Vocal Tips For Vocalists Paying Their Own Way


A Neumann TLM 103 warms up before vocal duties

I’ve always said, who knows more about singing than the vocalist?

OK, if you’re a recording engineer or music producer, breathe… chortle… repeat. This is for the vocalist reading this, not YOU!

I know, YOU have had vocal training. You did six hours of yoga, practiced for six weeks BEFORE you booked your time, quit smoking cold-turkey without a patch or a stick of foul-tasting horrible-ness and hydrated with six ounces of room temperature water from a filtered system, NOT a plastic bottle. You even brought your own rug to stand on. Congratulations! I’m impressed and you’re bulletproof.

Might I suggest:

Consider the microphone

With all of your ability and education, have you also learned something about microphones in the process?

  • Where is YOUR sweet spot on the microphone in front of you today?
  • Ever sing into that brand, model or pattern before?
  • Or, ever sing into that preamp/compressor/whatchamacallit for that matter?

I know, I know – that’s what the engineer/producer/label guy is for, right? Bull!!!

I’m not saying you need to carry a soldering pencil and rewire mics for phase problem solutions, but if you’re in a studio, and the mic in front of you is unfamiliar, will someone be there to guide you? An engineer is often compelled to help but remains silent for fear of crossing the producer-engineer line in the sand. And the producer is probably assuming the engineer will notice placement and proximity matters. (At this point, these are probably not issues, yet.)

Knowing something about design — dynamic, condenser, tube, ribbon — for instance, or, the corresponding reception pattern chosen (or fixed) to a particular microphone — omnidirectional,  hyper-cardiod, figure-eight, etc. — WILL be a huge plus.

How you stand, breathe and move can often be more important to YOU, the performer, than to the recordist, who is frantically trying to compensate for problems in areas concerning working distance, off-axis coloration and timbre that you have created with your proper technique. I am NOT saying you need to be the expert. I AM saying you need to know when the microphone is adding complexity to the equation for YOU and do something about THAT.

Things like backing off the microphone can be more than a pro-maneuver executed by a skilled singer, it can be a game-changing performance detail creating improvement OR diminishing success. Understanding how the mic responds to your vocal delivery is just as important as the spec sheet details studied by everyone concerned. That takes experience and/or guidance. If you’re not paying for recording-technique lessons during that vocal session, why not be as prepared as you can be? The money you save may be your own!

Since I am not here to write a book, I’ll stop now. I will concede that the preamp, EQ and compression settings used will probably be the engineer’s preferred territory. And, you never know who’s who and what’s what if you are totally in the dark about these things or in the dark about who’s behind the glass.

Also, I am NOT saying to worry about someone else’s job more than your own. If you are not a “people person” or an expert, this is a delicate area of recording to approach at the best of times, let alone in the heat of battle.

I am considering continuing on in this vein, in later postings, with details on proximity effect, reception/rejection, pop filters and roll-offs, etc.. I think I’ll wait a bit to see where the ‘plosives blow me. Or you.

In the meantime, go ahead, sip that vintage whisky whilst smoking that filterless Gitanes. Choke down that greasy double-cheeseburger minutes before pressing record. Ignore all suggestions because YOU know better (or your vocal coach does). Chances are, no one bothered to discuss the single most important element of capturing your performance (AFTER you are factored into this equation, of course).

While I would never say the best microphone choice will save a poor performance or bad technique from ruining the overall results, I will say knowing as much about using one (and thereby maximizing your results) may be more important than that smelly rug you dragged along with you. And HEY! — you’re paying by the hour. The engineer is probably enjoying the bonus, right about now.


2 Responses to “Vocal Tips For Vocalists Paying Their Own Way”

  1. Fred Pierz Says:

    Vocals? On a rug? I thought vocals were played on something called an autotune (I think it’s like an autoharp). At least that’s what I heard.


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