I always start my vocal sessions by accessing the room sound and I recommend you do the same. If you have an isolation room, great! If you don’t have an isolation room, that is just fine as well, you’ll just need some creativity in order to capture what you want to hear.
The important thing to realize is that you need a room sound that fits the creative idea you are trying to express. If you have awesome plugins and software that can get you the effects you need during the EQ process, then an isolated or close to isolated environment is usually best to obtain a controlled source. In my experience isolated environments sometimes just don’t do the trick for your creative needs and that is 100% okay. For certain applications, for example, the best sound you can get is a warm, slightly reverberated, and crisp sound of a wood room. Not only is it a natural sound, you don’t use any precious DSP trying to emulate something that you have attained naturally. Not to mention you WILL hear the difference and it will be well worth it. So spend some time figuring out what sound you need and what vibe you want. Even if it means having your vocalist sing in a shower, isolation booth, or make-shifting acoustic absorption by tacking blankets to your walls if you don’t have isolation. Make do with what you have and don’t rush the process.
One thing thing that is certain is getting the right sound also starts with the vocalist. If you have any experience recording and producing you already know that vocalists can be good or bad. This is where patience and creativity will serve you well. Where to start you ask? Well, that is the simple part. Pick a microphone. A condenser is usually always preferred unless your creative intuition is going for something different. Once you’ve picked a microphone, have your vocalist do a few practice takes with the same part of the song that way your reference is consistent. This process is to make sure that the gain structure of you mic, preamp (if being used), and interface is properly set. Obviously there is no clipping allowed, but don’t get too shy where you lose a lot of attack and dynamics in the recording.
From this point you’ll be able to hear and feel what needs to be done sonically. If the vocalist’s mic dynamics suck you will need to adjust accordingly. If vocalist is too quiet, I recommend adjusting the gain structure as opposed to moving the mic closer. Even though you’re more than likely using a pop screen, this will help prevent you from capturing excess sounds such as breathing or pops from certain pronunciations. This will save you time during the mix down process or prevent you from redoing the whole damn thing. On the other end of the spectrum if your vocalist is too loud or varying their overall volume, I find it best to move the mic further away as opposed to adjusting the gain structure. Even though adjusting the gain structure is necessary at times, this alternative will allow you to “split the difference” and find more balance during the recording process if applicable. A cool thing to do if you’re happy with what you hear, repeat this process on a different channel with other microphones. This will enable you to experiment with multiple options. Every microphone has a unique frequency response and every vocalist has a unique voice. Finding a microphone that fits your vocalist is priceless. This subtle yet big difference could mean a lot in the over all sound and production value of the song. So have fun, get creative, and make some damn music!