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. 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 lyrics...it 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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  • At August 20, 2013 at 7:24 AM , Anonymous Bill Wright said...

    Thanks Judy!
    I have always been paranoid of signal bleed, so I'm all for headphones anytime something is going into a mike in the same room. I may add here that although I'm OK with conventional headphones, I personally don't like the kind that fit into the ear - I'm not a vocalist, but I love to hear a good mix through the phones when playing. A good headphone groove can rock! LOL...
    Afterthought - perhaps my dislike of stuff inside the ears started during a period of my life when I worked in field support a help desk for Walmart ISD...
    Have a Great Day!!!

  • At July 30, 2019 at 11:41 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Judy Rodman is an amazing human being. She has made a believer out of me. I've been performing 200 to 250 plus nights a year for 27 years coupled with a surgical malpractice that caused vocal scaring. I have a ways to go but, the healing and re-capturong of my voice is actually happening for me due to Judy's techniques, teaching, encouragement and incredible patience... If you're having vocal or speaking issues and have found Judy Rodman, boy are you lucky... Stay tuned, more to come... Jon Frattasio, Massachusetts


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