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Achieving Your Best Studio Vocal
by Jeannie Deva

part two | part one

Signal Effects: The main signal processing used in headset mixes is EQ, compression, reverb and possibly digital delay. These effects should not be recorded onto tape but can be added during the mix. If used properly per your needs and taste, adding at least a bit of reverb and correct EQing of your voice to your headset mix can make a huge difference in how you sound to yourself and add ease to your singing. How you sound to yourself as you sing in the studio is paramount in supporting and achieving a good performance. If you don't like how you sound, you will struggle with muscular attempts to change it and your performance will be lost. (Not to mention your voice!)

Punching-In: When a portion of your vocal needs to be re-done, the engineer will have you sing that section again and re-record it. When re-recording a section on the same track as your previously sung vocal "take," it is called punching or punching-in. Make sure the engineer rolls back to a phrase or two just before the place needing to be re-recorded. If there's a vocal there, sing along with it. This ensures the re-recorded part sounds natural, in context and believable.

Scheduling: If your time to record vocals is scheduled to take place when you're tired, you will have to physically push past the fatigue, risking strain and other non-optimum results. If you're trying to save money by pulling an all-nighter, take a nap and come later once the drum and guitar sounds have been set. Figure it out. You need to be at your physical best for your instrument to respond well. If you can schedule your vocals to occur on a different day than the instruments, get a rough mix of the instrumental so you can practice with it.

The Fifth Element
The fifth primary element of importance subdivides into four sections: Rhythm and phrasing, Pitch Accuracy, Vocal Tone, and Overall Performance.

Knowing how and when to pay attention to these details in the course of a session, will help you stay in control of your vocal recording process and help you achieve your desired goal for the recording - a captivating vocal that grabs the interest of your listener.

Evaluating Your Tracks
How many hours have you been in the studio working on the final take of this song? You may be wasting your time, money and voice. Usually, if the vocal is not getting noticeably better after the fourth take, either the headset mix or mike choice is ridiculously bad and throwing you off, or you need some technical vocal assistance. Nonetheless, knowing how to evaluate your tracks and how to fix them can make a pivotal difference and is an art unto itself. This is also a key to efficiency and helps you know what to re-do, what to keep and when you need to call it a day and do more vocal pre-production before further recording.

Rhythm and Phrasing - Rhythm in this case, has a lot to do with the subject of phrasing. Do the phrases work rhythmically with the music, or do they sound rushed or off in any way? Determination of good phrasing cannot be a mechanical decision. It should be based on believability of expression. Try speaking the line. Notice how you inflect the sentence. Where do you place accents for importance? If you stress the wrong word or words in a sentence (like Chandler in "Friends"), it will sound comical, be difficult to understand, or just not believable. Your phrasing has much to do with "selling" the song and really touching your audience - or not.

Pitch - Are there any words sung off-pitch? Some singers can notice them, some cannot, as their ears need further development. Sometimes pitch problems can be the result of a singer's problem with the headset mix or wrong choice of mikes. Also, there may be too much too little, or the wrong kind of reverb on your voice. Your voice may not be at a comfortable volume compared to the other instruments. The wrong mike for your voice can alter your vocal frequencies and throw you off. A wrong reverb setting can confuse and distract you by pulling your attention to the reflection of your voice rather than your primary sound. The wrong EQ can encourage you to tighten certain throat muscles and limit the natural movements needed to create higher and lower pitches.

Vocal Tone - In the context of this song and style, does the voice sound too choked, strained, or weak for pro standards? Sometimes too much compression put on the vocal during recording can make the singer push and strain. If you've recorded your verses one at a time or line by line, listen carefully to ensure that your vocal quality sounds consistent. Sometimes singers mistakenly change their position to the microphone, which then varies their sound on tape. You must stay alert to this when recording and remember to maintain the same mike distance especially when punching-in a word or phrase. However, a more basic problem may be the lack of adequate vocal technique to achieve vocal consistency, voice-muscle endurance and ability to sing powerfully while avoiding vocal strain or blow-out.

Overall Performance: Does the song sound alive? Do you believe the singer? Does it emotionally move you or leave you feeling untouched? There is a delicate balance between achieving a great performance versus having technical details to correct. As long as the technical details don't distract the listener's attention from the performance, you've succeeded. If the performance is great but there are some "ear-wincing" mistakes, work them through off tape and then, rather than punching in, try recording a second or third track of those sections. Hopefully you'll be able to use them in a compilation track thus fixing those areas that need correction on your main vocal track.

Paying Attention
Do you want this tape to help you get a deal? Do you want it to turn some heads? Maintain an objective and professional attitude and hold the line regarding the whole project. Don't push it if it's not happening. Take the time to plan out the whole project and do sufficient pre-production to arrive prepared.

© 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.