Complete Guide to Recording Death Metal Vocals (Hardware and Software)

By Jason Stallworth

January 15, 2020


In this post, you’re going to get absolutely everything you need to record death metal vocals!

We’ll go over both hardware and software. And you’ll also get recommendations on the specific products you can use to enhance your growls and screams.

Here are the contents below if you want to skip around:

As a disclaimer, this article caters to small and home recording studios. And the hardware and software you’ll learn about is everything that I used to record my album Masterpeacea metal album that doesn’t sound like every other metal album! said by countless listeners!

Hardware for Recording Death Metal Vocals

sE Electronics Reflexion Filter with Shure SM7B

First, let’s go through the studio hardware you need in your studio for recording this style of vocals.

Most of the equipment below pertains to tracking vocals in general. But there are some specific elements that are recommended for what we’re doing here (death metal!!!).

Here’s how this section will flow…

  • I’ll list each component
  • Share why it’s suggested
  • And I’ll also share what I use in my home studio

Studio Mic for Death Metal Vocals

Without question, the Shure SM7B is one of the most-used mics for recording death metal vocals. This mic is built to handle those brutal low growls and screams.

One of the reasons is that it’s a dynamic microphone. Most ‘American Idol’ or ‘The Voice’ sounding vocalists prefer a condenser mic in the studio as that will have more clarity and will also capture those little nuances.

For that reason alone, I don’t recommend using a condenser mic for aggressive vocals. A good dynamic mic is going to give you the low-end and the clear midrange that you may not get from a condenser mic. And specifically, the SM7B gives a warmer tone to harsh vocals.

You can read more about Shure’s product support team answering a consumer’s question on what the best mic for death metal vocals is on Shure.com.

Of course, there are many other dynamic mics to choose from. Here are a few that are often compared to the Shure SM7B:

  • Electro-Voice RE20
  • Manley Reference Cardioid
  • Lauten Audio Oceanus LT-381

You can read more about all of these mics in Sweetwater’s article ‘Best Vocal Mics for Metal’ on sweetwater.com. They give you a nice rundown of why these mics work so well for this style of singing.

And just think…there are people out there who do not consider death metal to be real singing!

Are there Cheaper Studio Mics?

If you’re on a budget, there are two suggestions I have:

  • Look for a used mic (one of the above)
  • Get the Shure SM57 mic

The SM57 is another mic that works great for capturing loud sources. As you may know, it’s known as ‘the mic’ for miking guitar cabinets. But it’s also not a bad choice for those growls and screams (whether live or in the studio).

*I probably sound like a Shure rep, but I a’shure’ you that I’m not. I did a lot of research before I purchased my studio vocal mic because I wanted to make sure that what I got suited my vocal style.

I suggest that you also do your own research. And if you know someone with other mics or if you have some connections with your local music store, see if they will let you try some different mics to see what works best for you.

Mic Accessories Needed

cloudlifter for vocal mic

If you’re budgeting for a more expensive mic you may have a tendency to cut costs in other areas. But there are a couple of things you don’t want to go cheap on when recording any type of vocals in the studio:

  • Mic stand
  • Mic cables

You need a sturdy mic stand that’s not going to fall over with the mic and filters on it (this will make sense below when we talk about the type of filters you need).

The mic stand doesn’t have to be the most expensive; just don’t settle for the cheaply made mic stands. This will make the recording process dreadful.

On that ‘note’ (ah, there’s always a pun!), your recording quality will only be as good as the weakest link in your hardware chain. So do your research and get quality mic cables.

What about a direct box?

It’s a good idea (and I personally consider it a ‘must;) to go through a direct box when using the SM7B mic, SM57, or any mic that’s not a condenser microphone.

The most common direct box one is the Cloudlifter C1. In short, this will give you more gain, more clarity, and better overall recording quality.

Hugh Robjohns further explains this in his article ‘Will My Mic Preamp Work with My Shure SM7B Microphone?’ on Soundonsound.com.

My recommendation is to just get it. In fact, the Cloudlifter is often sold in bundles with the SM7B, so that will save you a little $.

2 Types of Filters for Recording Death Metal Vocals

Jason Stallworth recording death metal vocals - Jason Stallworth

There are 2 types of filters you’ll want to consider and I’ll tell you why.

  1. Pop filter (in front of your mic)
  2. Reflection filter (behind your mic)

The first is the most obvious, that’s a pop filter in front of your mic. And this doesn’t just apply to death metal vocals but really to all vocal recording.

Why do you need a pop filter? This is going to help reduce those annoying ‘ppphhhh’ sounds that sound like you’re spitting into the mic.

And of course, there are many other unwanted noises in singing death metal that you may want to reduce or eliminate. A pop filter is an easy way to do that. In my book, it’s just a no-brainer. So get one!

The other type of filter is placed behind your mic called a reflection filter. now you may be saying ‘I have a pop filter…why do I need a reflection filter?’

Here’s the thing. Most home recording studios are not treated or treated properly. And having a pro vocal booth just isn’t ideal for small rooms. A reflection filter is the next best thing.

You can probably get away without this if you’re just recording death metal vocals. But I’ve personally found that this makes a noticeable difference in tracking vocals.

Here are some of the common reflection filters for your studio:

  • sE Electronics Reflexion Filter X (this is the one I use)
  • Marantz Professional Sound Shield Vocal Reflection Filter
  • Aston Microphones HALO Reflection Filter

Preamp/Audio Interface

presonus interfaces quantum 2 and audibox usb

You will need a quality preamp to accurately capture the essence of your vocals. Wow, that sounded like a shampoo commercial or something with Enigma playing in the background!

Fortunately, even the cheapest audio interfaces come equipped with decent preamps. Although I do suggest at least going with a middle-of-the-road interface. It doesn’t have to be the most expensive interface, just not the cheapest as there is a noticeable difference in preamp quality.

Some may opt to add a separate rackmount preamp with a compressor and run that into their interface. If you know what you’re doing with that, you can get some amazing results. But that may not be feasible for small home recording studios.

In most cases, just a quality audio interface will do the trick. Don’t forget you’ll be running your mic through the Cloudlifter CL-1, which will give you more gain.

*For compressors, we’ll be talking about studio plugins in the software section.

Here are some reputable audio interfaces:

  • PreSonus Quantum 2 (this is what I currently use)
  • Universal Audio Apollo Twin X DUO
  • Focusrite Scarlett 18i20
  • RME Fireface UFX+ (this is one of the more pricier interfaces)

*If you’re on an extreme budget you can get by with an entry-level audio interface. In fact, I started out with the PreSonus AudioBox USB interface (sitting on top of the Quantum 2 in the image above).

I go over both of these components more in-depth in my post Complete Home Recording Studio Guide for Meta Guitarists.

Type of Headphones for Recording Vocals

Headphones are crucial for recording vocals in general. While there are many brands the most important aspect is the type of headphone you choose…

You want closed-back headphones for recording vocals. This is to prevent any sound bleeding over into your vocal track.

Now as far as brands and models go, there’s almost too many to choose from. I would say go as expensive as your budget allows because it’s just going to enhance your recording process.

At the time of writing this (and making the videos that you’ll see below) I was using the KRK 6400 headphones.

These are decent headphones and cheap, and great if you’re just starting out. But I will be upgrading before my next album as these tend to bleed over a little (though it’s not noticeable in the mix).

WATCH: Hardware for Recording Death Metal Vocals

Below is a YouTube video I made going over all of the above equipment. You will also hear a short clip at the beginning of what death metal vocals sound like using this equipment.

Software (Plugins and Effects) for Recording Death Metal Vocals

Presonus Studio One Pro recording software

So you’ve got all of the hardware vocal gear you need. Now it’s time to start tracking vocals.

Below you’ll see a few simple plugins and effects that you can use. I’ll also share screenshots of the settings for everything. This will at least give you a nice starting point by replicating these settings in your own studio.

The cool thing is you really only need a few basic plugins and effects. And most DAW’s come with these (and we’ll briefly cover that at the end).

EQ and Compressor Plugins

The first thing you want in your effects chain for your vocal track is a compressor and EQ. The compressor will help level out those highs and lows. This is crucial for death metal vocals because of the aggressive projection (although if you’re using proper vocal techniques, your levels will naturally be balanced).

The EQ is important so that you have more control over the sound and tone of your vocals. And you need those deeper levels of control over certain frequencies that clash with your vocals.

*Below is a screenshot of the Voxengo Voxformer. This is a compressor + EQ plugin (and many other features) that I use for vocals:

Voxengo Voxformer

Voxformer is a paid plugin but you can mimic my EQ and compressor settings in your DAW’s EQ and compressor plugins.

If you want to find out more about Voxformer go to https://www.voxengo.com/.

As far as settings, every metal vocalist is a little different. You have to play around with both compression and EQ to see what fits your voice best. But at least you can use my levels as a starting point.

Reverb and Delay Effects

Reverb and delay are effects that need to be used sparingly with death metal vocals. Too much can make the vocal mix muddy.

It’s also important to know where to use these effects in your songs. As a rule, for the core vocals, fewer effects are best. Especially for death metal vocals because you want to maintain as much clarity as possible.

But there may be specific parts of the song where you want to accentuate certain words or vocal lines. Screams and the ending of a vocal line are good examples.

Reverb Settings

Presonus Studio One Reverb

You can add just a touch of reverb (reminds me of ‘Touch of Evil’ off Judas Priest’s Painkiller album) to all of your death metal vocal tracks. This helps give it that extra depth and it just sounds awesome.

Here are some highlights of these settings (starting from left to right):

  • Room: The size, width, and height are set up like a smaller rectangle. You don’t typically want a huge hall or stadium-style reverb as that may muddy up your vocal track (unless you’re specifically going for that effect in certain parts).
  • Reverb (level): Start with it straight up and you can tweak from there.
  • Mix (dry/wet): 20% is a nice start and just enough to add that depth without losing any clarity in your vocals.

As you can see there are more settings. You can play around with those to see what sounds best for your voice.

Delay Settings

Presonus Studio One delay

Delay is an effect that you don’t want to overuse in your regular death metal vocal lines like the verses and choruses. But it does sound great for certain parts like screams or when a vocal line is ending and you want that carry-over effect.

Here are a few notes about the key parts in these delay settings:

  • Time: Start by keeping this on sync and see how that works for your song.
  • Mod: This is a cool feature and I encourage you to play around with this if your delay plugin has it (for this specific setting, I was not using it)
  • Feedback: This setting will depend on where in the song you’re using the delay. If it’s prolonging and ending the vocal part, you’ll want it set higher (over 50%). Adding more feedback will enhance your screams too.
  • Mix: Like feedback, the mix should be higher for prolonging notes. An example is let’s say you’re ending the chorus and going into a guitar solo. You may want that last vocal line to carry into the beginning of the guitar solo for a few seconds.

Recording Software (DAW)

As I mentioned, most recording software programs come loaded with some pretty decent effects. And I suggest that you start with those first before buying third party plugins.

You may find that you DAW’s effects sute your needs just fine. In fact, I’ve found some effects in my studio, Presonus Studio One Pro, that sound better than some of the paid plugins.

You can read more about Presonus Studio One and other recording gear in my post Complete Home Recording Studio Guide for Metal Guitarists.

WATCH: Software for Recording Death Metal Vocals

Below is a YouTube video sharing the plugins and effects I use for recording death metal vocals. You’ll hear what the vocals sound like in the full mix, single track with no effects, and single track with effects on.

Below are links where you can get the studio hardware and software we talked about. The majority of these links go to where you can purchase on Amazon in which I do earn a small commission.

For death metal vocal lessons and warm-up exercises, check out Melissa Cross’ Zen of Screaming. You’ve probably seen this DVD on my studio desk in my videos.

I hope that my Complete Guide to Recording Death Metal Vocals helps you and gives you some ideas of what you need for gear.

If you have any questions, go to one of the YouTube videos I included above and leave a comment (I try to respond to every YouTube comment!).

The next step is to get to writing your lyrics and start tracking your vocals!

Keep it Metal,

Jason

Jason Stallworth

About the author

Hard rock and heavy metal recording artist, songwriter, and musician.

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