A Guide to Recording Vocals:
Having finished up 11 tracks to be released this year enlisting and working with star studded talent, I thought it would be very fitting to share my guide on working with vocalists. This also goes out to my amazing students who have just finishing the Ableton Module 2 course who showed great intrigue into the vocal recording process.
Great music is born out of great vibes and working with vocalists can really bring your music to life. If you haven't worked with a vocalist before I highly recommend it and suggest these tips when doing so.
Before you record
1. Write together in the same room - Although this blog post is mainly about recording vocals and not about the techniques of writing lyrics and melodies. I would always suggest getting into the writing process to help encapsulate your views, personality, history and thoughts into the song. But the main reason to do this is to have fun with the artist when you have fun you create a vibe and when you have a great vibe you are more likely to come up with something magical. Recording is all about capturing the magic.
2. Be their vocal coach - Even before you record make sure their voice is warmed up, give them warm up techniques. This will ensure their voice is ready to go when it's time to hit the studio.
3. Learn about their personality and goals - get to know them so they feel comfortable sharing ideas and ultimately recording.
4. Recording habits - ask them about their previous recording habits - do they like to recording everything as rough guide track to rehearse to before approaching the final recording? Do they like to only record for hour blocks as they find their voice starts to get weaker after the hour?
5. Get the vibe of the room right - If the artist feels like they are a star they will record with the star confidence and quality. It also shows them you care. Even if your recording in your bedroom there are things you can do to create a cool room to record in. So get those incents out, turn down the lighting and do everything you can to put the artist in the write place before you even press record.
6. Set up all the equipment - Do this before they get there and after the room is setup. The artist shouldn't have to wait for you to set up Microphones, headphones, pop shields and headphone mixes. This ensures that all the equipment is working. This shouldn't take that long but allows for time should any equipment suddenly not work. A note on equipment - try and use the best equipment you can for recording but remember not all huge songs are recorded on with very expensive equipment.
7. Setup a new DAW session - Again I do this before they get there. I always create a new Ableton Live session with just exported stems when I record to minimize processing computer power. This will hopefully stop any glitches and clicks in the recording when you come to record. Don't forget to set your BPM.
8. Setup your headphone mix - Do this before they get there. I like to give my artists a little reverb and ping pong delay and sometimes autotune on while they record. This is so they will be comfortable and feel in the mix while they record. Although some artists like their voice dry when recording.
Recording: Capturing the Magic
1. Confidence is key - Do your research on how other songs were recorded. Have a great understanding on what you want to achieve from their vocal recording. So ask yourself as many questions as you can i.e how do I want the vocals to sound (laid back or very energetic) this will help answer your artist/vocalists questions and give you a great idea what you want to get from the recording.
2. Choose a first section - Sometimes you might like to start recording from the first verse or sometimes you might like to start recording from the chorus. Starting from a section that is fully rehearsed will help the artist feel confident and induce more vibe into the rest of the sections.
3. Check the headphone/level mix with them - Get them to start singing through the section you want to record them in and check the level. Is the level hitting between -12db and -6db? Dont let the signal go into the red as it will digitally distort. Do they want more or less reverb in the headphones?
4. Start getting some takes - Try to save as many takes as possible. But mark ones you think stand out.
5. Don't give them time to think - Get them to record and keep recording them until you have that take that makes you feel amazing. You don't want them to start procrastinating that will make them feel under confident.
6. Show the artist your emotions - Dont just press record. When you have a great take showing them its great by jumping up and down might happen naturally but if it doesn't I would encourage it. This shows them they are on the right path for the track and that your both in it together.
7. Comp as you go - Comping is a process where you use the best parts of multiple takes and piecing them together to make one perfect take. Keep it simple and mark your best takes as you go. I like to comp as I record. The more you do this the quicker you will get.
8. Get them to Overdub - Add some adlibs, doubles, harmonies, whispers, hmms and anything that can be used to enhance the track.
9. Detail is key - Always be thinking about vibe, tonality, timing, pitch and melody as you record. If something doesn't sound right make sure you say.
Be sure to keep these tips in mind as you record. They have been developed from recording lots of vocalists in big and small studios and from advice from my favourite producers.
After you record you will then move to Vocal production : EQ, compression, automation, sibilance, ambient and spatial effects, modulation and character effects, making way for vocals. And potentially Vocal effects : vocoders, talk-boxes, auto-tune, resampling, reverse reverb, cut-up glitched vocals.