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Recording vocals is one of the hardest parts of putting a song together. Every voice is different, and as such needs different treatment as far as mixing, effects, and microphone choice. However, there are some general rules that you can follow to make sure that the vocals for your song sound clean and clear.
Practice Before You Get To The Studio
Doesn’t this make sense? I have had singers arrive for a recording session not even knowing their own song! When I’m producing, If needed prior to the session I will send mp3's of the mixes that the singer will be singing with so they can be prepared for their vocal session. Put some headphones on and practice singing along with the track. Work hard on your timing and your tuning. These are the two skills you need most in the recording studio.
Prepare Yourself For A Successful Recording Session
If you need lots of water or hot tea to sing well, bring it to the studio. I always have water on hand but I appreciate those who come prepared to meet their own needs. If you don’t want a lot of people in the control room while you’re singing, let that be known. It’s your session. Tell the producer that you’d like to do this without the crowd. If, on the other hand, you do best when you have an audience, you can bring up to two people with you, but please let us know in advance that they’re coming. Don’t, however, let them take over the session. I’ve seen lots of wasted studio time with guets of the vocalist. As a producer, my preference is to record alone with the singer. I especially don’t want husband, wife, best friend or mother second guessing every decision. Lastly, print two copies of your lyrics, one for you and one for us and bring them to the studio.
Trust Your Producer Or Engineer
If you’re working with a producer, let them produce. You have another job to do and that is to sing your best. If you are making decisions on the other side of the glass while you’re singing, it’ll probably have a negative effect on your performance. You’ll have plenty of time to hear what you’ve done and decide if it fits the song, but during the vocal session, just be the singer. Producers and engineers will want to do their best work for you. If you leave them to their job and do yours, the song will be better for it.
When you are singing a song you are something of a musical actor. You are recreating a mood and telling a story. In some sense you take on a character and play out a scene in each song. Give this some thought before you go to record your vocal. Having an idea of your approach to the song will help you to be consistent in your delivery. Your first priorities are timing and tuning. Your personality will come through as you sing whether you like it or not and you won’t be able to stop it. The best singers, like the best actors, know that the best performance sounds like no performance at all. It sounds like it just happens naturally. Think about the lyric and what it means to you. Then sing it that way. Sing it like you would talk it. Just do it in time and in key.
Vocal Warm Ups
Make sure you warm up vocally before you attempt to record your voice. However, in your enthusiasm don’t overdo it and waste vital vocal energy that you’ll need for the recording process. When you start to record, sing the song a couple of times to “warm” into it.
Be aware that live mics and studio mics are very different from each other. Studio mics are much more sensitive than live mics and therefore you’ll be able to capture a more subtle vocal delivery than you would be able to on stage. Change your mic proximity depending upon the volume that you’re singing. get closer to the mic for softer singing and further away for louder singing. If there are big changes in vocal “settings”, put down a section at a time.
Avoid The Poping
Lyrics that use the plosive consonants such as “p” and “b” can cause big “pops” when sung into sensitive studio mics. You can’t always rely on the pop shield to avoid this problem. Try turning your head slightly sideways, directing your vocal signal slightly at an angle, so that these consonants don’t go directly into the microphone.
Most singers find it easier to get into a song when they’ve got a live audience to feed off, in the studio it’s just you stuck in a vocal booth with no audience to energize you. This is the moment when you need to call upon your acting skills, concentrate on delivering the lyric with the appropriate emotion.
So, when you are approaching your next recording, remember to be kind to yourself and to your voice.
Take time to prepare the song properly, run through the checklist and then give the performance of your life.
(1) Have all your material ready. If you are planning to record twelve songs for a CD, bring at least 14 with you. You never know which song on your list might be a disappointment after it's recorded.
(2) Be sure and practice all your material before coming into the recording studio. The studio can be an expensive place for a rehearsal.
(3) Have all your vocal and musical parts worked out before you hit the studio. You don't need to have all the lyrics memorized. However, they should be written down so you can refer to them as needed. Last minute lyric changes are acceptable and sometimes they work right and sometimes they don't, but keep this to a minimum. Consider bringing the lyric sheet for the engineer, sometimes that can be very helpful.
(4) Make sure everyone in the band is on board with the musical arrangements. The studio is not the place to decide who is going to play what when and where.
(5) Always consider recording your songs at home. Even a simple cassette recorder can reveal problems that need to be worked out before arriving at the studio.
(6) Outfit your instruments with new strings, drum sticks, picks, etc. They will sound better on the recording and always bring spares with you.
(7) Have an idea of how you want to go about doing the recording session. Do you want to record all the parts simultaneously? Do you want to record a track and then go back and record each part individually? There are many different ways to approach this process. If you are not sure, call us ahead of time so we can discuss your project.
(8) Be well rested and eat properly. If you stay up late the night before, it will show in your performance. This is especially important for all vocalists. Always rest your voice and drink plenty of liquids. Everyone should keep their ears rested and fresh.
(9) All band members should plan on arriving early and being prepared for the recording session. Time wasted waiting for one band member is money wasted. You don't want to be standing around twiddling your thumbs while the guitar player hunts for a pick or has to change out a string.
(10) Always keep your instruments in tune. Tune before each take. Not only guitars, basses, and strings should be tuned often, but the drums should be tuned up before the recording session begins as well.
(11) Drummers should consider arriving earlier than the rest of the band. It takes time to set up a drum set and get the mics set up properly.
(12) Use equipment that you're familiar with. Even if you have a brand new $5,000 guitar, it won't sound much better than your current guitar if you're not used to playing it.
(13) After setting up, remove all instrument cases and other items from the studio. Take them outside or put them in the back of your car. It will provide more room to work and you won't be tripping over them.
(14) Don't stop playing every time you make a mistake. If you do, you'll spend all day trying to create a perfect track. It is much easier to overdub or replace the error after the track is recorded.
(15) Don't use a lot of effects while recording. It is better to record the tracks dry and add the effects later. Effects are easy to add, but nearly impossible to remove.
(16) Keep it simple. Many bands and artists want to fill up numerous tracks with sound. They end up with poor sounding music. Listen to your favorite music CD. You can easily pick out the vocals, drums, guitars, and other instruments. If you can't do that with your recording, you might have too many tracks muddling up the sound.
(17) Double tracking can be a nice effect, but if you overuse it, it can become pretty boring. Consider double tracking the vocal for the chorus only.
(18) Always get the sound you want while recording. If someone says, we can fix it in the mix, don't believe them. It will save time in the long run.
(19) Make the studio comfortable. Bring some snacks if you like. The vocalist should drink plenty of water, but not very cold. Ice water restricts the vocal cords and makes it more difficult to hit those high notes. Consider drinking hot tea with maybe some lemon and honey.
(20) Have a professional attitude. Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs. These substances inhibit coordination and memory, affect your hearing, and impact your perception of pitch and tempo. You may sound better to yourself, but not to everyone else.
(21) Appoint someone to be the spokesman. You can bring a producer or you can nominate a member of the band to be the decision maker. It's alright for everyone to chip in with ideas, but if no one is in charge, things can rapidly degrade into arguments. You want to keep the studio atmosphere relaxed and creative.
(22) Take occasional breaks of 10 to 15 minutes to relieve ear fatigue. After a little quiet time, you may pick up things you weren't able to hear before.
(23) Know when to quit for the day. If you are tired, you will not be giving your best performance and it will show in your final product.
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