Our good friend Chris Liepe is back with us, and today we are going to be sharing our Top 5 Vocal Recording Tips! This will be a conversation with too different perspectives: mine as a producer and engineer, and Chris’s as a vocalist who records his own vocals and teaches other singers. This is a really great crossover, where we find the points where we agree and overlap. These 5 tips are things that we think are the absolute most important to think about when you are recording vocals.
We will share these tips in reverse order, starting with #5!
5. Perfect is the Enemy of Good
Before recording, we can psych ourselves up and look at all the little details of what we need to do, and then when we actually go to record, we are more concerned about the little details, and getting things “right”, than we are about the overall expressiveness of our performance and actually being in the moment with the song. And so our quest for perfection creates an enemy that attacks our ability to be truly good.
The same thing happens when we listen to your recordings. When we listen to our recordings afterwards, we often pick them apart and are too focused on the small details to see when our performance is actually good. If you think about any of the singers that we loved growing up, on the take when their producer said they nailed it, they were not thinking about whether they hit the note perfectly or pronounced everything flawlessly, they were in the moment with the song.
4. You Don’t Have to Get THE Take
I can’t tell you how many times I have worked with a singer that just thinks about it as a complete take. If you are working with a good producer and engineer, they should have a lyric sheet in front of them and they should be taking notes. They should be marking down where they have something good, and if they don’t have something in a certain area, then they should be bringing you back to that specific area. As a producer, not only do I not want to exhaust the singer, but I do not need 95 identical takes. Focus on the pieces of the recording that actually need improvement, and hone in on those.
Get your face out of the way! When we get into the studio, and we are nervous, or focused on intonation and all of those other things, we tend to draw our face downwards. Even as I am talking, if my face is drawn downwards, you can understand me just fine, but as soon as I lift my face and smile, everything is so much clearer and more expressive. When you smile, you actually self-EQ and you provide this presence that a lot of producers want out of a vocal. Smiling helps you focus on the amount of power and expressiveness you need to put into the take.
Producers don’t want to have to reach for that EQ plugin, they would rather you have an engaging presence and sheen, and a natural boost in your voice, and nothing does that better than smiling!
2. Get Comfortable, Stay Loose
This might feel really generic, but it feeds back into some of the other tips we were talking about. Before you do anything in your session, try putting on one of your songs, or a backing track and just muse. I call this incidental warming up. This is a way of getting yourself into a mindset so that when you go to record your takes, you can take an element of comfort and spontaneity into things.
When you are doing this, don’t focus on singing particular words or doing anything specific, just riff and get to a point where you are carefree in the environment.
Everything we have talked about here can be summed up in one point: We love the idea of the singer being in the song, in touch with the emotion of what they are trying to say, understanding the tempo and timing and all of those wonderful things. But, something reinforcing that idea is the worst thing you can do!
If the singer comes into the studio and they are nervous and they have been obsessing over every little detail, one of the best things you can do as a producer is distract them. Relax them, bring some humor into the session, get their favorite cup of tea, of whatever is takes to make them feel comfortable. When the singer is comfortable, this is when they will give their best performance. The more comfortable you can make the environment feel, the better the performance is going to go, and distraction is a fantastic way to achieve that.
Watch the video below to learn more about these Vocal Recording Tips!