Raise The Spirits: 10 Things to do when you are recording vocals
by Devlin Miles
- The mic – the microphone to the singer is as important as a 9-Iron is to a golfer, if you don’t have a good one you are trapped, you might as well be singing in the shower because no one will hear you in the details. I repeat NO ONE will really hear YOU. The studio mic must capture your vocals with a crisp sound, you should be able to hear every syllable as it leaves your lips, better yet the sound your throat makes as your vocal chords first touch– this is not captured by every microphone, so don’t be afraid to ask if you can try out a few mics and have a listen back. I am a stickler for crisp vocals because once you have heard the difference you can’t go back. I often say I want it to sound like I am singing in someone’s ear. Now if you are a metal singer, you might want a little more distortion in your voice, so the mic could help that, however I would still lean towards crispness and then add effects after. It will save on the singers voice dramatically
- Hit and Miss – You are here recording because you “just know you have a hit song on your hands”, ok, well sing the song three times and then listen and see how you are approaching it, you are probably going to over sing into the microphone the first few takes. It takes a little time to get used to the distance and levels with a studio mic versus a live microphone. The nuances of the voice are there in the subtleties so be sure to take a second to listen and find your true uniqueness. Now go get some tea and start again.
- Review your lyrics – Now is the time to put your voice down for history, so make it count, but remember you are delivering a message. Review your lyrics and remember what you are trying to say and find the right way to phrase it. This is where you break grammatical rules and deliver things with attitude and sincerity, so the listener will believe your intentions with every line.
- Coaching – consider having a vocal coach in the studio that can help you get the best sound out of you, from phrasing to delivery to breath control on the higher and lower notes. This is not the time for a voice lesson, so you must have some understanding of how to use your own voice, but having another singer present while you are doing lead vocals can be very helpful. As long as you let this person know you are looking for them to listen for texture and pitch issues. Believe me this person will save you money in tuning if they can help you deliver the product more unaffected. If you can’t think of anyone, ask another indie artist, they would probably enjoy being a part of your project and maybe even lend some background vocals too.
- Timing – sometimes knowing what time of day you sing best can be key to a great performance or if you need a whiskey voice for a tune you might want to attack that first thing in the morning or later in the evening.
- Order your songs – if you are going to record many lead vocal tracks in one day be sure that you have the songs in an order that is best for delivery. If you have a lot of tougher/higher tunes you might want to put them as your second or third song when you are warmed up, but don’t wait until the end of the day when your voice is tired and breathy.
- Take breaks– recording lead vocals can be very mentally exhausting as you listen back and hear that you might be pitchy in spots or if you don’t like the way you are phrasing this or that, be sure to walk away and get some water/tea, go for a walk, get out of the vocal booth and play guitar/piano for a minute. I was recently told by a friend, who also records that eating chips can help give clarity to the voice when singing. This IS true, the saltiness in the chips helps cut through the mucus and can offer clarity.
- Breathe– Be sure to have a good stance and full breath support when singing, especially when you are singing very high and very low and also when you are belting out a chorus. This will really help you stay on pitch and save time. Consider swimming, running , or cross-training 3 months before you get to the studio. This will really help you with breath control for the long notes and quick pentameter or raps.
- Rest – be sure to stop when you are vocally fatigued. You don’t want to sing yourself into an injury.
- Hydrate – A day or 2 before recording vocals increase your water intake to be well hydrated and always have water with you in the studio. I also take 1 or 2 aspirins before going into the studio to sing, to help with inflammation and to have smooth blood flow through the throat, it could be superstitious, but it works for me. (Get It Together: 10 Things Indie Artists should bring to the studio)