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Vocal Production Tips

May 28, 2020

Capturing the Perfect Vocal Take

Part I : The non-techy stuff

The human voice is undoubtedly a complex yet interesting sound and instrument in its own right. Capturing the best vocal performance can be downright tricky to say the least, and it is usually affected by things you might not even believe! While all instruments pose their respective challenges, this particular instrument (the voice) possibly surpasses them all. So, how does one go about getting the best vocal performance in a recording session? The answer is unfortunately, not as simple as a catch all trick, or shortcut, or even plug-in on your master bus. Several factors influence a vocalist’s performance and many of them are more psychological than actually musical. We’ll be exploring some of these, and some tips that can help you to prepare to overcome those challenges.

Did you know? The Human vocal range spans the frequency range 200Hz-5,000Hz on average.

Setting the right vibe!

The atmosphere and vibe of any recording space should always be one that encourages creativity and vulnerability. Creativity thrives best in environments where one feels safe to express themselves, and that in turn allows a vocalist to become vulnerable enough to express the real emotions in their performance. Make your space feel homely, by adding small but meaningful accents. Consider the use of lighting that might be the vocalist’s favorite color or match their mood. Scented candles can be a nice touch, but be careful! Not only is it a potential fire hazard, but some scents can trigger sinus problems or allergies.

Another great choice is including a scented oil diffuser/humidifier in your room. Scented oils such as eucalyptus and peppermint are amazing at helping to keep sinuses clear, which will work wonders for your vocalist. Additionally, keeping the room at a suitable humidity makes breathing much easier for anyone who is about to sing. Be sure to keep room-temperature water on hand for your vocalist so they stay properly hydrated during recording.

Finally, a fruit and tea tray with honey can be the final touch to make your vocalist feel utterly pampered. While the honey may of course be a preference, its benefits for soothing sore throats are commonly known. Tea also is beneficial in keeping the throat and larynx warm. But beware, avoid adding milk to this before recording, as consuming milk tends to cause a build up in throat phlegm (definitely not auto-tunable!).

A little know fact is that apples contain an enzyme which (when eaten) reduces the presence of mouth noises caused by saliva.

The more obvious preparations...

When it comes to setting up for a vocal recording session, there are a few things that should be a bit more obvious, but will need to be re-visited each time you have a vocal recording session. Starting with the most obvious, let’s consider the microphone!

Ensure the height and angle of the microphone is suitable for the vocalist’s most comfortable stance. Consider tilting the microphone downwards(if suspended above the vocalist) or upward (if located a little lower than his/her mouth) as this can help reduce the capture of plosives. This also has a subtle effect on the frequencies captured in the voice recording. Using a pop filter is also a great way to stop plosives, as well as keep some distance between the vocalist and the mic. Ideally, this should be about a fist-width away from the microphone.

Check all cabling, connections and levels beforehand, as some mics require a little more attention. Cables should be properly connected, safely wrapped and tucked out of the way to avoid trip hazards. Headphone cables should be suitably long, so as not to restrict the vocalist, but also be mindful of the cable knocking against objects in the recording booth during takes. These extraneous noises can be the little things that ruin an otherwise good take.

Since your vocalist is going to need to hear the music and themselves, consider creating a headphone mix just for them. An unsatisfactory headphone mix can severely affect a vocalist’s ability to give their best performance. Always ensure that headphone mixes are loud enough (not too loud) with a good balance of vocals and music.

Lastly, your vocalist may require the use of a music stand for notes or lyrics. While this is helpful, its placement and height are crucial. Place it too far away and they may not be able to read, or if too low they may constantly be looking down and thereby changing the timbral qualities of their voice being captured by the microphone. To avoid this, make sure its at a comfortable height and distance and have the vocalist do some test runs before recording.

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