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Achieving Your Best Studio Vocal
by Jeannie Deva

part one | part two

The voice is the signature of a band. The songs will change, the musical style may even vary, but: They know the band by the singer's sound. That's not to say there aren't other instruments that can have their own signature sounds in a band. That will make the group even stronger. But the majority of listeners will not buy an album or go to a concert of a band that has a great guitar sound and yet terrible vocals.

Many years ago I was ushered into the recording studio by several voice students who were running into trouble while recording their vocals. From both beginners and pros, I was hearing these complaints: singers were losing their voice during or by the end of the recording session; they did not have enough session time in the studio to get their vocals right; vocal sessions were often scheduled in such a way as to make singing difficult; they were straining to sing due to incorrect headset mixes; vocals were taking a ridiculous number of takes with the final result still one that compromised the professionalism of the product; the mike or mike angle was incorrect for the singer. Still to this day, clients come to me with the same complaints. As well, I find many singers do not know what preparation steps to take prior to going into the studio. These, as well as other reasons, can make it difficult or impossible to achieve a high quality vocal and in-budget project.

Producers, engineers and band-mates can find themselves justifying and settling for lower standards on the vocals because they don't know how to help the singer get anything better. As those of you who are singers know, the voice is a very different instrument from all the others, and each singer has their own particular needs.

There are 5 Major Factors to Your Best Recording Studio Vocal Sound

  1. General technique to expand range, develop vocal stamina and consistency, and improve tone, pitch, control and power
  2. Song interpretation to establish your own unique style
  3. Song delivery and performance skills
  4. The art of vocal recording
  5. Knowing how to evaluate your tracks. Ultimately, it is the culmination of all these talents into a superb recoding that achieves an identifiable vocal and broad recognition for you.

1) General Technique
When working on the vocal for a recording, concentrate first on the technical details, then on the overall performance. Establish the right key, learn the melody and lyrics, smooth out any pitch and range difficulties, lock onto the rhythm, learn all important melodic and rhythmic ques. Try singing the entire song using a naturally pronounced "Ah." Strive to keep your "Ah" pronunciation consistent and relaxed regardless of pitch changes. After repeating, sing the song with the lyrics. This approach can help relax your throat muscles, enhance resonance, reduce strain and improve accuracy of pitch and melodic phrasing.

Your studio preparation should include practicing the song standing stationary in front of a mike on a stand, and preferably hearing yourself through headphones. When in the studio, you will have to stand relatively still while you perform your song so might as well get used to it beforehand. Try recording yourself. Listen back and note anything that you like, as well as for any technical details needing correction. These aspects should be fully developed before you go into the studio to record your tracks. Once the technical details are covered, establish a clear concept of the message and emotion(s) of the song. Your phrasing decisions will come from your understanding of emotion and message.

2) Song Interpretation
To establish your own unique style, the lyrics must become your own communication. You must mean what you say phrase by phrase within the larger message you wish to communicate through your song. As a practice method, use your own image in the mirror or select an object in the room. Speak the song lyrics to your mirrored image or the object. Work through any self-consciousness until you can do this naturally as though having an actual conversation. Develop your ability to speak as though the words and ideas are occurring to you right now. Make this a totally spontaneous conversational approach. If you really mean what you say as you sing, if you develop your own interpretation and really want to get this across to the people in your audience, you will be establishing the one thing that makes you unique: Being yourself.

3) Song Delivery and Performance Skills
Your voice and emotion must reach out through the recording to the listener and create an emotional effect. If the audience doesn't dig it, what's the point? When you sing in the studio, you must bring to your song the same energy and believability that your audience would expect of you in a live performance. To help your song have presence and energy even though it's recorded, you must create the illusion of singing to someone. Don't create mental image pictures of someone and sing to the person in your mind. To do so diminishes your energy and the vitality of the song by removing you from the present. Sing the song as though the person is in front of you now. It is up to the singer to integrate all the components of singing, performing and recording to reach through the tape and really connect with the listening audience.

4) The Art of Recording
Microphone selection: At the beginning of your first vocal session, line up three different mikes. Run through a verse and chorus using each, one at a time. Record as you go, onto three separate tracks, with the EQ and volume settings the same. Then go into the control room and listen back through the room monitors. From there you can make a better choice which is the right mike for you. You can also experiment with the mike at mouth level, nose or forehead level, or at jaw level tilting up to your mouth.

Microphone Technique: a) While certain live performance mike techniques also apply to recording, there is a primary difference: in the studio, mike to mouth distance remains constant and you can't touch the mike or mike stand. This added mechanical necessity should be practiced before going into the studio until you can do it and still sing emotionally. If not, trying to hold still while singing can be distracting and annoying and your performance will suffer. b) Pops and hisses on tape created by overemphasis of certain consonants can ruin professional recording attempts. To practice, think of the consonant as using the same amount of air as its neighboring vowels. Align your energy with each vowel, letting the consonants take a back seat.

Headset Mix: Headset mix and mike choice can make an incredible difference in how you perform and sound. Take the time to work with your engineer and get it adjusted right at the beginning of the vocal session. Work on it until you have absolutely no attention on the mix and can perform undistracted. On occasion, the brand of headset can cause an alteration of the natural EQ of your voice making it sound thinner, bassier, or muffled. Compare several brands of headsets. When you find one you like for its fit, weight and sound, you might invest in it and bring it to your sessions. Sometimes the problem is not the fault of the headset but the result of incorrect or non-existent vocal warm-up and poor vocal technique creating throat muscle tension and incorrect vibration of the voice.

Continued on part two


© 2004 Jeannie Deva. Jeannie Deva is the Originator of The Deva Method® A Non-Classical Approach for Singers™ and Founder of Jeannie Deva® Voice Studios since 1978. Author of the internationally published vocal home-study course: "The Contemporary Vocalist" book and CDs, and of "The Deva Method Vocal Warm-Ups and Cool-Downs," she is flown to recording studios around the world to handle album vocal production and has been endorsed by producers and engineers of the Rolling Stones, The Cars, Aerosmith, and many others. Clients include Grammy Award Winner Aimee Mann, recording artists Patty Griffin, Dar Williams, Moodcrush, members of the J. Geils band, cast of Fame, Jesus Christ Superstar and many more. Ms Deva's private voice studio is located in Los Angeles and her school of voice is in Boston. www.JeannieDeva.com.