Vocal Recording Tips and Principles – Part 2

Here is the second post by Jon Wright. Written while sitting in on a vocal session with Kevin Ward and Wayne Haun.

“The first and one of the most important tips: Be open with the artist about what you are doing.

Let them know when you are editing, changing settings, swapping out gear, and even any technical difficulties you’re having (without passing any blame of course).

The artist is now in a somewhat unusual situation. Rather than performing in the room with a lot of people they are now trapped “alone” behind the glass; and as anyone who finds themselves there can probably attest to it tends to become a somewhat awkward (even vulnerable) frame of mind. The artist begins to wonder if the engineer is taking too long between takes because they sound awful. They see people chuckle through the glass and wonder if they are being laughed at. A lot can go through an artist’s head when they’re in the booth.

Because the comfort of the artist is key to getting great takes. If you have great communication and openness you are well on your way to a great session!

This reminds me of a tip I heard from Nathan Chapman at the last Nashville Recording Workshop, he likes to place a male’s microphone slightly higher than the vocalist needs it (because male singers typically want you to think they are taller than they are). while for female vocalists he places it lower than they will need it (because there is something about raising the mic up for themselves that boosts confidence and says, “I’m ready to do this”). — Paraphrased and unproven, but might be worth an experiment or two . . .

– Jon”

By Jon Wright

As a graduate of MTSU with a degree in Audio Engineering and Technology Jon has been working as a full time mixer and engineer in Nashville. He loves running, writing, and all forms of entertainment. He also enjoys long walks on the beach with his wife.

3 comments

  1. Great post! A lot of producers and engineers I have worked with during my time at MTSU (especially in sessions on campus for a class project) are so focused on the technical side of the vocal tracking process that they forget to interact with the vocalist. The vocalist must feel comfortable and trust the producer fully. To get the best take possible you MUST make the vocalist feel extremely comfortable. Turn that vocal booth into a metaphorical shower. Everyone sings better in the shower. lol. One thing I have found to be very effective in a vocal tracking situation is to keep reminding the vocalist that you aren’t going to run out of tape (unless you actually are using tape). Just let them know that if they have a bad take, or 10 bad takes, that we can always do another. And as a producer it is important, after a take you didn’t particularly care for, mention what was good about that take before telling them what they did wrong. But you are correct Jon…..communication is very important.

    Just my thoughts. Take them or leave them.

    – Brandon –

    1. Thanks for the reply Brandon.

      I just wanted to add one note. The “endless tape” scenario is just ONE method of helping people to relax. To some, it could be limitations… like “Let’s get 3 passes of your vocal and go to lunch. There is a time *limit* then and some people work better with limits than they do with infinity.

      Just my thought,

      Kevin

  2. Brandon, I like your concept of the “metaphorical shower,” comfort for vocalists is huge. They are walking in and putting themselves out there for critiques and judgement. Thus, taking the pressure off of the vocalist is key. Let me preface this post by saying, know your vocalist. It takes time and effort to develop the trust of a singer. The more a vocalist trusts you as a producer, the better you know what to say and how to say it.

    Considering a vocalist you haven’t worked with before, one with lower confidence, or even one that is relatively new to studio work . . .

    In these situations, although the “endless tape” idea, does take a lot of pressure off the producer, it can be somewhat counterintuitive for the vocalist. If a singer is in the booth and does a decent take (maybe the best take so far) and the producer/engineer says, “that was decent, but lets do it again.” This tells the singer, “we still don’t have what we need yet,” which adds pressure to the vocalist’s shoulders.

    One solution might be to keep in mind that you have “endless tape”, while still removing the pressure on the vocalist. For example, when the singer gets a good/decent take but you know they can do better you can say, “that was great, we’ve got what we need, but let’s do a couple more and try this . . .” (then let them know what you would like them to sing differently). You can even say, “we can delete anything we don’t like, and go back to this take.”

    This removes pressure from the vocalist, reinforcing the “shower”, while still getting the great takes that you know the singer is capable of. It’s a win-win situation. Again, knowing what will work best with your vocalist specifically is the ideal situation. Working on these relationships is key.

    That’s my take on it.

    Great ideas and input Brandon! Keep them coming!

    – Jon

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