Two Elements You Need To Get A Killer Studio Vocal Performance

2015 Jul 07, 2015

Great vocals make great recordings. Period. 

And while on the technical side of things, both matching the perfect microphone to your singer and following a simple two step workflow is crucial for a great sound – getting a killer vocal performance is paramount.

While many factors contribute to the performance of your vocalist, they can all be categorized under these two elements: comfort and confidence.


Via Ewan Topping Flickr

Comfort: Give Your Vocalist The VIP Treatment

The human voice is a unique and temperamental instrument. Put under a lot of stress it can crumble and close up. But if relaxed and comfortable it can soar with ease.

As is the goal with every recording session, your vocal sessions should be optimized for comfort. Specifically the comfort of the vocalist.

From lighting, to scent, to pace, to the number of people in the room: everything must be setup in such a way that the singer (and this could be you) is comfortable.

I try to think of vocalists as the VIPs of the band – because in all honesty, their part will make or break the recording. So this involves getting the technical side of things as much out of the way as possible in order to eliminate unneeded tension or stress in the studio.

Why is this so important?

Because if the vocalist feels at ease, relaxed, and comfortable her voice will undoubtedly be at it’s best. The muscles around her throat and diaphragm will be relaxed and ready to push air without any restraint or tension.

All of this leads to a vocal performance that has power, energy, and an effortless quality to it.

Give your singer the VIP treatment and you will be rewarded with a superb vocal performance.

Confidence: Learn The Powerful Art Of Encouragement

If a comfortable singer has the best chance physiologically to deliver a killer performance, than a confident one has the best chance psychologically to knock it out of the park.

You see this in sports often – we call it momentum.

The team with the biggest psychological boost (i.e. confidence, or belief in their abilities) has what commentators call momentum, and they seem to be unstoppable when “it” is on their side. The reverse is just as true with talented and healthy athletes and teams falling apart for no reason other than a giant lack of confidence in that moment.

In the studio we want the same thing for our vocalists. If they have confidence their abilities they will deliver a much better performance.

So how do you instill confidence in a singer who seems to lack in that department? The subtle (but powerful) art of encouragement.

Your job shifts from engineer to coach as you work to build up the vocalist quickly and quietly. The secret is to not focus on what he or she is doing poorly, but to highlight his or her strengths, their  uniqueness, and offer your vote of confidence in them.

This is harder said than done, at least at first. Encouragement really is an art form – a craft that you get better at as an engineer. It’s not very flashy, but as a skill it is invaluable as it helps you squeeze the very best out of performers in your studio.

These Phantom Techniques Make All The Difference

The great thing about vocal recording techniques is that most of them are very obvious to see and do.

Learning how to “work the mic” and setup proper gain staging are things you either are doing or not doing. Once you learn them, you can simply work them into your workflow on each subsequent vocal session.

But what we’re talking about today are what I would call “phantom techniques” – less defined and harder to quantify than most things in the studio.

How do you measure comfort? How do you know if you are instilling confidence?

For the tactical and technical minded, these types of suggestions can drive you nuts. I understand, and I’m sorry.

But it’s these hard to pin point “techniques” that can make all the difference in your final vocal recording. These two elements (comfort and confidence) are what will more than likely contribute the most to your final recording’s energy, engagement, uniqueness, and professionalism.

People listening to the final mix won’t hear a recording – rather they will hear a performance, and one that draws them in every single time.

Are You Exploiting These Two Elements?

So let me ask you – in your studio sessions, with your artists (or yourself) are you taking advantage of these two elements: comfort and confidence? Answer these questions below:

  • Specifically, how do you usually make the singer feel comfortable in your studio?
  • How do you typically instill confidence in your vocalist?
  • Have you seen these elements make a difference in your final vocal recording?

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