Getting A Great Vocal Sound and Performance
Reading Time: 4-6 Minutes
Let's face it, for the vast majority of music, the vocals are a make or break. A killer vocal performance with powerful lyrics can take a song from a mediocre soundscape to a top 10 hit. So how do we get that vocal just right? There's more to it than just putting a fancy mic in front of a talented singer. This will be a less technical post, but I think it's important to approach the vocals with this mindset. Let's dive into some details.
1) PROVIDE A ROUGH MIX IN ADVANCE
If at all possible, always get the singer a rough mix of the song ahead of time. This way, they can practice the tune until it is muscle memory, rather than conscious thought. You'll want to provide them with a version with scratch vocals and without. Usually a couple weeks ahead of time will help them get into the vibe. If you are the singer, try practicing while you're in your car, at your rehearsal space, or anyone you can find some free time. It might take a bit of practice, but eventually, you'll feel as comfortable as can be.
2) EXERCISES AND WARMUPS
The voice is an instrument just like any other, and you have to treat it as such! Be sure the singer has learnt a proper warmup and cool down routine, as well strength training exercises. This will do several things, it will first give the singer a larger tool box of techniques to get there performance just right. Second, it will allow them to get the voice prepared so that the tone is just right when entering the vocal booth.
This is probably the most important part of recording vocals. GET YOUR REST! Make sure the singer has had a good night sleep the night before, has properly hydrated themselves, and has stayed away from drugs or alcohol. They need to have a voice in working condition, and they need to have the ability to focus while in the studio.
4) TEST OUT SEVERAL MICROPHONES
One thing I've found is that you generally can't rely on one vocal mic to get the job done properly. There are subtle nuances in each microphone that make it appropriate for certain genres and for certain singers. Get an idea of what the singer is looking to sound like, and find 3-4 options that you believe may capture that sound. Put them all up and have the singer do a pass. Listen back with the singer and decide on which microphone is getting what you need. Then go with that one!
5) HEADPHONE MIX
The singers headphone mix can greatly affect their performance. Have the singer try their mix at different volumes, different blends of instruments, and even have one ear of the headphones on or off. Finding the best combination of these elements can really change how well the singer performs.
6) LISTEN FOR THE EMOTION, VIBE, AND MESSAGE
Ok, you definitely want to make sure the singer is in tune and has great tone, I'm not trying to side step that. But what really matters is how the performance makes you feel, what it makes you think of, and if the vocal performance supports the message. Let's use the classic example of Bob Dylan. If you really listen to his "technical performance", he's certainly not a virtuoso. But there's something absolutely magical about his songwriting and delivery, and it spoke to the anti-war and civil rights movements that were occurring around the peak of his career.
Hope that helps guys, and thanks for reading! Comment below if you have anything to add! As usual, follow us on social for more info :)