“Preparing for Your Best Vocal Recording” by Jeannie Deva
The most important element of a recording is all too frequently given the least amount of time for preparation and recording. Yes, sadly, it’s the vocals.
Lack of preparation along with little understanding of the art of vocal recording can make it difficult or impossible to achieve a high quality captivating studio vocal within budget. Whether you’re recording a cover song or an original, acoustic or band arrangement, here are several effective steps you can take to improve your vocal recordings.
Song Choice: Sing songs with messages you believe in and which showcase the best qualities of your voice. Unless you’re purposely trying to be an impersonator of another artist such as a tribute band, your song choices should be ones that present who you are as an artist.
Have a Grip on General Vocal Technique: Your vocal technique should be good enough for you to expressively sing your songs on-pitch with good tone and stamina without straining or blowing out. If you can’t do that, you’ll waste time in the studio with endless takes and lots of auto-tuning. Before going in the studio, establish the right key, know the melody and lyrics, smooth out pitch and rang difficulties and lock in the rhythm.
Focus on the Message and Emotion: Once the technical details are covered, focus on the message and emotion(s) of the song. Your phrasing decisions relate to emotion and message and should be believable within the feel and style of the music. In every sentence there are key words that carry the meaning. The others are connective or supportive which, if stressed, obscure the overall meaning. Place your emphasis on the words that will create the greatest expression and meaning, as you would if you were speaking to someone.
You can emphasize a word by increasing its volume, holding it longer than the other words in the phrase, adding texture to the vowel such as a growl or rasp, or using vocal embellishments on one or more syllables of a word. Your own unique style comes from making the lyrics your communication. Mean what you say when you sing.
EXERCISE: Take the lyrics of a song. Look over the words to each verse. What’s the story of the song? By singing it, what do you want to say? It’s not always some deep significant message, but if you don’t understand what you’re saying, your audience won’t either. Speaking, then singing the words aloud can help you find your own interpretation.
Get Hold of a Rough Mix: Most musicians can’t afford to waste recording studio time. If you want your recording to turn some heads and get you noticed, don’t rush into the studio before you’re ready. If the instrumental tracks are recorded days before the vocal recording begins, get a rough mix to practice with during preproduction.
Perform Live Before You Record: Eager to get into the studio, many singers overlook this last most important point: Perform your songs with a live audience before recording them. Live performance is where all the elements come together. The point of singing is to communicate. Recording makes it possible to reach more people than one live show, but it will not do any good if it doesn’t communicate like the live show. By developing your live audience connection with the songs you’re going to record, you will be able to bring that energy and communication into the studio. Then you stand a chance of recreating a passionate and believable recording of your song. And that is the point.
Since introducing the world to her innovative Deva Method® of vocal training in the mid-1970’s, Jeannie Deva has become an internationally respected and in-demand vocal coach, columnist, clinician, trainer of voice teachers and published author of The Contemporary Vocalist book and CDs series, The Deva Method® Vocal Warm-Ups and Cool-Downs CD and the digital eBook: Singer’s Guide to Powerful Performances. With an impressive client list that includes Grammy winners, American Idol finalists and Multi-Platinum recording artists, she is a frequent celebrity guest on television and radio talk-shows. As a recording studio vocal coach she’s flown to recording studios around the world and has worked with and been endorsed by, amongst others, producers and engineers of Amy Winehouse, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, The Cars, Aerosmith and Fleetwood Mac. Her private studios are located in Los Angeles, California.