We’ve all heard them. We all love them. We all want them.
I’m not talking your average vocals. I’m talking make you stop what you’re doing, turn it up, and figure out what exactly is going on – vocals. Vocal recording can make or break your entire song. Whether you are an aspiring songwriter trying to pitch your songs, or an artist trying to convey a specific emotion through your voice – the delivery of the vocal to the listener is vital to a song’s success. So, what is it that makes a truly great vocal sound?? Here are some tips to help debunk the mysticism around recording vocals!
- Nothing, and I do mean nothing, will ever substitute for a great performance.
This is arguably the hardest part, and also the least convenient. In the world of autotune, click and drag plug-ins, endless reverb, etc. – there are thousands of tools producers can use to cover up vocal imperfections. But at the end of the day, that’s all it is. A cover up. TAKE YOUR TIME. Make sure the session is engineered with the best resources you have in the best way you know how. Make sure your singer is prepared, rested, and comfortable. Oftentimes, psychology has more to do with our performance behind the microphone than our voice does. Don’t settle for takes just because they’re “good enough.” Capture a truly inspiring performance because that is what will translate in your final product. The goal is to not have to cover up the voice, but showcase it!
- Learn and use the best process for the singer you have.
Everyone has their own process/preferences. Some singers like taking shorter takes, some like doing complete takes. Some singers like singing with reverb in their headphones, some like their mix dry. Some singers like click (rare, but I’m one of them), and some don’t. Taking the extra minute to communicate and get a comfortable mix for your singer can make all the difference in the world. Ask your singer how they typically go about recording vocals, and make a plan from there. Jumping straight into a session because you are short on time, or even just cause you are excited, will ultimately create more work in the long run. Work smart, communicate, and aim to capture the best performance you can! (There’s #1 again.)
- Think about the end goal every step of the way.
It’s more than just singing into a microphone and recording it. Do you have any artists that you love and SWEAR they sing better live than they do recorded? Oftentimes the energy a singer feels while in the hype of a show will aid their performance! When you are standing in a vocal booth (maybe a closet for some of us) that energy isn’t there – so you need to make that energy. If you want something to come off more energetic, more breathy, more powerful, – sing it exaggeratively so. Nine times out of ten, it will come across just right in the final mix, even though it might feel silly in the moment.
- Leave your offense at the door.
Everyone MUST be on the same page that everything you are doing is for the sake of the song. Vocalists in particular can be very sensitive. If you aren’t open to constructive feedback, you are never going to grow as a vocalist and you ought not be a session singer. Your producer is listening objectively to you sing while the track is playing – something you can not do. So learn that nothing is a personal attack. You are talented, and you wouldn’t be in the room if you weren’t. Learn to appreciate feedback because you know it will make the end goal that much better. Producers, develop a good relationship with your singers – and vice versa. The more comfortable you are with one another, the easier it will be for you to communicate about getting the best vocal performance possible.
- Know your limits.
Producers, know what your singer can handle. Singers, know what your voice can handle. Don’t put yourselves in positions where you feel like you will be set up to fail or hurt yourself. Knowing when to take a break or even call it a night can make all the difference. Communicate about how you feel. No one is psychic. If you feel like your voice is getting hoarse and you need some water, ask for it. If you feel like a singer is straining to hit notes, ask how they are feeling. Knowing your limits isn’t giving up. It’s using your time wisely and ensuring a successful outcome.
Recording vocals can be loads of fun or a complete nightmare. Hopefully some of these tips will help to ensure the loads of fun part. The voice is the medium that we use in music to convey information. So just remember when you are spending hours making up the perfect track, or finishing up that final verse – don’t let that all go to waste by rushing through your vocals. Take your time, get a great performance, and have fun!
Project Manager / Songwriter