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 18, 2014

Studio Headphones: Tips For Best Use

Here's a video about recording with headphones half-off

Recording vocals usually necessitates hearing something to sing to. In the very old days, singers recorded with speakers positioned in the vocal booth or studio room so as not to bleed monitor sound onto the vocal track. Well, maybe not SO old... Actually, I used this approach a couple of years ago when recording a large ensemble for a demonstration musical theater cast recording. We were doing in 'on the cheap' and so had to make do in a studio that was not equipped for the big group. It was kind of like wiring my bus headlights back to working order with guitar string and duct tape... oh well, that's a different story altogether...

These days studio singers have much better options for hearing tracks, and engineers for separating and isolating sound signals so they retain more choices when they mix. They are of course called headphones. Here are some tips for using them:

1. Try adding natural cue by wearing one of your headphone ears half-off (one side placed half behind one ear). Hearing some of your natural ambient vocal sound can help your ears not get disoriented to what you are really singing:

  • DON'T wear or turn that ear all the way off, even if you have that option. You need a bit of sound from the track in that ear. Just park it back midway off that ear.
  • DO put that headphone flush on the side your head so you don't leak sound from the track into the mic.
  • DO make sure you have your cue box set to 'mono' instead of 'stereo' so you aren't missing something because one ear is half off.
  • SOMETIMES some singers do better with both ears full on. Experiment to see what you like.

2.  If you use headphones a lot, keep your hearing safe:

  • Don't turn them up too loud, which WILL damage your hearing sooner or later. I've known studio musicians who have gone deaf from years of using headphones too loud. 
  • If you've been singing for hours and can't hear as well as you could earlier, try changing the mix a bit instead of cranking volume - it's like a spash of cold water waking up tired ears.
  • If the engineer says to take your headphones off, do so IMMEDIATELY! There may be a very loud spike of sound coming through them as the engineer tests something.

3. Make sure you use good headphone studio etiquette:

  • NEVER point a headphone ear into the mic (it will cause feedback)
  • DON'T swing headphones by the cord, yank it off, throw it down or otherwise mishandle them. They are breakable, and somebody has to buy (and repair or replace) them! Handle with care.
  • UNPLUG your phones if you are leaving the vocal booth and someone else will be singing, so cue from your open phones can't leak onto the vocal track.
Know what to ask for in your headphone cue mix. I'll give you some tips about this in my next post!

Click here for a list of recommendations (2019) for quality studio headphones.

Much more at www.SingingInTheStudio.com 

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  • At March 27, 2017 at 12:24 AM , Anonymous Peggy Lockett said...

    Thank you for sharing the article, it was helpful. It is really important to maintain the headphones and follow proper guidelines to protect them. There are few steps that I believe help in improving the headphones life such as using a case which will protect them from environment, cleaning the pads and coiling the wire properly. With so many brands available such as the Beats, http://www.soundmagic.us/index.php/product-category/headphones/ or JBL, which provide quality, one has to follow just the basic steps that will help in maintaining the headphones and increasing its life.

  • At May 5, 2017 at 5:44 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Hello there, you've got some really good advice on how to choose studio monitoring headphones. Thank you so much for sharing this article. I'm sure many beginners like me are grateful for this article. Honestly I didn't even know studio headphones were a thing until just recently, so there's still so much I need to learn about them. I'm an aspiring artist and I think getting a pair of monitoring headphones will be the next step in fulfilling my dream. I don't have that big of a budget so I'm considering just getting a pair of Audio Technica ATH-M50x since according to many sources it's one of the best studio monitoring headphones.


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