In today’s post, we’ll go through 6 unique tips that you probably won’t come across on other sites on how to improve your vocal recordings.
Recording your own vocals can be an intimidating and daunting task; there are so many technical aspects to keep in mind that can overwhelm and even discourage you from exploring the recording process. It’s understandable, though, considering how new the independent artist model is.
Artists are now encouraged to record and release music without the help of a record label, something that enables the artist to be in total control of their publishing rights and earnings, which, on the contrary, creates another problem: the lack of mentorship and guidance when it comes to working on the technical aspects of creating a song.
The old model had artists record vocals in professional studios with experienced sound engineers, paid by their label, making sure every step of the recording process flows as smoothly and cleanly as possible, something the modern artist has to navigate on his own.
With so much information on the web focusing on mic selection, positioning, and setup, we decided to make a list of 6 unique tips to help you achieve better vocal recordings. So let’s dig right in!
How To Improve Your Vocal Recordings
1. Comfort = Efficiency
Two main factors define an excellent vocal recording: an impactful performance and a clean audio signal. For our first few tips, let’s focus on the former. Being comfortable as a vocalist in a studio environment, whether professional or at home, is crucial.
I’m sure you’ve read before about the importance of staying hydrated (warm water and tea with honey can help) or how maintaining a good posture and relaxed abdomen muscles can improve your singing. Still, I would argue that creating a space that inspires you to record is even more vital.
One thing I do that helps me ‘get in the zone is to have all of my recording equipment set up and ready to go at all times. My microphone is always set up at the appropriate height, plugged into my preamp, which is always connected to my audio interface, and with an audio channel in my DAW always armed and loaded with my preferred processing effects.
The idea is that I’m always one click away from recording; all I have to do is turn my phantom power ON and I am ready to record. Saving time from setting up when you feel inspired, and having straight access to your recording tools, means there’s a much better chance of capturing an impactful performance.
My gear is always plugged and ready for recording
Another habit I picked up from a vocalist friend of mine that helps calm my nerves and feel more comfortable in the studio is to use a longer XLR cable to attach to my microphone. This helps when I’m trying to come up with lyrics or melodies since it allows me to walk around the room and still hum and freestyle toplines.
Sitting on a chair or standing in front of a microphone stand and endlessly trying to force inspiration, or a good performance, can be frustrating, so being able to move around and still sing can be a great way to unlock that.
You can record while doing this and later decide which parts work and adequately record them, or even keep them as they are; you never know when an outstanding performance will occur, so record as much as you can!
2. Intention and Conviction over everything
What separates great artists from your average Soundcloud artists? The ability to be 100% in touch with their lyrics, subject matter and delivery. It is of utmost importance to know what you want your lyrics to mean and be aware of how they interact with the music. Once you are in touch with that part of yourself, it will be much easier to achieve better vocal recordings.
Every line you sing (or rap), every adlib, every decision to belt and showcase your vocal range has to have purpose and intention. It can be challenging, especially if your subject matter is very personal and painful to revisit, but being intentional with every performance decision means you can deliver it in a more impactful way.
What helps in understanding this concept is to take some time before recording and visualize how you want to sound like in your head. Listen to the beat and imagine how your voice would sound on top of it, which syllables you’d emphasize, which ones you’d drag to fit the meter, where you’d pause etc.
You can even write this down as notes next to your lyrics so you won’t forget. This will eliminate any awkwardness and unsureness while recording and make your performance more convincing.
Before you get to this point, though, you will need to delve deep into yourself, your feelings, and experiences and connect with parts of yourself you might not be that comfortable with. This leads us to another essential concept in achieving better vocal performances: conviction.
No matter what genre they perform in, all great vocalists have conviction: the ability to convince you that what they are singing about is true and important. It’s evident in songs like Billie Jean; while most of us haven’t been accused by an obsessive fan of fathering their child, we believe and feel every word Michael sings. Or a song like “Back to Black” by Amy Winehouse; we don’t need to be in a relationship that takes the turn hers did to feel and understand what she sings.
The point is, if you don’t convince yourself with your lyrics and subject matter, then no one else will be convinced. It’s not something that will come overnight, it’ll take time and practice, but that’s what it takes to achieve great vocal recordings.
In this interview, Pharrell and Rosalía talk about intention and conviction
3. Find the pattern
Of course, it’ll take time to get good at recording vocals, but there are ways to ensure you keep improving. Consistency is critical, and one way to make sure you stay consistent is to create a pattern within your daily schedule. The secret to this is understanding how our brains form habits based on behavioral patterns and using this to our advantage.
In simple words, habits are formed when doing an action repeatedly that follows a cue. For example, every morning, after breakfast, I open my DAW and brainstorm ideas. Eventually, this becomes routine, and a habit is formed. Now, I don’t even need to think about creating music; I just have breakfast and go for it.
The best part about this is that your brain will get used to this pattern; ideas will flow easier, productivity will be higher, and creativity at its peak! In the context of recording vocals, this will make sure your recordings keep improving as long as you don’t break the pattern.
You may not be able to form this habit in the morning like me, or even on a daily basis, but that’s okay. The best thing about this technique is that it’s completely flexible to your schedule. You just need to do the action (record vocals) after a specific cue, dedicated to that action only.
This cue can be like having a bath on weekends only, followed by a recording session, or watching a specific TV show only before recording vocals. As long as the action follows the cue, the habit will be formed.
4. Gems waiting to be discovered
Some of our best takes never end up in our songs. They might be a great moment of improvisation that no one managed to record, a cool run we did during warm-up, or, in most cases, that note you never thought you could hit and didn’t even attempt. This leads to an exciting but scary lesson to be learned: don’t be afraid to push yourself vocally.
Your best take could be hiding in plain sight, waiting to be captured! Whether you are a vocalist looking to improve your recordings, or a producer trying to understand how to navigate your artists through the recording process, it is essential to understand this.
Singing, and more explicitly recording vocals, can be a very intimate act. It’s, therefore, completely understandable that some artists need a little push to achieve that great take. Rick Rubin had to push Adele to hit some of the high notes on 21; even someone with her talent needed that encouragement and push. That’s where the importance of a producer is apparent; it’s so valuable having someone present during the recording process that can objectively judge the evaluate the progress.
If you are a producer reading this, try getting familiar with your artists. Learn their habits and cues while performing; that way, you can feel how far they can stretch their boundaries. Then you can ask for that extra take or note that they might need some encouragement to get to.
If you are an artist, remember that your insecurities are completely normal, and even your favorite artists probably have the same ones. If you record your vocals alone, you have to pull double weight and be your own producer, so don’t skimp on that part of the process.
Experimentation is key, so, as the hours go by while recording, and you feel like your best take is behind you, don’t be afraid to try something different! A higher note, a looser vocal run, or adlibs with more theatricality. Whatever this may be, try it.
5. Hidden in plain sight
Even after you’ve managed all of the above and you are comfortable with experimenting and pushing yourself vocally, you can still end up letting that perfect vocal recording pass you by. How? We only hit record in our DAW when we think we are ready to perform most of the time.
This adds the extra pressure of having to deliver a perfect take or the constantly increasing stress that comes after 20 takes that don’t quite live up to our expectations.
I found that it helps me massively when I hit record before I’m ready to start performing. I hit record before I even start my warm-up. Some of the sounds we come up with while warming up are unique to each of us, and they often end up in my productions. They can add that little extra layer of singularity that will set you apart from your contemporaries.
But not only warm-up takes can be of use; the fact that you are always recording will increase the chances of capturing a magical moment you could’ve easily missed if you only hit record before “the take.” Have you ever experienced hitting stop, feeling that your last take was useless, then freestyling something that felt perfect at the moment, only to come to the sad realization that you have no idea how to replicate it later when you actually hit record? I have and it sucks.
The point here is plain and simple; maybe the simplest and easiest to apply from those on this list: ALWAYS RECORD EVERYTHING!
6. A change of scenery
The last tip on this list has to do with the mentality of delivering better vocal recordings and how you can vary the results you get when it comes to the audio signal entering your DAW. We talked about how vital it is to set up your recording space of choice in a way that creating and recording music is always accessible with the press of one button. But every now and then, it might help to work in a different room.
Recording in a different room of your house can unlock your creativity if you feel stuck in a creative block. It worked for me when I was trying to finish my album; I was stuck until one day, I moved my laptop, mic, and audio interface to the patio in an attempt to unlock my block. I finished what ended up being the opening song of my album in 3 hours.
A microphone, audio interface, and headphones are all you need to record. Take them anywhere you can!
Changing your work environment can work as an inspiration for new music, lyrics, and melodies, so don’t be afraid to carry your recording gear around the house. You may come up with your favorite topline or verse in the patio, bathroom, or even garden.
This mentality doesn’t just offer inspiration. I’m sure you’ve heard of room acoustics and how they can shape the way your voice sounds in a recording. When your voice leaves your mouth, it bounces on the surfaces of the room you are in. If it bounces on a wall, the sound bouncing back is called a reflection, and there are loads of them, all captured in your audio recording in something we know as reverb. The cool thing is that every room is different in shape, size, material, and objects occupying it, so the reflections will always be different in every room you record in.
Bathrooms are one of the most popular choices due to the longer, more present reverb sound that characterizes them, but try to experiment, and you may find something worth exploring. You can go crazy with this and ask permission to record in your local church or an abandoned house (or a prison, like some of my friends, did last year). The sky is the limit with this one.
There are so many tips on the web on what equipment to buy and how to spend your money to achieve better vocal recordings, but the mentality with which you approach the recording process is just as important.
If you are a vocalist looking to improve your recordings, invest some time making your creative space as efficient and inspiring as possible. Be intentional with your lyrics and performance, create healthy recording habits, don’t be afraid to experiment and push yourself vocally and remember that your best vocal is probably yet to come.
So keep on recording and experimenting!
Alvinos Zavlis is an artist/producer from Cyprus based in Bristol, UK. With three albums under his belt and plenty of singles, his catalogue covers a wide range of sounds, from hip hop and trip hop to IDM and experimental electronic styles, all fused together to create unique blends of sounds. He works as a freelance mixing and mastering engineer in Bristol for artists of all styles.