The SM57 and Recording Vocals

The SM57 Can Be Used on Studio Vocals. This Post Will Walk You Through How.

You can definitely record excellent-sounding vocals with an SM57 if you know what you’re doing.

In some cases, an SM57 might even give you better results than a LDC microphone costing 20x more.  The key is know when to use it and how to use it.

In this post, I’m going to share a few tips on getting great vocal recordings using an SM57.

Why Do Artists Record Albums with the SM57?

Even having access to microphones that cost more than some new cars, major artists have recorded vocals on hit albums with the workhorse SM57 microphone.

Why would this be?

This mic is usually chosen for one of the following reasons:

  • It can be held, allowing the artist to move around and get more into the performance.
  • The artist has used the mic so often live that he knows how to work it better than any other mic.
  • The recording is being done live and it will do a better job of rejecting other instruments, providing more isolation for the vocals.
  • The room doesn’t sound very good.  Some albums aren’t recorded in studios; Arcade Fire has recorded in churches, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have recorded in a mansion, Juanes has cut tracks in hotel rooms.  If an LDC is picking up a bad-sounding room, an SM57 is likely to reject that sound and deliver a more isolated vocal.

Artists That Have Recorded Vocals With an SM57

The following is a short list of some artists that have recorded vocals using the humble SM57:

It’s also worth mentioning that the SM58 is virtually the same mic as the SM57, only with a rounded grill and more foam to protect from pops.  Tons of records have been cut with that too…

Microphone Placement

This is probably the most important part of recording with any mic.

The placement of your microphone will change your recording way more than any plugin, preamp, tea, or phase of the moon.

The best piece of advice that you can get when placing your mic is to use one of the following techniques as a starting point, then adjusting to taste.






Remember, Microphone Placement Can Also Impact the Performance

Getting mic placement right will only affect the sound, but also the performance of your singer.

In the case of Jim Scott using the SM57 on the vocals for the “Californication” album by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, he said that:

“We put it on a stand, but I’m sure he held it in his hand, and leant on it and swallowed it. That’s how he gets his sound…”

In this situation, constraining the singer to a space of a couple feet would have almost certainly impacted the performance, so the engineer chose to give him a mic that he could hold.  It’s also likely that Anthony Kiedis was much more experienced with an SM57 than the U87 that was used for all of the backup vocals, and was able to better “work the mic.”  Your comfort with the microphone is often equally or more important than its “quality.”

What Preamp Should You Use with the SM57?

The whole preamp obsession is quite overblown.  Your mic placement, eq, compression, and reverb choices will make much more of a difference than the preamp that you choose.

Soft Singer? Pay Attention to the Preamp.

The only time that the whole preamp discussion is worth having is when you have a soft singer.  A singer that whispers into an SM57 is going to need a good amount of gain, and with increased gain comes noise.

Making sure that you have a clean preamp to record your whispering singers’s sweet nothings will help you prevent a snowstorm in the final recording.  There are a number of quiet, clean preamps that can help you out with this, and often, the preamps in your interface will do the job just fine.

My recommendation is to test it out before a session with a soft singer. The last thing that you want to do is figure out whether your preamps are going to work with a specific singer or not.

Soft Singer? You Might Want to Go with A Different Mic

Personally, I’ve never had any luck using a dynamic mic like an Audix 02 or an SM57 on soft singers.  For them, I usually go with an LDC, but that’s just me.



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