Thursday, June 30, 2011

Vocal Recording 101: Psychology

Ok...This will be an amalgamation of a number of posts and tweets regarding vocal recording. It’s an important subject as most of the music we make will have a lead vocal. So if we’re going to make compelling music, we need to know how to work with singers and help them give a great performance.

The first thing to remember is what said in Recording Tip #56. When producing vocals always remember singers are not players. They are a different breed by nature
Argue this with me if you want or say why it shouldn’t be that way. But I’ve had decades of experience recording singers and the fact is very few approach their craft the way a player does. It’s not a right or wrong thing. It’s no different than the generalization of facts that men and woman are different. There are exceptions with all things and of course there is with this. But the point I’m driving at is that if you’re a player producing a singer, you need to think about how you speak with them when recording.

For example, tell a player, “You’re a bit flat there” and it’s no big deal. They’ll get their tuner out and be done. But the same words to a singers can sometimes be devastating. Even though singing out of tune is really a technical matter, when some singers are told there’s a pitch problem all they hear is, “I think you suck.” And when that happens the mind games set in. And that can make it tough to get a great take that day, or sometimes for many days. If they’re singing out of tune of course you must deal with it. So how do you know what to say?

When you’re beginning to work with a singer you need to develop trust. They may be one who can easily get into the nitty-gritty of punching lines or words after you make a comment, or they may not. You don’t know till you’re down the path a bit. So go easy at first and see how they respond to your comments. One good thing to do is to make two positive comments before you say a negative one. Find two specific words of phrases that are the best in the take, tell them you liked it and why. If there was a bad line or word say, “Hey there was only one spot that wasn’t as great as the rest of the verse” or something like that. The LISTEN and WATCH CAREFULLY to their reaction. You’ll learn quickly how they respond to your suggestions, and which of your suggestions get the best results.

Sometime you may come across a singers carrying a lot of negative baggage from their last project. That can be tough. Maybe their last producer was verbally cruel, mocking or even abusive. It could be they were in a band of buffoons who bullied their singers. These kinds of things happen. You don’t need to be paranoid, but as you begin your relationship with an artist ask them about past producers and such..what was good, what wasn’t. And pay close attention to what they say, verbally or well as what they don’t say.

Confidence is everything in a great vocal. And to get one, you as a producer need to have great communication skills and know speak to those you’re producing. Any amount of correction or guidance needs to be spoken in a way where they don’t feel they’re failing. Speak their language and create an environment where they can feel feel safe and encouraged with each take. They need to feel free to attempt things and if it’s not great, it’s no big deal.

Last thing to remember is Recording tip #57 and 58. ALWAYS be in record and ALWAYS keep the first pass! There is often magic there. But even if it really sucks, keep it anyway and tell them, “Hey...that had a great vibe. I know you’re still searching. But I liked the emotion of it.”

Musical performances are hugely psychological. If you singer feels safe, confident that you love what they do (never work with an artist you don’t love) and that you’re there for them and you’ll get a great delivery. Make sure they know why you show up. You’re there to help them find a performance that is stellar.

So at least for me, these are some keys to psychological connections in producing a vocal. In the next post I’ll discuss some technical things, but if you’ve not set a good vibe for your artist the technical parts won’t mean much. Better a great emotional vocal with technical problems than a pristine recorded vocal with no emotion.


  1. A great lead vocal sound can make all the difference between an average demo and a potential single. Correctly recording vocals ensures that the most important element of the song cuts through clearly and perfectly. Your post contains great information about vocal recording.
    lighting sound hire

  2. Thanks so much for the comment Craig! I totally agree