Tutorials / 21 April 2021

How to Record Vocals on Your Phone

How to record vocals on your mobile phone iphone with earphones BandLab

Guest Blogger: Gregory A. Barker, PhD is a Co-Founder of Singdaptive and its VP of Publishing. He is also an editor, with Kathy Alexander, of The Ultimate Guide to Singing. Greg is also a Fellow at the University of Winchester, a published author with Oxford University Press, and a textbook writer & journalist. 

Using a phone to record your vocals isn’t a process looked down on by the pros. Singers are using their phones to remember musical ideas, submit samples for auditions, send music to friends, family and fans – and to lay down tracks for recording projects. 

For many of those situations just singing near your phone can get you going quick and easy. The little mics in your phone have come a long way in recent years. Even though they can’t beat a good condenser mic + interface, they’re getting closer all the time.

But musicians using apps like BandLab typically want to record their voice to a backing track they’ve imported or produced. They may even want to add vocal harmonies. This type of recording is called multitrack recording.

When you’re doing a multitrack recording you need to isolate your voice. This means that you can’t listen to the music blaring out of your speakers on your phone while you record.

This guide takes you through the essential steps that’ll help you record vocals on your phone – so that you can produce shareable multitrack recordings to the world and beyond. 

1. Don’t go wireless

It may seem that multitrack recording on your phone should be simple: “What’s the big deal? Pair up your wireless earbuds, press record and sing!”

The best type of headphones to use to record vocals on your phone are ones where the microphone is built into the cable. With these types of headphones, you can then experiment with holding the microphone embedded into that cable further away or closer to your mouth.

As convenient and stylish as your wireless headphones may be, they have two issues that make them impractical: latency and quality.

A wireless audio signal sent back and forth between your headphones and your smartphone takes much more time than with a cable. This time lag is called latency – and it’s too high with wireless mics. You’ll find yourself struggling to stay in sync with your track. Also, more data compression can happen on your wireless headphones than with your wired headphones. This can mean that the quality of your recording suffers.

So, put the wireless headphones away and get yourself a pair of wired headphones with a built-in microphone. The best type of headphones to use to record vocals on your phone are ones where the microphone is built into the cable. With these types of headphones, you can then experiment with holding the microphone embedded into that cable further away or closer to your mouth. This brings us to the next point… 

Recording vocals on mobile phone recommended with wired earphones
Go with wired headphones or earbuds if you are recording vocals as a part of a multitrack project.

2. Get the distance right

No matter what type of headphones you have, you want to find where that microphone is located. Is it in the cable? Or is it embedded into one of the earcups? Once you’ve found it, you’re going to experiment with the distance and orientation of that mic to your mouth. 

It may sound crazy but changing the angle of the mic slightly can result in a change to the recording quality. And when a microphone is within 30 cm of your mouth, moving that mic even 5 or 10cm can make a big difference to your sound. 

For example the closer you hold the phone to your mouth, the less background noise you’ll pick up. When the mic is in the cable, it can be fairly easy to move it around and try different positions. 

TIP: take one earbud out of your ear – this often gives you more flexibility in moving the mic. If you have a mic embedded into the earcups – take the earcup that has the embedded mic (you’ll see a small little hole) and slide that earcup off your ear and place it close to your mouth. You may not look Instagram worthy, but it may help you get a better sound.

Does this mean that holding the mic right at your lips is the best way to record? Not at all – because if you are singing loudly you may end up “clipping” your signal. This means that the sound of your voice is distorted.

The further away you hold the mic, the less chance there is of clipping/distorting your signal. However, this decreases the difference between your level and the level of the noises around you. This can result in a noisier and more ambient recording.

Distance matters – for all recording projects, whether it’s on a recording mic in a pro studio or the mic array in your smartphone. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to figure out the solution.

3. Take the “Test of Three”

Just open a recording app like BandLab on your smartphone right now. Sing one phrase, verse or chorus of a song. If you’re working on a project which involves an entire song, then choose a louder, more energetic passage from your song.

Record this three times, at the same volume, holding your mic in a similar orientation, but each time using a different distance from your mouth:

  • A couple inches (up to 6 cm)
  • Up to a foot (30 cm)
  • Further than a foot (if you can)

Listen back to the recordings – which one sounds best to you? You may find it interesting to look at the waveforms from the three recordings. Do you see any “clipping”? This is where the loudest notes have been clipped off in the waveform. Clipping results in a distorted signal – and will likely only happen when the mic is too close to your mouth.  

Or do you see a waveform without much height? This means the signal reaching your mic is pretty low. As a result, your voice may sound distant and you may hear other sounds from the room (such as the hum of a refrigerator).

Here’s an example of three audio clips of a short, loud, sung phrase recorded on BandLab at three different distances:

BandLab Mix Editor on mobile phone vocals recording.

At a distance of 2” / 5cms from my lips, you can see that the top of many of the waveforms are reaching the same location – this is clipping. 

BandLab Mix Editor on mobile phone vocals recording.

Now I’m holding the mic further away (8” / 20cms); you can see that there is some variation in the highest waveforms – no clipping here.

BandLab Mix Editor on mobile phone vocals recording.

Now I’ve placed the mic quite far away (I actually didn’t even have the earbuds in my ear!) and you can see that the waveforms are smaller (hmmm…I also didn’t sing my final note as loudly as on the other two attempts). You can also see the small waveforms that came from moving my chair away from the phone – just before and just after singing! You want to ensure that the waveforms of your voice far exceed the size of any waveforms coming from room noise.  

You don’t need to examine the waveforms of your track after you’ve recorded – but it can really help to keep your eyes on these when you are recording. This helps you quickly notice if there’s any clipping or unwanted noise in your recording (like a chair rolling!).  

TIP: Technologist Kaitie Sly teaches a course on recording on BandLab. She reminds singers to not forget about posture: “Make sure that your body is not in a slumped position, but that you’re sitting or standing in a manner which allows you to sing comfortably – raise your mic to fit that position rather than moving your body to match where your mic is.” 

Read more: Taking the noise out of your recordings with Denoise

4. Consider your room

Every room impacts the vocal quality of your recording – this is because your mic isn’t only recording your voice, it’s picking up on the reflections of your voice coming from the walls, floor, ceiling and other objects around you.

When you think you’re ready to record, take 20 or 30 minutes, try some recordings holding your phone at different orientations and distances. Then, stand in a different place in the room – or try a different room and run through these tests again. When you listen back, you’ll know the best choices to make for your vocal take.

Singer recording without wired microphone
This singer is likely going to pick up many reflections from the hard surfaces in their recording environment – whether or not they are using a wired mic.

To record vocals on your phone, it is important that these reflections are minimal (remember that the distance of your mic from your mouth is a critical factor here). Audio engineers will often speak of a “live” or “dead” space. A “live” space is one that reflects audio more than it absorbs it and a “dead” space absorbs more than it reflects. You may have seen images of pro sound studios that use foam panelling that has many peaks and valleys in order to “deaden” the acoustic environment.

Different room types affect your vocal recording
The room on the left will be more “dead” with less reflections intruding into the recording than the room on the right

Understanding how sound behaves in a room is a complicated area, but all you need to do is to listen. Try out different rooms (and different positions in a room) to see how your track sounds to you.  

This doesn’t mean that a “live” space is bad – it may suit your recording to pick up these reflections. In fact, some artists record in a stairwell or a bathroom because they want a “bright” or “echoey” vocal quality for their project. The key thing is that you are choosing the room that will cooperate with the recording quality you desire – rather than the room’s reflections “intruding” on your recording!

Keep in mind that in addition to the size and angles in your room, the presence or absence of the following can have an impact on your recording:

  • Furniture
  • Curtains
  • Carpeting
  • Tapestries
  • Windows

Understanding how sound behaves in a room is a complicated area, but all you need to do is to listen. Try out different rooms (and different positions in a room) to see how your track sounds to you.  

It all comes down to experimenting and listening. And it doesn’t take much time at all. When you think you’re ready to record, take 20 or 30 minutes, try some recordings holding your phone at different orientations and distances. Then, stand in a different place in the room – or try a different room and run through these tests again. When you listen back, you’ll know the best choices to make for your vocal take.

Start making music


Thanks to Audio Technologist Kevin Alexander for contributing to this article on how to record vocals with your phone. Kevin is a founder at Singdaptive, the innovative online platform for singers, with lessons delivered by instructors who have coached for The Voice, Disney, the BBC and Grammy-winning artists. You’ll meet singer-songwriters with top credits, award-winning choral directors, and accredited medical specialists.

Read more: How pro singers prepare for recording and streaming sessions

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