I spend a lot of time recording vocals so I thought it might be an interesting blog to discuss the methods for getting a great vocal recorded. To a lot of listeners the singer is the song so it’s of paramount importance to make this part of the recording as special as it can be.
Often when I’m co-writing with and artist, the vocal is recorded at the end of the day- almost as soon as the song is finished. It’s hot off the press so to speak. Here are a few things I’ve learned. I hope you’re going to add your own!
Firstly, a perfectly recorded vocal doesn’t necessarily equal a great vocal. Some of the most engaging vocals I’ve recorded have been when the singer has been under the impression they are recording a ‘guide’ vocal using a cheap stage mic and not even wearing headphones. So here goes rule number one.
- Make sure the singer is comfortable and in the right frame of mind to sing.
By the time you’ve tried out 6 different vocal mics and got them to stand there for an hour while you try and get a mix up (without latency) can sap the soul of the most professional singer. Here goes rule number 2
- Get it done quickly.
By this I mean have the song marked up so you know where the sections are, you have the lyrics in front of you so there aren’t any wrong words or lines and you have a recording chain that means you aren’t changing levels every line.
I generally bounce out a backing track before recording vocals so there aren’t any CPU hogging plugins or virtual instruments slowing the process down. I would generally start by getting the singer to do a couple of warm up takes. This is a sneaky way to check that the song is in the right key and tempo. I don’t want to record 10 takes of the verse to find out that the chorus is too high, or the whole song is too slow! So here’s another guideline
- Get a few whole safety takes down.
If the singer is in the mood then I’ll also record a couple of ‘fun and giggles’ takes at the end where they can try anything they feel like or just sing it through again. I find this often means you have a more ‘connected’ take because the singer knows the song and also a take where they are completely warmed up.
I am a singer myself and a lot of singing is definitely psychological. The lighting can make a difference, singing without headphones can make a difference. Having a throat coat tea or hot water can make a difference, people in the studio tweeting while you’re singing can make a difference. Basically- if you’re recording a vocal focus on that and on that only. Keep the singer’s confidence up and don’t tire them out before you’ve got the whole song down. It’s a tiring thing to keep singing for a couple of hours. I wish more engineers were aware of this. There isn’t a one approach fits all singers. We’re all different. So the final point I would make is
- Concentrate more on making the environment best for the singer rather than best for you technically. Yes I know this is the same as point number 1 basically but I want to hammer it home.
So there you have it. It should be a positive experience. They should be enjoying the performance (if not, find out why and quickly) and you should be getting the takes you need to compile a good final vocal.
I wonder what your experiences have been?