherent noise in the equipment that was used, especially analog equipment. So when something was recorded low and you turned it up, you turned up all this noise. The thing is, most equipment today is sufficiently quiet enough that even if you record too low, when you turn it up, that noise is still pretty quiet.

So in general, you just have to worry about the clipping. Don’t go too far to the top and hit that red light. You never want the red light. And if it’s low, it’s not the end of the world, you can turn it up.

What Level Should I Record At?