‘Don’t wait for an opportunity. Create it’
For me personally, as much as a great production brings a song to life, vocals are still the most important part of a song. So when I hear a great vocal, it instantly makes the track better. I can’t say the same about a great instrumental with subpar vocals. I’ve had my fair share of vocal recording sessions, not just recording myself, but other artists too. So I want to dish out some practical advice to have an amazing vocal recording sesh. There are 5 key aspects that I look for in a great vocal take:
- Tone – Probably the quality of a vocal that you remember the most from your favorite singers. It’s the timbre and soul of the voice (raspiness, throaty, breathy, full, bassy). Decide where you’ll take your voice and in which direction it needs to bring the song to life.
- Pitch – Yes, there are pitch correction software that can improve your pitch (autotune/revoice), but nothing will ever beat a vocal take with a great sense of pitch. For me personally, the pitch doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to sound as close to the note as possible. And how you reach and leave that note is also vital. If you have a vocal take that’s really out of pitch, auto-tune can only take it so far, and the track will start to sound robotic and digital. But maybe it’s what the track needs. Remember it’s always about context. But a singer with good pitch is something I’d always prefer, and what most listeners would.
- Phrasing – This aspect really separates professional vocalists to the amateurs, a sense of phrasing or timing. And I’m not just talking about hitting the vowels and breaths in time, but in how you attack and release those vocal parts too. When I think of a great vocalist with a great sense of phrasing, I think of Prince and MJ, and all those Motown singers. Even though they weren’t tight with the grid or tempo, they were in sync with the music and their phrases felt alive. It almost felt like the vocals had a life of its own, trying to push and pull the record. A sense of looseness and soul. Again, it’s all about the song and what it needs. If it’s an EDM song, of course, vocals have to be on-grid and perfectly in time. But if it’s a heartfelt acoustic track, the vocals need to be as vulnerable as the record itself. Food for thought.
- Diction – Highly related to phrasing, diction is the pronunciation of the words you sing. If you listen to the greatest records of all time, the reason you remember the words is because of having a clear and focused sense of diction. You want to speak clearly to your listener and make them understand what the song is about. You’re selling it to them. So if you’re mumbling or eating your words, how will they relate or connect to the song? Your diction doesn’t need to be so obviously pronounced that it feels theatrical (unless that’s the effect you’re going for), it just has to be understandable for the masses and singable.
- Emotion – You can have every point made in this article, but without emotion, your song and vocal take will go to waste. In fact, if I were to choose just one aspect of a great vocal sound, it’s a singer who lives and breathes the song through expressing its emotion. Like they embody the song and every angle and ounce of it. Even if they’re slightly out of tune or out of time, you FEEL the song itself. Isn’t that what we’re trying to do as musicians? Make our listener feel something? The best way to hear this is to listen to a whole lot of soul records (Etta James, Marvin Gaye). You’ll feel it immediately.
Those are the most important aspects of having a great vocal take in my opinion. But I want to add some extra points just as a bonus for reading on:
- Make sure you or your singer knows every lyric/melody of the song by the bone
- As simple as it sounds, make sure your vocals are warmed-up and ready to go
- Hydrate yourself pre/while/post singing
- If you start to irritate your voice or feel it in pain, STOP immediately and figure out why that is
- If after 3-5 takes you’re not seeming to get a great take, stop and break down why. Maybe the cadence isn’t right, the melody is too high, there are too many syllables, etc.
- Know when your vocals have to go from chest to head, or vice versa during the song, and prepare mentally for it
- Know when your breaths are, so it doesn’t sound like you’re running out of breath on the record
- Lemon-ginger tea with honey. That’s all I have to say for that point 😊
- Make sure you have back up microphones and cables if anything goes wrong in the studio
There we go, hopefully, you find some useful and insightful tips within the article. Now go and kill your next vocal recording session! Let me know if you have any tips of your own!
Here’s to more music and success,
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