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How do you record vocals and guitar into separate tracks?

Member for

13 years 8 months
I have a pretty simple set up at home. I use a Zoom H2 to record my wife's vocals, and I'm using Mixcraft as my DAW. I play an acoustic guitar. We have only one mic.

The challenge is to be able to get the vocals and guitar into two tracks. How is it normally done? Right now, I have to record them separately, and that's not quite working out because my wife sings better when I play the guitar while she's singing. But I can't do that because the guitar sound would leak into the mic. What I tried to do was create a "ghost track" where we record both at the same time, then I play my guitar while the ghost track is playing (which is a challenge because even minor differences throws me off), and then have listen to the guitar track in headphones and record a singing (which is also a challenge because when I'm playing live with her, I can adjust my guitar rhythm if she goes slows down or speeds up in her rhythm, but with the prerecorded guitar, that's not possible). So I'm not sure what the best way is. I really like the Zoom H2, the sound quality is totally fine for our needs, so I am trying to avoid getting a more sophisticated setup, if at all possible. But I don't mind getting some equipment if that will help us to make this kind of recording easier.

Please let me know if you have any suggestions...



Member for

15 years 11 months

RemyRAD Sun, 02/03/2013 - 16:53
I will point out here that your H-2 was not your best decision purchase. The H-4 is really what you needed. But even that is fraught with other issues when you try to use it just as a computer audio interface because you will be dealing with latency in your headphones. Some of this is completely intolerable. But that unit actually has not only those built-in microphones but two separate external XLR phantom powered microphone inputs. And it can record 4 tracks and you can overdub with it with external microphones or use those external microphones as far left and right outriggers to the built in stereo microphone in the center. You can't do that with your H-2. It can only do what it does. And not what you want it to do. So that's a problem. And one for which there is no good way to do it well. Not only just that. Surely you can understand that?

I mean you don't try to tow a huge fifth wheel trailer with a VW beetle. You've got to have a big pickup truck and you have to invest and have installed a proper fifth wheel Mount. Otherwise you're not towing that trailer anywhere with anything else because you can't. And that's a situation you are currently in with your recordings.

I would recommend virtually anyone's inexpensive 2 XLR input (with phantom power) USB audio interface that also features direct pass through monitoring to prevent issues with latency.

Then you DON'T go out and purchase a cheap Chinese studio condenser microphone because they aren't. They're just cheap and they really are not worthy most of them. Instead, you purchase an inexpensive $100 SHURE SM58 and the matching foam pop filter for that microphone and use it. That $100 microphone will compare better to the $3300 Neumann U87's and I'm not kidding, compared to any other microphone by any other manufacturer bar none. It's a magic microphone. It will last you more than 40 years no matter how many times you drop it on the cement floor. When the pretty little Bessel ball gets all dented up, you replace it for $10 just for the aesthetics. And it is particularly lovely sounding on female soprano singers. Much more flattering than a crispy, tinny, thin, neutered cheap Chinese condenser microphone. Don't let any idiot salesman at the guitar store tell you anything different. They are morons they are children. They're only being paid to sell you stuff that they get commissions on but not all get commissions. So take it from a real engineer that has a 40+ year track record and not some kid that got hired last week to sell you a fine Chinese studio condenser microphone. You'll be sorry if you do.

So ya really don't have the kind of choices you really need to have. It costs money. Nothing you can do about that if you want some kind of professional results. Not that it cannot be done with your H-2 but it's really not the device to use.

For instance, in order to effectively use that device, you definitely need to have the USB output plug-in to your computer. You're not good to be recording anything on this device. It's simply the interface of microphone with analog to digital converter to USB into your computer. In your software, you will have to make a choice and a configuration to record either the left microphone channel or the right microphone channel as a single monaural track. And that selection is within the software to make. You put the foam pop filter on the gizmo and you put it about 8 inches from her face. You want to make sure that whichever one of the little microphones that you have selected in your software is the one that you have positioned to be facing directly towards her mouth. You're not recording her in stereo. Not how it's done. And that's how you would have to record her to overdub her over your piano track which he recorded earlier from both of those microphones as a single stereo pair track. And that selection is also to be made within your software.

Because it also functions (I believe this to be true of that model but don't exactly know?) As something of a USB audio interface to your computer. So ya have to plug headphones into it to be able to hear the track playback. This can be awkward because your computer is going to have to be about 6 feet away from this gizmo and right in front of her face. OMG there's a fan running on the computer. That will have to be dealt with after you record her. You can lessen that by covering your computer up with blankets, quilts, sticking a plastic drinking saw into the fan louvers to stop the fan for a couple of minutes. (You will run the risk of thermal damage to your CPU if you're one of those kooks that likes to overclock their CPU. Don't do that unless you want to buy a new CPU)

That's really your only option for using that device in combination with your computer and software effectively, professionally.

Now this doesn't mean you're recording is going to sound good. It will only sound good if you have adjusted and the microphone level on your H-2. You don't want her to overblow that little gizmo which is very easy to do. That's why this is so much more difficult with that gizmo then it is with the right gizmo. It's not designed to do what you want to do plain and simple. So there'll certainly be compromises your going to have to make. And you might not like those compromises? Too bad. You have to have the right tools or its BS. As I said, that's not to say that you cannot achieve an excellent professional recording doing what I've described. You can. But it will be more difficult than it would if you had the right tools.

In other words, you would never enter that VW beetle that you purchased last year at the Daytona 500. You could. They might let you? But you already know what place you are going to be when you finish. Last. If you even can make it there to last? Meanwhile you're going 70 mph and people are passing you at 180 mph. So it's going to take you three times longer to finish that race than anyone else. You'll still be driving around in circles until the following week LOL. And that's what you have here.

So invested $350 & you'll be able to do it fully professionally much much easier.
Mx. Remy Ann David

Member for

13 years 8 months

champ1979 Wed, 02/06/2013 - 13:41
Thanks for all the suggestions (and the humor)!

Ok, so I think I'm going to get a Mic for her. SM58 is not a condenser mic, but even then it's better for home recording?

Also, I think I'd need to get the stand (any suggestions for this?) and pop filter (and this).

Ok, so I have the SM58 for the vocals. How about the guitar? Can I play the guitar into the H2 while my wife is singing into the SM58? If I place myself far enough then the SM58 shouldn't pick up too much of the guitar right? And then I'll have the vocals in my DAW software through the USB/FireWire interface, and I'll have the guitar in my SD card from the H2, which I can then transfer over. Do you think this set up would work rather than going with the headphone route?

Also, do you have any suggestion for a USB or FireWire interface?

Thanks again!

Member for

15 years 5 months

Boswell Thu, 02/07/2013 - 05:44
Be careful - you can't connect a professional mic like the SM58 directly to the Zoom H2 (see post #2 above).

Using the 3.5mm external mic connector on the H2 cuts off the internal mics, so as far as I know it's not possible to record using an external mic and the built-in mics at the same time. If you want to get a stereo mic compatible with this connector, you may find the best types to look at are those designed or adapted for domestic-level movie cameras, as they tend to have a similar 3.5mm stereo mic input. However, as I said before, it may be better to consider a pair of separate mics feeding the single stereo connector so you can record vocal and guitar concurrently but in different acoustic spaces.

If, instead, you used an audio interface to connect the external mics, then you would be much less limited as to the type of mics you could get, and this would include the Shure SM58. I haven't been able to go through the specifications of every low-cost dual-channel interfaces, but it may be possible to find one that will work in stand-alone mode with a headphone monitor output having the two input channels panned hard left and right. This would effectively give you pre-amps for the microphones and a two channel (not "stereo") output that you record on the H2 via the external connector. It may require some attenuators, but that's relatively easy.

Member for

21 years

Member Thu, 02/07/2013 - 06:16
If, instead, you used an audio interface to connect the external mics, then you would be much less limited as to the type of mics you could get, and this would include the Shure SM58.

Again, I agree with Boswell. In your situation, this is what I would suggest as well.

Ok, so I think I'm going to get a Mic for her. SM58 is not a condenser mic, but even then it's better for home recording?

No, the SM58 is a dynamic microphone. But that shouldn't deter you. As a matter of fact, I'd reach for a 57/58 any day of the week and twice on Sundays - LOL - as opposed to using one of the cheap Chinese condensers that currently flood the market.

Just because a mic is of the condenser type doesn't mean it's a good mic. And, just because a cheap condenser looks similar to a Neumann doesn't mean that it sounds like one.

There are plenty of cheap condensers out there that "look professional", but sound awful -thin, brittle, harsh...

The SM57/58 is a great all-purpose dynamic mic. A studio standard. has been for centuries. LOL. Great for vocals, great for drums, great for guitar amps...and you could use it to pound in nails to roof your house and still go out and do a gig with it....LOL... seriously... it's a fine sounding mic, and for around $100 new, you could get two for 2 bills and your issue of recording two sources with one mic would be a thing of the past.

Trust me. You're never going to be unhappy having a Shure 57 or 58 in your mic arsenal.


Member for

15 years 11 months

RemyRAD Fri, 02/08/2013 - 02:09
Here is the scenario I think you are actually inquiring about?

Yes just about any inexpensive USB audio interface will almost generally have 2 combo XLR microphone input that will also accept 1/4 inch line and low-lying level input sources. And as you have indicated, you would need but a single 58, with the additional foam pop filter. This would record into your computer audio software. And then here is the cool thing... while you can also set up that H-2, along with its own XY stereo microphones, within a couple of feet of your piano. You roll record on the device and just leave it rolling. You take its USB output and you plug that into an additional USB input on your computer. And you assign that audio input device, in your software, to record on channels 2 & 3 or, you record it as a single stereo channel into a single timeline track. Which is usually a good thing to do when you have a stereo source such as that. A ProTools Macintosh, does not like stereo files. PCs don't have any problem. Especially if you're not running ProTools. On either platform.

The only hitch in that get along is the monitoring of the recording. One cannot feed the output of one USB device's input, into another USB devices output except in playback only. Can't do it while recording. So monitoring can become an issue if you don't have a mixer that can take both audio interface outputs into a monitor mixer for speaker and/or headphone monitoring purposes. So it's a bit of a kludge. Without that mixer, one can only plug headphones into whatever USB device they are recording to. Or, they can be plugged into the other USB device, so as to be able to hear you and so you can hear them. And each pair of headphones would be plugged into a separate USB audio device. One into your H.-2 and one into whatever other USB audio interface you get.

This word of caution procuring a two microphone input USB audio interface. You must make certain that the device includes some kind of obvious notification that it has " zero latency monitoring ", or " direct pass through monitoring ". This will ensure that you are not plagued by delays problems from latency.

Of course with two separate microphones and that USB audio interface without your H.-2, you can still make a perfectly wonderful recording with one microphone on her and one microphone or direct input from your piano. And in software, you can put enough time delay effects processing to create for a beautiful stereo sounding piano. Or you could consider that your cue track after completing recording her vocal, which you accompanying. Once that's completed, said both microphones up for your piano and cut another pair of tracks. Monitoring the playback and following your track so as to keep perfect tempo and synchronization with yourself and to her.

As mentioned there are many inexpensive USB audio interfaces. One of the ones that we all highly recommend is the Pre-Sonus Audio Box USB 1.1 for around $150 US. Or the nicely enhanced Audio Box USB 2.0 for around $250 US. It has a sweet smooth Class A, quality sound and includes an incredible first rate, all-encompassing, total audio software package bundle. It even includes sample libraries many gigabytes in size that would normally cost you more hundreds of dollars in addition to the software. It's just out of sight for the price. So you could ask about other stuff in the same price range and you're going to get the same answer. Buy what you want. But know what we recommend. We don't sell this stuff for a living. Most of us have different and superior equipment that but when we have used that equipment, we have found it of the utmost in rugged high quality fashion that many of the similar priced competing units can barely live up to. So you got our suggestion and you need not ask your question about the same thing again. They're all perfectly fine up to a point. We all think the Pre-Sonus sounds better than most. So who are you going to listen to? Guys who have been doing this for between 10 to 40+ years? Or some kid at the music store that knows and understands diddley? I think the answer is obvious. Are ya going to believe us or magazine advertisement rhetoric and marketing stuff? It all works. We're letting you know what works well. Which is your question he answered. My equipment is nothing but the high-priced, top shelf, premium stuff. And if given an opportunity to choose a lower cost console, I'm already considering the Pre-Sonus devices and not someone else's. What's that tell ya? I didn't get three major award nominations, 20 years at NBC radio and television, working with the best equipment money can buy and then realizing how well the Pre-Sonus products are built. They are built like tanks. Designed to take a lickin' and keep on tickin'.

Now since I'm also a maintenance technician, I have made some minor repairs to a couple of Pre-Sonus items. I was absolutely blown away inside it to build quality. I was extremely impressed at the rugged nature and forethought this company not only that but implemented. Other pieces of professional equipment that are similar are built in a much more common no, flimsy manner. Not their stuff. They have some professional integrity. And you don't find that word integrity in much of any piece of equipment today. So not only have I done maintenance most of my professional career, I have also worked in the pro audio manufacturing side. And we built a rugged tank like analog studio tape recorders called Scully's. And the Pre-Sonus equipment has the same kind of industrial heavy manufacturing quality. And I don't use quality in my descriptions, of very many pieces of equipment.

So there ya go, take it for what it's worth.
Mx. Remy Ann David

Member for

15 years 5 months

Boswell Fri, 02/01/2013 - 10:07
Given the resources you say you have, the standard way of doing this would be to record the guitar track first and then play that into headphones while recording the vocal.

My guess is that when you say "my wife sings better when I play the guitar while she's singing", what it means is that you automatically follow her speed variations, and that she is uncomfortable if she has to to sing to a pre-determined tempo. It would not be easy to do much to solve that problem. There is the possibility of recording concurrently but in two acoustically separate rooms using two sets of headphones and a pair of external microphones feeding separate channels on the H2's 3.5mm stereo input jack. You would be quite restricted in the sort of microphone that would be usable under these conditions, but in operational terms it would work.

Member for

11 years 7 months

bouldersound Fri, 02/01/2013 - 10:13
Best solution: separate rooms. Next best solution: use mic placement, room treatment and goboes to minimize bleed. Look up the polar pattern of your mic and use that to your advantage. Also take inverse square law into account. For every halving of distance you get a 6dB boost relative to any bleed. Unless you need to edit something in one of the tracks you should be able to get enough separation.

Member for

15 years 11 months

RemyRAD Sat, 02/02/2013 - 14:57
I think your mathematical capabilities are flawed? A single microphone plugged into a single channel is a single monaural track. And if you can't spring for a second microphone, you have to do what Rudy Van Gelder did, for his jazz recordings. You set the microphone up and you position the people around the microphone for the proper mix and blend. Moving people and instruments closer to or further away from.

Then there is that time-honored tradition of multitrack recording. So you lay the piano part down first. You then hand the headphones over to your wife and let her lay down her track after you've laid down yours. Then you can both lay down and do your other thing as a duet under the covers. Which is a different type of laying of your track.

Obviously, if you only have nails or only have a hammer, no house will be built.

See you actually have that XY stereo microphone. But a vocalist up close shouldn't be recorded with an XY stereo microphone. You only need one of those facing at her face. Don't forget to put the pieces sponged on.

Your piano will work well with the XY facing down towards the hammers and lid open on a grand. Or, a few feet away with the lid opened to cop more of the room sound if the room sounds good.

Of course this has to be integrated then with your DAW in order to accomplish said events. Because the little digital chip recorder was only designed for a quick acoustic stereo capture. And while you have the USB connection from the H-2, it should play well as an external audio interface with your computer and the software. But this requires that the computer be properly tweaked so as to reduce latency echoes to a workable minimum. And that's a whole other discussion.

So while your little IC chip recorder can provide for extremely good professional results, it's not conveniently designed for what you want to do, the way you want to do it. And without the proper tools, microphones, computer audio interface with no latency, you are making you'll only be able to make amateur sounding recordings. Why else do you think people have spent $150,000 in equipment to record a single person playing guitar and singing? It doesn't come from your $150 toy designed to do only one thing and not what you're doing with it. So, your request cannot be fully realized, technically, easily without the right tools.

It's not impossible to accomplish but it's not easy either. Especially when you don't have the right stuff. And you need engineering knowledge and skills for that. Otherwise purchase a couple of 58's and a Pre-Sonus Audio Box which will set you back a total of about $250. And then we can talk. (Blow your mind software is also included valued at $600 + included with the Audio Box gizmo) Ain't nothing you can't do that won't sound great, with a couple of 58's. And that Audio Box or something else similar to that and you'll be cooking with gas. Right now you're camped out without a tent.

How about you play behind her while she stands in front of you and you place your H-2 in front of her? Then you listen to a little bit. Then you move it forward or rearward until it sounds right just like Rudy Van Gelder did/does.

You've got to have what it takes to get the right takes on what you have.
Mx. Remy Ann David