The anticipation for the next studio date is always great: finally record a new album! It’s going to be great! The preparations are done, the band is rehearsed and the vision in the head is clear. Now it can start. Once the band has recorded the songs, it’s time for the vocal recording. At least that’s how it usually works. Actually, that’s optimal, because then you have your head free for the vocals and can concentrate on the lyrics and the expression for the next two or three days.
But it’s not uncommon to fall into a deep hole just when things are supposed to start. The excitement is often so great that it’s hard to stay with yourself. And who doesn’t know the feeling that what you’re about to deliver isn’t perfect yet? So that you don’t lose valuable studio time, but can work effectively and with concentration, here are a few valuable tips on what it takes to give your emotions space when singing in, and how to deal with them in the studio.
Preparation and timing in the studio
For me it’s going to start again soon. I’m planning to record my new album and on the one hand I’m really looking forward to it, but on the other hand I know that I’ll be under stress once again when I have to record the final vocals. My studio time is always very limited. Every day, every hour costs me money. So I have to use this time optimally to be completely satisfied with the result afterwards – because I don’t compromise on vocals! No way!
The most important thing when preparing for recording is to calculate exactly how much time you need for each song beforehand. Some songs are more complex than others. First of all, they need to be practiced especially well, and secondly, they need a bit more attention during the recording. I usually start with such songs. Once they are “in the can”, I can mentally check them off. That clears my head for the next pieces.
Sometimes the studio time is so tight that you have to do a live recording. That means you sing in with the whole band at the same time. That often happens with jazz bands, because with them it’s mainly about playing together and spontaneous interaction. In this respect, there is basically no separate recording here. However, the singer usually has the opportunity to correct the songs after the recording or to completely re-record them. In pop music, it’s usually the case that the instruments are recorded one by one and everything is put together at the end. Of course, this is more time-consuming, so the musicians often spend many days or even weeks together in the studio. The advantage of this is that you can acclimatize optimally. The vibes in the studio help the musicians to get into the right mood. You really immerse yourself for the time in the studio – a great feeling, in my opinion! It’s best to be clear about what you want for your recordings beforehand, and try to create an atmosphere from the start that allows you to sing with inspiration.
The right equipment for your studio sound
When it comes to equipment, keep in mind that studio recordings sound different than live performances – and are allowed to sound different. So take advantage of the possibilities that studio equipment offers. It’s quite important to understand this. Ask yourself the following questions:
- How do I want to sound?
- What kind of expression do I want to have in the songs?
- What vocal sound qualities do I want to use?
- Do I want all songs to have a similar sound or expression, or do I want to offer my full range of sounds?
- What do I want my listeners to feel when they hear my recordings?
- What overall impression do I want to leave?
Once you have clarity on these questions, the next step is to implement them. There are a few factors to consider here that you don’t even think about when preparing at home.
Make sure you get good headphones. Professionals like to take their own headphones. Take time with the sound engineer to set the right volume levels. Most of the time you will have the opportunity to adjust the volume of your voice yourself in the vocal booth.
Studios like to offer closed headphones to singers so that the ambient noise in the mic is minimized. However, you may not be able to handle the closed sound or the intonation may suffer for some unknown reason. Try open or semi-open headphones as
Unlike on stage, there is now a large studio microphone in front of you that you are not allowed to touch. And then there’s a pop shield in front of it. That’s unusual and can distract you enormously. It takes some time to get used to it. So concentrate only on the beautiful sound that the microphone offers you. Again, give yourself enough time to adjust with the sound engineer.
In case you don’t get along with a studio microphone at all, you can also try singing over a live microphone that you can hold in your hand. There are many famous examples of singers singing through a Shure Beta SM 58, SM7 or similar. Sometimes such a microphone conveys the individual sound better than a high-resolution studio microphone from e.g. Neumann. Make sure that the microphone and its position do not distract you or hinder your performance. In any case, you should feel completely free to get to your emotions.
Sometimes a very special microsound helps to get a certain emotional vocal result. This can happen via a special mic or a special sound setting. The size and type of vocal effects such as reverb or echo can also have an impact. Take the time to experiment with this. Anything that helps you find the right inspiration is good!
Relationship with the sound engineer aka “my partner in crime”.
I realized very early in my career how important my relationship with the recording engineer is. He or she becomes my closest ally or partner for the duration of the recording. When I record my singing, he or she is the one who can tell me with a clear mind if the tone or phrase was good or if I should sing it again. Often he or she is the savior in need, when the expression was just particularly good, but the notes hung crooked here and there. With a few quick touches, my partner in crime has straightened everything out again. Hach! I love these experienced sound engineers for that. To be honest, I sometimes place more value on their judgment than on that of band members or producers. Just think about how much experience these people have. They’ve recorded an infinite number of artists, and while they’ve been quiet and uninvolved, they’ve seen all these arguments between band members and artist producers, etc. I’ve personally learned a lot from these experienced engineers. I personally learned so much from these experienced sound engineers. However, you have to ask them to put in their two cents. Because normally their job is to stay out of artistic issues.
What else does it take to record well?
Critical looks or comments from the band members
Yes. That is sometimes also quite difficult. Here I can only give the good advice to have only those band members present at the vocal recordings whom you really trust and with whom you have a very good relationship. There is almost nothing worse than musicians who sit in the control room and nag you unfiltered about every verse you sing. Experienced musicians consciously take a step back because they know the sensitivity of a singer sitting in the vocal booth. Some others have yet to learn this. Have the courage to ban such naggers and know-it-alls from the studio. Please! You need a “safe” environment to let go emotionally.
Own daily form
Most musicians are used to getting creative with the setting sun. And for many singers, it often feels as if their voice only really works then. I can understand that, but you don’t have that luxury in the studio. Because that is usually booked on a daily basis for eight hours. With some studios you can agree that this time goes into the night, but from experience I can say that this is not necessarily better. You can be mentally prepared to start your studio session in the morning with a mug of coffee in hand. It works! For us singers, it sometimes means getting up a little earlier to have enough time to get rid of the mucus on the voice. It is very helpful to incorporate a small exercise session before the studio session, such as going for a ten minute jog or doing fifteen minutes of yoga or gymnastics. This can help the body, mind and voice get going.
Is singing in necessary?
That depends on the individual. I don’t need any singing exercises before singing. If you haven’t spoken much in the morning, but have a vocal recording appointment right at 10 a.m., it’s advisable to do a few singing or speaking exercises. The mucus on the voice will thus be loosened.
If you feel more confident with singing-in exercises and/or breathing exercises, then you should definitely do them. Take about 30 minutes to do them. Singing in also helps you to mentally connect with your voice. It works a bit like meditation. It can have a calming effect on you.
If you’ve found that you don’t really get into the swing of things until the afternoon or evening, then try to schedule your singing session for the second half of the day. Most of the time this is accepted and supported by everyone.
The most important thing is to have the right mindset in front of the microphone. This means that you set your inner attitude to self-confidence and concentration and put yourself in a relaxed state. Then it is immediately much more possible to sing with inspiration.
The question is, how do you get there? Somehow you have to be able to turn the switch to ON from one moment to the next.
My experience has shown that it’s best to practice this at home weeks in advance. Visualize the situation in the studio. Just record yourself at home with your smartphone. Analyze the recordings you liked.
- How did I sing there?
- How did it make me feel?
- What image did I have in mind?
Make notes about it. Incorporate short recording sessions into your daily life. If you were busy doing something else, like talking to someone on the phone or just got home, go into your imaginary Voca-Booth without much preparation. Practice getting to the mindset you need for your songs in seconds. You’ll realize what you didn’t realize before and what you need to think about again. Mostly this concerns the interpretation, the sound or the feeling.
The ability to make decisions at the end
Once the tracks are recorded, you have to decide which take it should be. Often there are two takes that are perfect in different areas. Now you have to decide whether to take the emotionally perfect one or the technically perfect one. Where can you improve if necessary? If the expression is right, but the intonation is not, you should definitely decide to improve the intonation.
Sometimes, however, you’re stuck with a take where the expression was insane, but many other things failed. In that case, you should consider whether it’s better for the recording to take the take that worked better overall, and thus fits in with the rest of the recording.
However, some artists and producers claim that the performance or expression comes before the pitch or intonation. I think it’s a fine line. When artists and producers disagree in the studio, sound engineers can sometimes help as a neutral figure.
You learn to let go quite wonderfully in such situations – “Ommm”. It is really advisable to always keep a clear head in order to be able to objectively evaluate whether the “take” is the right one.
The vocal booth – my little world
Many singers set up in the vocal booth at the beginning of the vocal recording. First, the recording microphone must be chosen, as there are often several mics to choose from. The headphones are chosen in the same way. The music stand is set at the right height so that you can easily read the text or notes. For example, I also always have a pen with me to take notes. There are always things you want to remember. These can be hints for a specific tonal expression, or reminders for difficult rhythmic phrases, but also tips that come spontaneously from the control room.
Apart from the purely technical set-up in my vocal booth, I also always make sure that I feel comfortable in this small room. A nice light source can be helpful, or a scent that makes me relax. Most of the time, the studios don’t have a problem with you using a room spray or something like that for the time of the recording.
Letting emotions out
When you are in the middle of the action and are overwhelmed by your own emotions, it is advisable to simply let your feelings out. On the one hand, it does your soul good, and on the other hand, the others in the studio will know how you feel. The more authentic you are, the better others can react to you and support you. You often go through several phases of emotions. From euphoric anticipation to tension and cramping to howling attacks. Once you’ve gone through these phases, you’re ready to give it your all.
However, it is not advisable to record in the middle of an emotional outburst. Most of the time, the recordings don’t turn out the way you wanted them to. Go through such phases, talk about them with those present in the studio if necessary, and only then get to work on the recordings.
In the end, it’s about touching the listeners. We don’t make our recordings just for us. We always have to remember that. Of course, the impulse comes from your own emotion. And in order to sound authentic, you must always have the inner channel to your heart free. Absolutely!
But here, it’s also about creating a snapshot that still evokes emotion in the listener, even after the hundredth listen.
Imagine singing not just into your microphone, but into the hearts of your audience. Connect with your feelings, but also take them in hand and transport them forward. “Talk” to your audience. Tell them your story. This way you’ll more easily get the balance between “letting your emotions run wild” and “not losing control of your voice.”
Even if you have to repeat a take several times, you should never lose sight of your audience.
If you have prepared well, as described in point 6, nothing can happen to you at the moment of singing in that you are no longer in control.
In any case, the time in the studio is a journey for everyone involved.
And it feels great when you’ve made the most of it together.
Little tip: Always make sure there’s harmony in the studio. You will be rewarded – guaranteed!!!