Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Vocal Control For Studio Singing

A large part of vocal training involves learning vocal control. Without vocal control, any vocal recording will suffer dreadfully. With it, you can do things you can only dream about without it.

Another problem with lack of control is that if you are singing with any degree of power, you are going to experience a lot more vocal fatigue and risk damage to your instrument if you sing too long. With it, you can sing all day and not experience vocal strain. Yes, it's true! And a lack of control will cause y
ou and your recording team frustration -- or you'll just give up and settle for the best you and they think you can do. Usually, it's a huge waste of time and resources.

So what am I talking about? For a great recording, you need vocal technique skills that will enable you to:
  • Control volume. (Without it, your engineer will have to use excessive compression to even out volume, control distortion and bring soft sounds up so they can be heard. Some degree of "riding the faders" and compression is normal and usual, but the less the better ...and the richer the resulting sound of your less compressed recorded vocal.)
  • Control vocal lics and embellishments. (Without it, you will not be able to sing some vocal lics you attempt; "scats" or phrasing nuances will not "turn" well or flow evenly.)
  • Control vibrato. (Without it, your vibrato will be too much, too little, uneven or inappropriately applied.)
  • Control tone color. (Without it, the tone color of your voice will be too "covered", "hooty", "edgy", harsh, numb and boring or just plain wrong for the message. Your choices of tone of voice will be seriously limited, and your voice will sound small and/or unpleasant.)
  • Control articulation. (Without it, you will over- or more usually under- pronounce the lyrics. There are differing degrees of articulation appropriate for different genres and tempos and types of lyrics, and singers must be able to know and apply the proper way to form words for their songs. For instance, blues music is pronounced more slurry, hip hop generally has sharper attacks, pop is usually articulated clearer. Musical theater diction usually needs to be very crisp, but if you try to use this kind of diction in a pop song you will sound fake. But ALL songs should be understood, or the connection to the audience is not going to be made well.)
  • Control sibilance. (Without this, recording your vocal can be a nightmare because too much sibilance hurts the listener's ears! And fixing excessive "s" sounds with de-"ss'ers always limits the quality of sound. A related problem is the popping of "p"s and other consonants. You must be able to control your consonants even while you clearly form them.)
  • Control dynamic expression. (Without it, you will over-express and sound fake, under-express and bore the listener out of their minds, or bring too many changing emotional levels to the song to sound authentic and really move the heart of your listener. You have to know how to express the emotion of the lyric like a great actor delivering lines that invite an emotional response to the message.)
  • Control the beginnings and ends of each phrases. (Without it, you will have trouble getting the beginning of the line right. You will drop off the ends of your sentences, robbing the listener of the complete thought. You will also find yourself with a lack of other kinds of control of initiating and ending lines, because you didn't set yourself up properly before entering the phrase or you've dropped your controlling support too early.)
  • Control rhythm. (Without it, you will not be singing with the groove. You will be too early, too late or have inappropriate placement of lyrics via the beat. Again, different genres ask for different places the lyric should fit with the beat, but you have to know what your genre norms are and have the ability to sing with the beat that way. For instance, hip hop usually has the lyric slightly behind the beat, pop usually right on top of it, gospel and big band "Sinatra" types are flexibly in and around the beat, but you really have to sing with a lot of the masters to get this authentically right.)
  • Control pitch. (Without it, your engineer will have to tune the vocal too much, resulting in a machinistic, artificial sound. You may be so inconsistent and inaccurate that tuning becomes almost impossible, because the tuner "grabs" the wrong pitch or can't draw the lic well enough to sound natural. Your bended notes may be so far off there is no way to make them sound in tune. Fact: The less you have to tune a vocal, the better. Don't get complacent here and think you can just have your engineer fix it in the mix. You'll be unpleasantly surprised.)
Can you think of other types of control issues you've found in the studio? Which of these would you like most to know more about?

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