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Picture of Susan

Head Voice Coach

The Beginners Guide to Recording for Singers

For the singer-

You finally finished writing that new song you have been working on for months and it is time to head into the studio and record it so you can get it out into the world! Where should you go? How should you pick a studio? What if you still really want percussion and you aren’t a drummer or you want to add some synth parts but you don’t have the right equipment? How do you get prepared and what do you need to bring to the session with you? There are SO many questions!

Have no fear…it is all exciting stuff to figure out and with the proper checklists and information to help you plan, you will be successful and will create a better recording experience!

To start with, certain terms may pop up when you are working in the studio:

Click track- An audio track created to act as a metronome under your song. It will help keep everything lined up so you can more easily make corrections and record punch-ins.

Scratch VocalRefers to the first drafts of singing that act as a roadmap for the band or engineer/producer. These are not needing to be your best quality as they will not typically be heard by the public unless you are recording a “Live” album.

Vox- Shorthand for voice

Take- Refers to each time you run through the tune and record. (1st take, 2nd take etc)

Tracking- The act of recording tracks (vocal, instrumental, background Vox, etc)

Punch in- Refers to any spot where you are recording a small portion of a larger section. Usually used for recording a better take in one part of the piece or phrase that needs correction. (example “Let’s punch in that spot where you ran out of breath because the rest of the section was awesome!”)

Pre roll- How much of your recording you hear and can sing along with before the engineer will punch in your new take. (Example “Can you start the preroll on the last phrase of the verse and I will punch in at the chorus?”)

bpm- beats per minute. Refers to the metronome marking that will be used to create a click track.

Leadsheet- Used by musicians to play and follow along, will include chord symbols and lyrics but not full written out orchestrations. Typically used in jazz, pop, etc tunes that are not arranged with written out parts.

Lyric sheet- Offers lyrics for singer to follow along with and make notes during the session. This will also help the engineer quickly recognize the form of your song.

Getting your vocals ready:

I want you to keep several things in mind when prepping vocals for a recording session. 

1- Feel prepared and confident with the notes, rhythms, ad libs & lyrics. You may be planning to record a melody you have sung four thousand times before or it might be a new song that you just finished the first draft of and still want to change a few things. Your comfort level with your melodies will show up in your recordings. Knowing that you can confidently hit each note with the intensity and tone that you desire, will help you deliver each phrase with intention and conviction. When you are practicing, make sure you can start in the middle of a phrase or a section without getting lost or thrown off. This will help prepare you for punch ins as you need them!

2- Use your home set up to practice as you lead up to the session. This may seem a little exhausting, but hearing yourself through the headphones may completely change your abilities to trust your instincts. Tuning can feel different and the weight of the headphones or how tightly they fit can cause you to move in a slightly different way than you are used to and may actually make you feel less comfy. Better to prepare and get comfortable singing with headphones over your ears. You may have seen singers on television leaving one headphone on and pulling one behind their ear and against their head. This can help to allow you to hear what you actually sound like in the room while also hearing the track and your amplified vocal in the other ear. Everyone has their own preference for volume levels and balance of voice vs music in their headphones and if you know what you prefer it can help you gain comfort more quickly in the session.

3- Make notes on your lyric sheet for anything you want to emphasize or any ornamentations you want to do. For example, if you know you want to add a riff that goes up on the word “yeah” then you can draw a squiggly line with an arrow pointing up (or any symbol you will recognize) so you can be consistent in the recording session. This is also very helpful with notating where you should breathe. Whether you are anxious or just super pumped to be recording, you may notice that your air runs out more quickly or your voice is a bit less steady than usual. This is all normal and will ease as you get comfortable with the studio and the pressure of being “on”.

4- Remember to take care of your voice and its health! Late nights, loud environments you have to shout over, too much alcohol/smoke/late night eating etc can all affect the quality of your singing. Hydration for your vocal folds actually comes from your blood stream and not from drinking the water during the recording session, so make sure you are drinking enough water consistently. 

5- Prepare to be open minded and receive constructive criticism and gentle instructions from your engineer/producer/vocal coach etc. They are there to ensure you get the highest quality product that you can and while you need to go in knowing what you want and don’t want the song to be, keep an open mind and a heart that is open to creativity and spontaneity should some amazing suggestion pop up!

Check back in next week for Part 2: Getting your instrumental tracks just right! What to do when you don’t have a band at your fingertips and you don’t play multiple instruments!