Preparing to record
What sort of research is required. Why is it important to see the end product?
It is important to understand the environment that you are working in. Tour the studio first so that you know how it all functions.
Working together with an engineer is important. It usually results in hard work but it’s also lots of fun. The singer needs to know what the engineer can offer and understand clearly what that means.
Finding a key.
I was a little surprised to learn that many singers show up to record needing to change the key. The engineers when they hear pitch or tempo issues ask if the singer has had any voice training. These issues are really important when recording. Taking the time to sing at a pitch that suits your voice and a tempo that fits your groove is vital. The voice is a colour pallet. Each voice is different. It’s probably not a good idea to think of recording if you are just going to imitate the original. However much depends on your reasons for recording.
Be able to communicate the musical elements to your engineer so that you can have good professional dialogue.
Understanding musical language and terminology is a cost saver. Taking the time to learn as opposed to describing something you know nothing about is an exercise that tests some musicians.
Come to your session fully rehearsed. Lyrics, phrasing, pitches and story telling aspects.
Don’t just run through over and over. This often reinforces choices that could be better if some time had been taken thinking about the song.
Do not sing using words
The engineer is listening to pitch, tempo and emotion. Using a phone with lyrics or a chord chart takes attention away from the voicing. Recordings like this never go anywhere. Memorising assists with the communication flow. You can then be more creative.
You might break the song down into segments but don’t loose perspective of the overall picture. This is the most important message. Address all of the technical aspects and when those foundations are in place start focusing on the performance.
A soloist showing up to perform is usually responsible for recording the harmonies as well. Singers will sometimes sing as many as 12 parts of harmony and record them as individual tracks. Harmonies in recording are purely supportive and should never outshine the lead. Some engineers these days would like to see more harmony.
Don’t just vocalise for the sake of it. Music is about connection with your audience. It is not all about the artist. The song, the lyrics and good understanding of the way the song has been written need to be respected for good interpretation.
Get familiar with the space
Book in a tour of the studio.
Booking in a session for finding the right microphone can be useful. Microphone selection is important because each one caters differently to various voice types. The engineer will pair different microphones that are the most transparent so as to get an accurate representation of the singer.
Let the studio know about what equipment you want to bring with you so that the studio can be set up in readiness for your arrival.
It takes a while to adjust to the sound of singing with sound coming through headphones. Allow yourself time to get comfortable.
Bringing Friends and Family
You need to let the engineer know in advance if you are bringing anyone along that is not recording. It’s recommended that everyone present has contributed to the music in some way otherwise the session could take a different direction. Engineers want to talk to the performer. A vocal coach can be a good person to bring along. I’m told that ‘the greats’ never go into a session without a vocal coach. They are the ones who can often communicate about sound and help the sessions move quickly to time when on a budget. Coaches, teachers, engineers have perspective so can therefore be more effective. Singers often have bias especially if they have written the material.
Eating before recording
Give your body food but pace this.
Be on time
Show up early and get comfortable with the surroundings. Arrive warmed up!!! Singing songs is not warming up. Wake up your instrument. For instance slowly build up to belting.
What happens when recording a song?
The singer is asked to sing their song two or three times (give or take). The singer can then record more difficult sections to later be added to parts that are already comfortable. One of the reasons for getting the best bits done first is so that the session has fluidity.
Hearing the Results
Remember that the performer is in charge. They are the one paying. The engineer wants to make it a positive experience as they are also invested in your product.
Don’t make judgements by listening to the first sketch. The engineer and producer know when they have enough to work with to get the desired result. The singer often doesn’t know what it takes to get a sketch into a final product. It’s not advisable to even have people listen to a sketch as they are listening to something that isn’t finished.
The final say must come from the singer as they are the face of the product and they are the one that must live with it. You will get compliments and you will get criticism. You never get one or the other.