All Things Vocal Blog & Podcast by Judy Rodman: August 2013

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. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Monday, August 19, 2013

"Singing In The Studio" Review; Question About Using Monitors Instead of Headphones

I recently got some great feedback on my "Singing In The Studio" course and a terrific question from Matthew Alexander. He wanted to know about using monitor speakers instead of headphones when recording vocals. Here is his review, and his question:

Hi Judy -- I wanted you to know how helpful your DVD and book [Singing In The Studio package] have been. In particular, I have really benefited from the following:

1) Your suggestion to print out lyrics and go carefully over phrasing, learning the "rhythm (as you say) of the song". I do something similar when I prepare my guitar parts but had forgotten to do this for makes so much good sense!
2) I like the suggestion of studio hands and expressive hands. As a singer-songwriter, I am used to singing with the guitar so I really don't know what to do with my hands without the guitar. Your advice here is very helpful.
3) I also really like the image of not getting breath on the glass so as to promote focused energy.
4) Of course, I also sppreciate the details about what to wear, when and what to eat, how to stand etc.

Your product is unique, practical and useful.

My question has to do with a possible way we were going to record the vocals. Since I am not that used to hearing my voice through headphones when I sing (I tend to observe my vocal rather than being in my vocal), my producer has suggested that he play the musical tracks over the studio speakers and that I sing the parts without headphones just using the natural resonance of the room. As a fall back he would use the more standard approach where I would hear the tracks and my voice through my headphones (one ear half off...another really good suggestion of yours)while I sing. Have you ever had success with the first approach i.e singers singing tracks without headphones and, instead, using the studio speakers to play the tracks and using the natural resonance of the room for vocal production? I would love to get your opinion.
Here is my response:

Matthew, thank you so much for your feedback on the course... As to your question: Some of the older session (background vocal) singers I used to work with didn't like headphones either because they didn't have them 'back when'. The engineers sometimes accommodated them by having a specialized speaker in the vocal booth which was designed so that it didn't get into the vocal mic too much.

Here are the limitations of using speakers instead of headphones:
·        You'll have to keep the volume coming through them (which will be your instrumental tracks) as low as possible. This may make it harder for you to sing in tune (and sometimes to stay in the groove), and to feel the music enough for emotional delivery.
·        It will be harder to 'punch in' if you make a mistake. You may need to sing the whole song from top to bottom for every take (pass).
·        Though it may be muted, there will almost certainly be some track leakage that gets into your vocal mic. This may make any post-processing on your vocal more difficult, or it may not matter. Be sure you take it into account when you make your decision.

That said, you could try it and get magic. It's such an individual thing. Other options are for there to be just the right mix of instruments and just the right level of your voice coming through your headphones that it feels quickly natural to you to use them. 

One other thing...go back to using headphones with one ear half-off, and be sure you focus on singing TO someone, which should help you ignore yourself better and help you get 'into' the conversation. 

Also, there are a couple of great web conversations here and here with suggestions as to audio engineering techniques to be able to record vocals without using headphones. Apparently some huge albums have indeed been done this way, including the Beatles.
My personal preference is to use headphones for the precision it gives my ears and the resulting greater vocal control I can aim for. Let me know if any of you, my readers, have an opinion on the subject... have you ever tried recording vocals without headphones? What works best for you?

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Avoid Vocal Cord Injuries... Touch Base with your Vocal Coach Between Tours!

... surgical lamps are probably not the kind of 'lights' you'd like to be under...

Sadly I've noticed a growing number of vocal cautionary tales. Stories seem to be abounding of recording artists who've sustained serious vocal injury from singing with bad technique onstage. Here is a short list of artists who recently had such severity of vocal strain and damage they had to cancel important shows and/or tours:
  • Papa Roach ... lead singer Shaddix had to have a vocal nodule surgically removed
  • Thompson Square   ... singer Keifer Thompson was ordered to go on vocal rest for two weeks. The duo is back on stage now.
  • Frank Ocean ... is reported to suffer from a vocal cord tear.
  • John Mayer ... his vocal cords are still healing; he had to have botox injected into them at one point.

Vocal damage is avoidable!

Though several of the above performers are now back onstage, their career-threatening vocal injuries could have been avoided if an intuitive vocal coach had been able to see their vocal technique slipping (or missing!) and get it corrected in time. There truly are singing and speaking techniques you can learn and choices you can make to enable you to sing as long a show or tour as you need to without injuring your voice - even if you sing heavy metal rock!

Here is my practical advice for working singers and speakers:

  • If you are touring or doing shows regularly, touch base with your vocal coach from time to time. It will save you money, and sheer career panic, in the long run. Most pro coaches offer Skype and phone vocal lessons and warmups; if you find yourself in trouble, contact your coach and schedule a lesson from the road.
PS... I applaud the artists above who went public with their vocal damage... other singers benefit from their  transparency.  There are many artists who feel they need to keep their vocal issues secret for career reasons. They need to get help before the secret cannot be kept any longer. I wish them all well and hope they find the help they need for long, healthy and prosperous vocal careers!

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Monday, August 5, 2013

11 Ways to Sabotage Studio Vocals

Look scary?  It can be... or not!

Whether you are a seasoned recording session singer or new to the studio, you need to know how to defeat the following sneaky saboteurs to your vocal success.  This is, of course, if your aim is to create vocal magic and not settle for mediocrity.

1. Don't get much sleep the night before

... There is no magic pill that can make up for lack of sleep. You will never sing as well as you will if you have enough shut eye, so if you're going for master quality vocals, get 7 or 8 hours of sleep and your vocal cords will thank you.

2. Come tired, hungry and dehydrated

... Your vocal stamina depends greatly upon your physical state. What you eat for breakfast, what you drink at the mic and long before you sing, all this matters tremendously when you 'go for it' in the vocal booth.

3. Come late and unprepared

... The resulting chaotic state you'll be in is a terrible way to set your voice up.  Come early so you can chill out and get used to the studio space. Make sure you bring with you what you need, including food, drink, extra shoes or clothing layers and lyrics set in the right format for the production team.

4. Invite the wrong people to the studio

... Hopefully you do have the right production team with you (producer and or vocal producer, engineer, studio support personnel) but did you know that the mere presence of other souls can distract you from performance? Sometimes there will be someone you want to bring who makes you feel safe, focused and confident. But all else are best left out of the control room.

5. Have a lazy attitude

... Getting truly master quality vocals can be much more difficult (and can take longer) than you think. That's why preparation and the right mental attitude and focus is so important. If you are not willing to work as hard as your team is, you will undermine everyone's efforts, including and especially yours. That said, you also need to know how to work SMART, not just HARD. That involves your pre-production practice and even pre-production vocal lessons.

6. Don't know your material

... When you haven't memorized your lyrics, you have to read them. When you have to read them, you lose your mental focus (unless you are a highly trained session singer). When you lose your focus, you get nervous and/or numb. When you get... well you get the idea!

7. Don't do a vocal warmup before you begin singing

... For goodness sake, if you were a professional athlete would you start playing the game without warming up properly? (Notice I said 'properly').

8. Set yourself up at the mic incorrectly

... How and where you stand at the microphone can make all the difference to your breath control, and thus to your vocal control. Even your production team may not know that the music stand can interfere with the girth of your ribcage! Here's where knowledge is protection and power.

9. Sing the wrong songs 

... Are you singing material that fits your artistic definition? This should be brainstormed long before your vocal session of course, but really... what factors went into the choice of songs you're doing? Also... did the keys to your songs get brainstormed? Sometimes the key you wrote the song in is not the sweet spot for your vocal range. Sometimes there are key and tone options.. have you explored them in pre-production?

10. Sing to the control room

... Very rarely is your performance authentic if you sing to the souls in the control room. Ask yourself to whom the lyric is directed. There's your clue.

11. Hang your hands limply at your sides while you sing

... This is usually a sure way to undermine your breath control... and your vocal control will be lost as well. You can sometimes sing, but never as well as when you give your hands and arms permission to engage in the conversation.

For studio ninja tricks...

There are many more things that can sabotage or improve the quality of your studio lead recording vocals, as well as background vocals and jingle singing. If you are truly serious about it, look into my course 'Singing In The Studio' ... before your next vocal session. Pardon the shameless promotion, but you'll find this course a lifeline when you get your face in front of that pop filter!

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