Updated: Feb 17
So - your space is configured well. Your gear is set up properly. You’re ready to hit record, and focus on getting the most out of your own singing or someone else’s. Sound like you? If not, go read Part 1 of this guide to learn about technical preparations for vocal recording and come back! Otherwise, read on for some tips about the human side…
1. BEFORE THE SINGING STARTS
Warm Up Those Vocal Chords
We’ll get the obvious one out of the way first: warming up makes your performance sound better and protects your voice, so it’s a no-brainer! It might feel like a chore, but it’s really quite easy - especially with the amount of great tutorials available online these days. Set aside 15 mins at the start of the session and head to YouTube for a video to guide you through. This one is a good general example, but experiment with other positively reviewed videos to find something that suits your particular style.
Plenty of people talk about ‘getting into the zone’ to perform music… that might seem like an ambiguous concept, but if you ask us, it really just means being relaxed and comfortable! Think about what helps you relax at other times in your life, and set aside some time on the day of your session to apply those techniques or activities before you start singing. Everyone’s different, so there’s no right or wrong answer here - only what works for you.
Also - if you’re hiring an engineer to record your vocals, obviously it pays to pick one you’re happy working with, in a studio where you feel at home. If you’re engineering for a singer, on the other hand, be supportive! It might be an ordinary day for you - but it’s likely to be a vulnerable and challenging one for whoever’s in the booth, so be a positive influence and actively encourage them right from the start.
The best cure for a dry throat is not getting one in the first place, and for that reason, water is the silent hero of every great recording session. Drinking plenty of water before and during your vocal performance will keep your larynx and vocal cords lubricated, so they can vibrate properly and you can sing more easily for longer. It’ll also give you a welcome energy boost, and even help
reduce weird take-ruining mouth noises. In other words, it’s liquid productivity!
2. DURING RECORDING
Take Frequent Breaks
Breaking up your session can help you stay focused, protect your throat, and keep you out of a frustrating rut. If you’re on a roll and you feel good, by all means, keep going - but if you start to struggle vocally or even creatively, it’s best to acknowledge that pretty quickly and take a breather to reset before things spiral. Of course, if you’re following our advice about staying hydrated, nature will organise some breaks for you!
Record Safety Takes
You’ve nailed it. A take with perfect pitch, emotion and power. Call it a day, right? Wrong. When you’re in a recording environment, it’s very easy to overlook or miss problems with a piece of audio. It’s rare but not impossible to get to the editing or mixing stage and discover a distant door slam, a foot stomp, or even slightly wrong lyrics - and we’re yet to see a plugin that can fix that! So, make sure you get at least one extra vocal take, which will be your insurance policy even if you need to replace a few words or lines. Don’t fall into the trap of "faster equals better".
3. HAZARDS TO WATCH OUT FOR IN RECORDING
Plosives are sounds that cause a sudden rush of air from the mouth. These can create pops or booms in the microphone, which instantly ruin a recording. The 'P' is the most common plosive sound - try putting your hand in front of your mouth and saying "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers” to feel how much wind is shot out on the Ps. Pop filters are therefore an essential piece of kit for all vocal recordings, and you'll find plenty of varieties on the market that all essentially do the same thing. If you're in an urgent situation, you can also make a DIY equivalent - grab a metal coat hanger and an old stocking, bend the coat hanger into a round-ish shape, and stretch the stocking over it.
When you place a cardioid microphone close to the source, the increased low-end response is a proximity effect. This can be used to great advantage when controlled in the right situation. However, when recording vocals, a proximity effect can cause a very obviously inconsistent sound and tone when uncontrolled. If a vocalist starts singing 10cm away from the microphone, but moves 5-10cm closer or further away while they're singing, some lines will be thick with low-end and others will be much thinner by comparison.
The good news is you don't have to stand completely still while recording to avoid this problem. All you need to do is increase the distance between mouth and microphone. Starting at a distance of 20-25cm away from the microphone will vastly reduce - if not eliminate - the tonal fluctuation that results as you move your body during the performance. Positioning your pop filter around 15cm from the microphone is a great way to keep your distance without even thinking about it!
Lastly, watch out for extraneous noises that can ruin the perfect take. This is more than just turning air conditioners off or closing windows. For example, a well-known perpetrator is the singer bumping the microphone stand - so make sure the singer is positioned comfortably behind the microphone, with enough distance between their feet and the stand's legs.
Speaking of feet, some singers may involuntarily stomp during recording, as this can feel natural while listening to music. Others might click or clap their hands without noticing. These sounds are detrimental to a recording, so be aware of them - and listen closely for them when you're in the producer's chair too, so you can politely let the singer know what's going on.
Thanks for checking out parts 1 and 2 of this blog - we hope it's helped you improve your approach and set you up to make some pristine-sounding recordings!