How to assist a vocalist in the studio

Head of Audio in Melbourne, Rob Care, gives some handy tips on how to assist a vocalist in the studio this month, in his Sound Advice column for Australian Guitar Magazine.


Here you will find some useful information that can make recording vocals for the first time a less stressful and more enjoyable experience for both the singer and the recording engineer.

Headphone Mix
It is extremely important that a singer can hear themselves clearly when performing
and especially when in the recording studio. In a usual recording situation, the vocalist
is singing in isolation (away from the rest of the band or music) so it is important that a
feed of the music is being sent by the way of headphones to the artist. A good balance of
music volume, a balance of the singer’s voice, and also some added spatial effects (reverb
or delay) will give the singer a much better representation. Setting a good headphone mix
will create comfort and confidence for the artist, who is then in charge of delivering the
best possible performance with the right amount of intensity for that particular recording.

Microphone choice
Choosing the right microphone for a particular voice is an important factor to the
overall sound and tonality of a finished vocal recording. The microphone is used to
capture the vocal performance; therefore it is essential to understand what type of
voice you are recording, and ultimately which microphone would be best suited. With
experience, this task becomes easier to administer. If you are not confident in selecting
the appropriate microphone first up, ask the singer to perform a section of the song while
you record it each time using a different microphone. You then have the opportunity to
listen back to the various sections and make a decision based on what your “ears” are
telling you.

Vocal technique
Singers that are new to the recording experience will need to be coached in the way
of vocal technique. The voice is an extremely dynamic instrument, so it can go from
extremely soft to extremely loud in an instant. Unfortunately the microphone being used
to record does not have an automated volume control, so coaching will involve requesting
the vocalist to sing much closer to the microphone during the softer or quietly spoken
sections of the song, and then to pull away gradually as the intensity of the vocal delivery
elevates. If this is done suddenly and not correct, the recording will sound very jumpy, and
will then be hard to balance in the mix. Using a “Pop Filter” in front of the microphone
creates a good distance between the vocalist and the microphone, and is used to
eliminate the plosives when pronouncing the letters B, P and F (burst of air hitting the
diaphragm of the microphone) which are very hard to remove if they have been recorded.

Multiple takes
If a vocalist is halfway through recording the verse and starts thinking about the big
note that needs to be reached at the beginning of the chorus, chances are you willing
to hear the “thinking” in their recorded performance. It is a good idea to run through
a trial recording of the song, and then sit with the singer and listen to the performance
together. This can be used as a note taking session to identify strengths and weaknesses
in the performance and is also a good time to identify where breathing or basic timing
and pronunciation can be improved. From here, you can also offer to record the song in
“sections”. Run through each of the verses a couple of times, so you are only focussing on
the delivery of these parts, and then move onto the chorus sections independently. The
term “Dropping In” is also used and refers to the engineers’ ability to re-record specific
words or phrases without needed to sing the entire song over and over again.