We have a program at my company where artists come to work on writing their signature songs (The Signature Songwriting Circle). In this program they get A & R development + direction and cowrite with our chart-topping songwriters who are also artists and singers themselves. Once the song is written, I have our songwriters demo the song to lay down the phrasing and to hear the potential of the emotional delivery as a starting point for the participant in their own demo process. The other day a client who is in SSC asked me “How do all of your songwriters voices all sound so good? What effects are they using?”
The answer to that is: a. they are really great singers and b. they use good gear! Truth be told, great gear, no matter how good it is, will make up for a weak vocal. And worse, if you fix your voice in the studio and can’t actually sing, your career will be non-existent! There is nothing that will make up for a strong voice with great technique. That said, there are many tools that help — and getting a head start in prep for recording a collection of songs couldn’t be more important!!
Here are my 10 Tips For Recording Vocals Like a Pro at Your Next Studio Session.
Follow these tips to the letter and your friends will wonder how you did it!
1. Record at Home
Don’t let the only time you are in the recording studio be your final lead vocal sessions! Getting a decent home studio (Logic, Ableton, Pro Tools) and a good mic will go far for improving your vocals ahead of time. You’ll get the opportunity to work out kinks and smooth out transitions and improve the vocal line before you hit the studio. Print out your lyric sheet and make notes — be sure to mark your breath and circle the big ones!
Mark any “p’s” or “b’s” that might hit the mic too hard. Practice singing over the mic so the breath doesn’t hit it directly. The simplest solution to plosives is to use a windscreen or pop filter when recording. You can also try setting the microphone slightly off-axis so that the bursts of air don’t go directly into the diaphragm.
Sing like you talk. Often during singing, vowels are drawn out as you hold a note and problems with pronunciation can occur. Typically problems occur with dipthongs (ay, i, oh) can distort the pronunciation causing issues. A dipthong is a sound formed by the combination of two vowels in a single syllable, in which the sound begins as one vowel and moves toward another (as in coin, loud, and side). Rule of thumb: Always sing the first of the two vowels more dominantly than the second. Matter of fact don’t focus on the second vowel at all except right on the close of the word.
The Top 8 Common English Diphthong Sounds with Examples
- /aʊ/ as in “Town” This diphthong can have many spellings and is commonly written as ow or ou within English words. …
- /aɪ/ (i)as in “Light” …
- /eɪ/ (ay) as in “Play” …
- /eə/ (air) as in “Pair” …
- /ɪə/ (ee) as in “Deer” …
- /oʊ/ (oh) as in “Slow” …
- /ɔɪ/ (oy) as in “Toy” …
- /ʊə/ (uh) as in “Sure”
Other pronunciation problems occur with under or over-pronounced vowels or consonants. Speak the phrase to see how you pronounce with your speaking voice as a guide for your singing voice. Notice how you blend the consonants from the word prior to the next word. This is very helpful to smooth out the vocal and make it more conversational.
Phrasing is everything. Phrasing is rhythm and “groove”. Getting inside the beat of the song. Landing your notes on downbeats or upbeats perfectly will create a great feeling. Singing ahead of the beat or behind the beat can cause significant disruptions in the vocal delivery. Getting inside the “feel”, the “groove”, the overall “vibe” of the song is the goal.
5. Emotional Connection
Step back from your song and to get a wider perspective on the emotional connection. Sometimes we get too close to a song and it becomes too rehearsed sounding or repetitive. You want to be sure to bring your emotions to the forefront at your session and working on it ahead of time helps.
Question to ask: Who are you singing to and what is the core emotion?
Identifying the core emotion the song lyrics make you feel and then bringing that feeling into your vocal is the goal. If you wrote the song awhile ago or no longer feel that emotion, then tap into how you feel about that experience now and use your current emotions. The important thing is to be in the present moment accessing your emotions.
One technique we use to prepare the emotional delivery is to monologue the lyric. Speak the lyric as if you were an actor in front of a mirror. Speak your phrases slowly and out of meter of the song – more like a poem. Put the emphasis on the more emotional words. Speak the lyric as if you are trying to convince someone (and yourself) of what you are saying.
Then sing the song. You’ll instantly feel much more of an emotional connection and the performance will be stronger.
6. Vocal Arrangement
The goal of a great vocal arrangement is to build the dynamic arc of your song to deliver the emotional impact of the song. Vocal arrangers are brought in on most big records to do just that. To ensure the performance from the singer. To help that singer build an arrangement that fits their voice and brings out the emotional delivery of the song. Arrangers create dynamics that build as you move through each section, moving through the song. A vocal arranger helps decide how the artist will sing a song. It might be a line that the arranger thinks sounds better if the singer uses a straight tone in their voice, or a vibrato at the tail end. Or picks a higher note or held note to create emotional peaks and valleys.
7. Breaking Down Your Song
Practice pro techniques like interval study for better execution of the pitch, matrixing of the rhythm of the vocal line + emotional interpretation techniques for better delivery.
In my Vocal Resource Library I go into these techniques in depth in the section called “Mastering a Song”.
Also, use the technique of marking (singing at half volume but with “tone” – not breathy) so you don’t burn your voice out prior to the studio.
8. Your Essential Vocal Care Bag for the Studio
You never know what you will need on that day. Here’s a quick list of what I bring into the studio with me, just in case I need it.
- Essential Oils: Breathe by Doterra (to open breathing), Eucalyptus (for concentration), Lavender (for anxiety)
- Sunrider Balm: to open breathing and decrease neck tension (run on neck and throat. Also helps with headaches – rub on temples but away from eyes).
- Portable Steamer: steam instantly hydrates the vocal cords. Great for your high notes :).
- Melon or watery fruit (apple, pear). Helps to hydrate your throat.
- Vocal Eze throat spray: Helps to hydrate and protect against viruses or bacteria.
9. Visualization Techniques
Use visualization techniques to set a positive successful tone for your session. Most of the time before a recording session we start worrying about what could go wrong. It’s the mind’s way of preparing. However, concentrating on what could go wrong keeps you focused on it. Science has proven that when an athlete focuses on performing well, the result is overwhelmingly positive. Think positively about your performance. Imagine all of the things that could go right.
10. During your Recording Session
a. Communicate with your producer any specific help you need. Help direct them for how to help. For instance, when you are having trouble getting a phrase, maybe it would work best for you to take a break, and they can assist with that. Or maybe you need specific vocal direction. *Note, not all record producers are great vocal producers. Ask them ahead of time if they are good at giving specific vocal direction or not. You may want to consider bringing a vocal producer or arranger into the studio with you.
b. Spend time getting the right headphone mix. The right blend between the volumes of instruments and your vocal will help you perform better. If you feel like you are shouting over the music, you’ll need to lower the volume of the track. You can also lower the strings or symbols which tend to compete for vocal frequencies making it harder to hear your voice. If you feel like your voice is too loud, it may inhibit your performance. Ask the producer to lower or raise volumes until it’s just right!