Here's a great question from my email...
I usually don't have pitch issues when recording, but on occasion I do. I've tried using just one ear piece on the headphones, but on this particular song, still had trouble. Can you explain the science behind finding pitch when using headphones?
First of all, I hope you mean you just took 1/2 of that one ear off when using headphones. I do not find that taking a whole ear off will not help you. To clarify, take one closed headphone (not "open" headphones... ones used in the studio are usually closed to avoid feedback) and slide it half off your ear. It should cling to your head in such a way as to avoid feeding back to the mic.
Rarely, I will come upon a singer who does better with both "cans" on, but by far most singers do best with one earpiece half off. You'll also find that you'll favor one ear over the other for this maneuver. Experiment to see what works best for you. Try the left ear, then the right ear half off.
Secondly, I am not a scientist but I do know from 50 years of experience that there are many factors to singing in tune listening to headphones, including
- The vowel shapes of the lyrics. For instance, if your highest note is on an 'ee' vowel, there is a tendency for going flat, and not necessarily being aware that you are. With better technique, you can learn to morph (shape) the 'ee' vowel more vertically, and get that pitch zeroed in.
- If the bass on that particular track is even a bit too loud, the harmonics of the bass will give you an inaccurate mark to match pitch with. Turn the bass down and see if that corrects your pitch.
- Is an instrument distracting your ears? Perhaps have the engineer take busy or swimmy instruments such as electric guitar, fiddle or organ out of your cue mix.
- If you sing through headphones for hours at a time, your ear can simply get tired, and your pitch can suffer. You can help yourself by taking a break, resting your ears. Or, you can change the ear you have half-off, or ask for a change in the cue mix, just to sort of figuratively splash cold water in your ears and wake them up.
Lastly... DO NOT hold your cans with your hands. This will cause your arms to weigh down your ribcage. Instead, raise your hands above your waist and either "talk with them" or press fingertips into each other to open your chest, stay tall and flexible.
For more help, check out
Singing In The Studio... the ultimate guide to getting the best out of your studio vocals