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Achieving Your Best Studio Vocal - Part Two - By Jeannie Deva
The secrets to getting a great studio vocal are seldom fully explored. It is usually assumed that if a singer just walks into a studio and "gives the song his/her all" that everything will come out all right. But studio recording is an art unto itself. Too many singers walk into the studio pumped up and walk out deflated with a blown out voice and don't understand why the experience was so frustrating. As the expression goes, "knowledge is power" and so, the point of this three part article.
2) Song Interpretation
To establish your own unique style, the lyrics must become your own communication. You must mean what you say phrase by phrase within the larger message you wish to communicate through your song. As a practice method, use your own image in the mirror or select an object in the room. Speak the song lyrics to your mirrored image or the object. Work through any self-consciousness until you can do this naturally as though having an actual conversation. Develop your ability to speak as though the words and ideas are occurring to you right now. Make this a totally spontaneous conversational approach. If you really mean what you say as you sing, if you develop your own interpretation and really want to get this across to the people in your audience, you will be establishing the one thing that makes you unique: Being yourself.

3) Song Delivery and Performance Skills
Your voice and emotion must reach out through the recording to the listener and create an emotional effect. If the audience doesn't dig it, what's the point? When you sing in the studio, you must bring to your song the same energy and believability that your audience would expect of you in a live performance. To help your song have presence and energy even though it's recorded, you must create the illusion of singing to someone. Don't create mental image pictures of someone and sing to the person in your mind. To do so diminishes your energy and the vitality of the song by removing you from the present. Sing the song as though the person is in front of you now. It is up to the singer to integrate all the components of singing, performing and recording to reach through the tape and really connect with the listening audience.

4) The Art of Recording
Microphone selection: At the beginning of your first vocal session, line up three different mikes. Run through a verse and chorus using each, one at a time. Record as you go, onto three separate tracks, with the EQ and volume settings the same. Then go into the control room and listen back through the room monitors. From there you can make a better choice which is the right mike for you. You can also experiment with the mike at mouth level, nose or forehead level, or at jaw level tilting up to your mouth.

Microphone Technique: a) While certain live performance mike techniques also apply to recording, there is a primary difference: in the studio, mike to mouth distance remains constant and you can't touch the mike or mike stand. This added mechanical necessity should be practiced before going into the studio until you can do it and still sing emotionally. If not, trying to hold still while singing can be distracting and annoying and your performance will suffer. b) Pops and hisses on tape created by overemphasis of certain consonants can ruin professional recording attempts. To practice, think of the consonant as using the same amount of air as its neighboring vowels. Align your energy with each vowel, letting the consonants take a back seat.

Headset Mix: Headset mix and mike choice can make an incredible difference in how you perform and sound. Take the time to work with your engineer and get it adjusted right at the beginning of the vocal session. Work on it until you have absolutely no attention on the mix and can perform undistracted. On occasion, the brand of headset can cause an alteration of the natural EQ of your voice making it sound thinner, bassier, or muffled. Compare several brands of headsets. When you find one you like for its fit, weight and sound, you might invest in it and bring it to your sessions. Sometimes the problem is not the fault of the headset but the result of incorrect or nonexistent vocal warm-up and poor vocal technique creating throat muscle tension and incorrect vibration of the voice.

Signal Effects: The main signal processing used in headset mixes is EQ, compression, reverb and possibly digital delay. These effects should not be recorded onto tape but can be added during the mix. If used properly per your needs and taste, adding at least a bit of reverb and correct EQing of your voice to your headset mix can make a huge difference in how you sound to yourself and add ease to your singing. How you sound to yourself as you sing in the studio is paramount in supporting and achieving a good performance. If you don't like how you sound, you will struggle with muscular attempts to change it and your performance will be lost. (Not to mention your voice!)

Punching-In: When a portion of your vocal needs to be redone, the engineer will have you sing that section again and re-record it. When re-recording a section on the same track as your previously sung vocal "take," it is called punching or punching-in. Make sure the engineer rolls back to a phrase or two just before the place needing to be re-recorded. If there's a vocal there, sing along with it. This ensures the re-recorded part sounds natural, in context and believable.

Scheduling: If your time to record vocals is scheduled to take place when you're tired, you will have to physically push past the fatigue, risking strain and other non-optimum results. If you're trying to save money by pulling an all-nighter, take a nap and come later once the drum and guitar sounds have been set. Figure it out. You need to be at your physical best for your instrument to respond well. If you can schedule your vocals to occur on a different day than the instruments, get a rough mix of the instrumental so you can practice with it.

Stay tuned to next month's Part Three!

© 2003 Jeannie Deva. Jeannie Deva is the founder of Jeannie Deva® Voice Studios since 1978 and of The Deva Method® A Non-Classical Approach for Singers. While her private voice studio is located in Los Angeles, Jeannie maintains private clients across the country and in Europe. Author of the internationally published vocal home-study course: "The Contemporary Vocalist" book and CDs, she has been flown to recording studios internationally to handle album vocal production and has been endorsed by producers and engineers of the Rolling Stones, The Cars, Aerosmith, and many others. Clients include Grammy Award Winner Aimee Mann, Patty Griffin, Coppertree, Dar Williams, Moodcrush, members of the J. Geils band, cast of Fame, Jesus Christ Superstar and many more.

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