I've been working in recording studios for over 5 decades now. I've seen almost everything except Elvis reappearing at the mic. Although I did get to re-sing some background vocals on several of his legendary hits. The oxide had degraded on the edges of the old 2-inch tape his masters were recorded on, and the edges happened to contain the background vocal tracks! I was called as replacement for one of the Holiday sisters who had done the original and wasn't in town. So much fun to sing on songs like 'Suspicious Minds', 'Caught In A Trap', 'In The Ghetto' while hearing Elvis' disembodied voice in my headphones!
I've recently worked as main producer, vocal producer, background singer and arranger and have been thrilled to work with some of the best pro audio teams in town. But in my rather long studio history I've witnessed umpteen gazillion traps that sabotage studio vocals. Here are thirty of these dirty devils. Drumroll please....
Producer Bads1. Not doing enough pre-production preparation. Not determining a singer's strengths, weaknesses, artistic definition, best songs, keys and tempos, etc. Be prepared or be scared!
Vocal Producer Bads6. Not actually knowing how to be one. Many awesome track producers don't know how to produce vocals, which is the act of coaching a singer into their best performance. In that case, they will have to coach themselves, or you need to introduce the idea of bringing a dedicated vocal producer in. It may or may not cost more to include a vocal producer, because of studio time saved.
9. Not gauging the singer's stamina level to determine whether to do the next song or stop for the day. There is a difference between vocal fatigue, which shouldn't happen, and physical/mental fatigue, which will happen if one is supporting and controlling the voice well. A vocal producer should recognize the point of diminishing returns.
10. Neglecting to have session-formatted lyrics. If at all possible, this should be done before the session. It is so much easier and a faster process if both engineer and vocal producer have the same typed lyrics, formatted line-by-line with all choruses printed all the way out. And it's a bonus if the words are tabbed over so production notes can be put on the left to make comping and editing the vocal tracks easier and faster.
Audio Engineer Bads
12. Not offering reverb in headphone mix. Some singers don't need reverb but most lead singers and many background singers do better with it.
13. Taking too much time between takes, sabotaging the singer's energy momentum.
14. Putting too many swimmy instruments in the singer's headphone cue.
15. Not getting rid of the crickets or other noisy creatures in the walls before the session. Yep, I've heard that, and some of you may remember that Nashville studio. OK so maybe it was the studio owner's bad, not the engineer:)
Background Singer Bads16. Singing out of tune. This saboteur will get you never invited back.
17. Making the wrong vibrato and/or tone choices. This one will get you immediately fired.
18. Being too pushy or un-engaged in the session. Either attitude will sabotage the comfort and general friendly spirit in the room, which can undermine all working larynxes.
19. Not having enough vocal control to trace the lead singer or blend with other singers. This can get you a bad vocal reputation.
20. Not working the mic for low volume oohs or high strong notes. This can get you on the bad side of an engineer.
Lead Singer Bads
22. Crunching in and singing from your tight ribcage. Your control will be lost.
23. Reading your lyrics while singing. Your performance will be, to some degree, numb.
24. Not singing into and out of punches. Your punched lines and breaths won't match.
25. Eating bagels for breakfast before an important vocal session. Fueled by sugary carbs and no protein, your vocal stamina for singing will soon be sorely missing.
27. Wearing strong scents, even burning too many smoky candles that can interfere with a singer's sinuses and lungs.
28. Asking the singer if they are nervous. It's like asking them not to look at the purple elephant with the diamond earring in the corner...
29. Opening studio doors while recording is going on. You could destroy a great vocal take.
30. Taking video without the consent of performers. Sometimes in-studio videos can be taken for promotional purposes, but if uninvited and unexpected, they can sabotage a critical instrumental or vocal performance. It's a good rule to ask before you shoot.
The Slayer of Singer Saboteurs is ...... application of good information! There is a ton more information that can help you avoid what can hurt you, dear singers and production teams. I offer the following courses if you wish to dig into any of this further:
Labels: background vocals, creating background vocal arrangements, Judy Rodman, pre-production, production team, record producer, recording engineer, studio headphones, studio singer, studio singing, vocal producer