How to Record Vocals Without Headphones

Ever notice that some singers have a hard time recording their vocals on pitch when wearing headphones? This is due to the proximity of the speaker cone to the ear canal, which, depending on the size and shaping of the individuals ear canal, can drastically distort the delivery of the playback's pitch to the singers ear, causing the singer to sing off key. Singers are used to hearing music from a distance when in rehearsal, so you may find better pitch and emotion by ditching the headphones. Here is a method for recording vocals in the control room using only your monitor speakers.


  1. Image titled Record Vocals Without Headphones Step 1
    Set your microphone up with the null point (point of rejection) facing your monitors. On most mics (ones with a cardioid or hyper cardioid polar pattern) you can find the highest rejection by aiming the end of the mic at one of the monitors and then turning it just slightly left or right.
  2. Image titled Record Vocals Without Headphones Step 2
    Turn off one monitor (the one you didn't aim the mic at).
  3. Image titled Record Vocals Without Headphones Step 3
    Place your singer in front of the microphone and do some sound tests. As you are doing these, it is important that you find : a.) A monitor level that is not too loud, but is comfortable for the singer. b.) The proper gain level so that the signal isn't distorting. c.) The mic position with the smallest amount of bleed-through. NOTE: There will be some bleed-through involved, just make sure it is as quiet as possible.
  4. Image titled Record Vocals Without Headphones Step 4
    Now that you have found your levels, record the vocals. With the vocal take recorded, open up another track and label it "Bleed-Through" or something to that nature.
  5. Image titled Record Vocals Without Headphones Step 5
    Without changing anything (monitor level, mic placement, same monitor turned off), stand in front of the mic yourself and record just the bleed-through of the track through the mic. Remain totally silent during the recording, as you are just catching the bleed-through.
  6. Image titled Record Vocals Without Headphones Step 6
    With this done, you should have two tracks: One with your vocal take (with bleed-through) and another that contains the bleed-through by itself.
  7. Image titled Record Vocals Without Headphones Step 7
    Invert the phase on the bleed-through track. On Pro-Tools this can be done by opening the plug-in "Trim" on the insert of the bleed-through track and pressing the invert phase button. On Adobe Audition you can use an Audio Suite effect called "Invert" to flip the phase.
  8. Image titled Record Vocals Without Headphones Step 8
    Understand that with the phase now inverted, raise the level of the bleed-through track to match the decibel level of the vocal track.
  9. Image titled Record Vocals Without Headphones Step 9
    Play both tracks back simultaneously. The inverted bleed-through track should cancel out a large amount of the bleed-through on the vocal track.
  10. Image titled Record Vocals Without Headphones Step 10
    Do this with each song, making sure to keep records of you mic choice, mic position, and monitor level.


  • You may find that you get a great vocal sound with almost no bleed-through at all. If you can get this sound, GO WITH IT! An inverted bleed-though track may not be needed. This could cut down on a lot of work on your part.
  • A way to get around having to do the above would be to bounce down the vocal track and the bleed-through track to one single track, eliminating the need to have the bleed-through track in the session.
  • The reason that you (or someone) is recommended to stand in front of the mic during the recording of the bleed-through track is to simulate the blockage of sound caused by the body of the singer to the mic. Depending on your room dimensions, however, you may find that step is not needed.
  • One bleed-through track can work for each mic or mic position. Any changes to mics or their placement will require another separate bleed-through track.
  • It might be a good idea to record your bleed-through tracks at the end of the session, after everyone has left, so as not to hold up the talent.
  • The theory behind this technique is called Common Mode Rejection. It states that the sum of two identical waveforms 180 degrees out of phase (inverted) will result in a complete cancellation of sound. Thus, it is important to have the out of phase bleed-through track playing throughout the rest of the session, including mixing.


  • Some singers don't know any better and think that the playback volume has to be extremely loud for them to "get into it". Remind them that the trade off for ditching the headphones is a slightly quieter playback volume. If that doesn't work.... knock them around a bit.
  • A mic with an omnidirectional pickup pattern may not work with this method.
  • A live mic in the same room with monitors can cause sudden and often damaging feedback. Be sure to turn your monitors all the way down before finding your playback volume.

Article Info

Categories: Music Techniques