Portable recording

Does anyone feel like they’re being watching, while recording? This is the story of my life, living in a 2-bedroom condo. Yes, the door is closed and I’m physically alone in the room, but sound travels.

Most of the time, I can get over the stage fright of potentially disturbing the neighbors. More often than not, I can’t get over my wife and son being in the next room. I don’t want to wake our almost-4-month-old baby or have multiple (lots of bad) vocal takes on a track.

This results in weak, unconfident vocals that leaves me dissatisfied and frustrated.

Thus begins my journey on finding portable recording solutions! I have recorded vocals in my truck, but that requires carrying a laptop, audio interface, headphones, and microphone with me and back. The cables. Oh, the cables!

My latest idea is to get a portable recorder, much like the Zoom H5, to jumpstart my passion. I feel like my voice is often “ready” at inconvenient times, like on the way home from work. I could’ve NAILED it on the way home, but as soon as I got to recording, it felt weak and shy.

I’d mostly be using it to record vocals in my truck, but I’m sure I’d find other uses for it. Does anyone have a recommendation on which portable recorder to get? I just need a phantom-powered XLR input and 2-4 tracks with which to work.


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I have a Zoom H4n that I use to ‘collect’ sounds and I have been really pleased with it. I have recorded part vocals and inserted them into tracks, also piano excerpts that I have layered in and kids singing etc… o a wide range. It wouldn’t be my choice for a primo vocal but I feel your pain in trying to ‘unfold’ your vox in a small non-private space. I can’t record vocals easily if there is anyone around. To get into that free singing space I have to not be thinking about anything other than the song…
The zoom does collect extra sounds around and about… I have found that tricksy for field recordings but singing straight into it works pretty well… it is amazing how many extra sounds there are out in the real world though!

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I feel your pain on this one. Would it be possible to ask your wife to take the baby elsewhere, once in a while? Out for a walk or something, or visiting friends/family, so you can really focus on your vocals? That would at least give you some chunks of time. When I’m recording I ask my wife keep quiet, haha. We work out a time when she is happy to just watch tv with headphones or do something on the computer for a while.

I am still kind of shy about it, at times. The best attitude I can suggest for this is to be really humble about it. I embrace my abilities and own what comes out of my mouth, even if it isn’t very good. I know that no matter what, life will go on. It works sometimes.

Anyway, I don’t really have any portable recording suggestions… I can’t imagine getting a usable vocal take from a car, but I have heard of people doing that so maybe it can work. Izotope makes this cool product called the Spire I think, that is a super portable recording solution.

Or maybe some kind of timeshare practice space that you could record in?


I had this same conversation with my colleague just a couple of weeks ago. She’s a teacher and a professional cellist. I’ve heard her play, and it’s other worldly. She’s in the middle of an assignment with her students who have written a musical, with 5 numbers that they themselves have composed. It’s of course what you’d expect from teens, so very simple chords, and even simpler melodies. We don’t have a recording studio at school so we decided that we’d transfer the written notes to midi to make the backing tracks.

In order to try and get out of the “midi backing track” feel, I suggested we take various parts and record them on live instruments. So I’ve tracked some bass lines in the songs, and will replace the guitar parts with actual guitar parts. On one of the songs, there’s a cello line playing which is really not a challenge to play. But my colleague told me that she spent an evening trying to nail the part on her Zoom H4, and just couldn’t get it. She told me that it was like something was stopping her from actually recording the part the way she wanted it to sound. It was funny hearing this from somebody who’s played thousands of concerts in front of hundreds of thousands people.

I myself am not in that league. With my half a dozen or so concerts played in front of dozens of people, I will not claim to know what stage fright feels like! But a few years ago I did develop a methodology for recording in my own studio. It is built on the principle of path of least resistance. I used to spend inordinate amounts of time finding a cable, finding a channel, setting up a track, replacing the cable, dialling in my sound and then finally playing something. I’m amazed I got anything done to be honest.

Now I have all cables ready. My bass and guitar and mic are no more than an arm’s length away. My cables are ready plugged and just hanging off a hook so I lift them and plug them in. My plan was that from the moment of thought, to laying down a sound, should not take more than a couple of seconds.

I often record music with a friend, and after these many years he still comments on how hard I drive him to lay stuff down when he has an idea. So he’ll think of a vocal line and before he’s finished the last syllable I’ll have pulled a microphone and put it in front of his face. If nothing else we get stuff done! For myself, I will record and re-record my parts, knowing that what I’m playing is utter garbage. I’ll then reach that zone that I think Steve Vai talked about, where he said you stop thinking about what you’re playing and just play.


This is the worst, and I have no solution for you other than my condolences. This is probably one of the main reasons why I’ve gravitated towards midi based stuff. I can practice piano without anyone else hearing. I can practice drums without anyone really hearing. I can do orchestral arrangements without anyone else hearing the process. I can practice guitar without anyone really hearing.

I can’t sing without someone else hearing.

The hardest part is that you can’t schedule it. When you have an idea, the best thing you can do is throw it down asap. Even if it’s not the perfect take, the idea is at least recorded and you can retrack when you can schedule it.

It seems like you have to take a “screw it, I don’t care what anybody thinks” mentality to really do it right.



Thanks for your input! It’s nice to know that other people share the same struggle :slight_smile:

I’m hoping that using an external mic and being in my vocal booth (truck) will help. I have past vocal takes that turned out well. I’m desperate to try anything!


I appreciate your input! She has given me space. Maybe it’ll be easier, once it’s not winter anymore (Yay, Alaska!). I’d feel bad asking her to do it so often, though.

The Izotope Spire is an interesting device! My need for a new phone is ever more apparent, now. I’m still rocking a Lumia 950 haha


It’s funny how we can’t get in the right state of mind, sometimes. It can totally throw off a session!

I need to get organized, like you. I spend half my time fiddling with things to get things “perfect”. By the time I actually to recording, I’ve run out of motivation and interest. I keep making excuses, like “Oh, it’ll be easier when X and Y happens”…

That being said, I’m still waiting on a desk I ordered on 12/31/2018! It has a slide-out tray for a full-size 88-key keyboard. The extra space in the baby room / studio will help immensely!


Thank you for your condolences! I’m right there with you. I can track every instrument silently, except vocals.

You are absolutely right! Every time I get an idea or motivation, it’s terribly inconvenient. Taking down ideas at any quality is a good thing, though. I remember I wrote guitar for a song on my iPhone, years ago. I had that much free time at that job.

Yeah, I’ll just have to suck it up, until there’s a better setup. Thanks for your input!


All of those ideas sound great! However, I wouldn’t want to burden a friend with too many visits.

I use my wife’s laptop, when I want more privacy. I’ve also got a good audio interface and condenser mic. I started with Sonar and (thankfully) it’s now free through BandLab.

I think most of what’s holding me back is shyness. I fear my wife would think “How many times is he going to record that same line??” or “Yikes!” haha I’ll just have to say “Eff it!” and sing my heart out

You need about five things to get around this:

  1. A laptop
  2. An audio interface
  3. DAW. I suggest Reaper, you can use it for free if
  4. A real mic with a cable. (Counts as 1 thing).
  5. A friend with a closet.
  6. A little single malt whisky. (Optional, but
    In my humble opinion, you have a valid excuse for not disturbing the baby, so your friend’s closet will become your vocal booth. You should be able to set up and sing in five minutes, especially if you warm up on the drive over, and sing to a two track MP3 that you import into Reaper. One good shot of #6 will get your courage up, and prep your voice for the vocal onslaught you will release into your friend’s dry cleaning.
    Do 3 good takes so you can comp it together at home.
    I guess you’ll need headphones too, so it’s actually 7 with an option ln 6, but the advantage is if you disturb anyone it will be your friend or your friends’ neighbors, and you’ll be leaving.
    Seriously, you shouldn’t be concerned about disturbing anyone execpt the baby. You probably haven’t heard my singing, but my philosophy is if I’m not disturbing someone, I’m not trying hard enough.

An added factor that I have seen in effect many times…
You may find that it’s not the decibel level that affects the baby, but the your emotional state around your singing… i.e. your own judgements…
If you were open, happy and confident about the singing, the baby might well be able to sleep through it.
However, if you feel weird about it, the baby is likely to pick up on this discomfort and feel, well, uncomfortable…
One of my “party tricks” has been picking up crying babies from distraught mothers, holding them against my chest while staying totally open in the heart - as in, “you can cry and feel as weird as you like, I’m OK with it…” - then watch the baby stop crying within 30 seconds…
Babies and young children are very sensitive to “jarring” energies…



I’ve been recording myself singing some loud vocals in my basement lately. Once I put the headphones on and press “play”, I tend to forget about anyone listening to me, but I have been a bit self-conscious about recording my singing in hearing range of others, at times in the past. I’m pretty sure that on a quiet day, my neighbours can hear me singing/ screaming. I don’t hold back the volume because I don’t want to record a weak, tentative sounding vocal. You gotta let that shit rip, man! :poop::smiley:

Just this past weekend, after I finished recording a vocal track (took me about 3 hours to complete), I walked up the basement stairs, into the living room where my girlfriend was watching TV and browsing her ipad. She asked me if I was finished yelling for the night. :laughing::partying_face: She’s very tolerant of all the music/ noise that I make. In fact, she wants me to get my music recorded and stop beating around the bush.

The winter time is better to record vocals if you don’t want your neighbours to hear you. In the summer I make sure that all the windows and doors are closed when I sing. But as I said, people tend to be out in their yards when the weather is milder and that means they have a better chance of hearing your rock ‘n’ roll noise. I’m sure my neighbours have thought I was beating my girlfriend with the sounds that come of me when I’m recording a vocal. :partying_face::crazy_face:


Check out this episode of Recording Studio Rockstars - all about portable recording…


……literally when you recorded the local cows for the moo moo song

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