Vocal Techniques in the Studio

Cheryl B. Engelhardt
A free video tutorial from Cheryl B. Engelhardt
Music Biz & Branding Consultant | Composer | Songwriter
4.0 instructor rating • 4 courses • 3,964 students

Lecture description

The first chapter of this course explores different vocal techniques available for use while producing a song. Chest voice and head voice (falsetto), and when to use them throughout the song are a few of the topics covered.

Learn more from the full course

Vocal Recording: A Complete Production Guide

Go beyond simple tips and dig into the start-to-finish process of creating, recording & mixing hit sounding vocals!

02:02:38 of on-demand video • Updated December 2013

  • In this course you will be able to arrange great background vocals
  • You will be able to choose the proper singing technique needed for the song
  • You will be able to place and feel comfortable in front of a microphone and pop screen
  • You will be able to connect with the singer and the singer with the engineer on a creative level
  • You will be able to create a clean and organized vocal session in whatever recording software you use
  • You will be able to choose when to stack vocals
  • You will be able to make composite tracks and tune vocal tracks
  • You will be able to add effects like EQ, compressors, reverb, and set up busses and auxiliary tracks and understand why
  • You will be able to record and mix HIT sounding vocals!
English [Auto] So now you're getting ready to sing your song. And I just want to go over a couple quick vocal techniques that you can use as tools to help you get across exactly what you want to say in your vocal performance and in the song. So the first step to doing that is to get really clear on what the lyrics are. I like to do this with the engineer in the room so that he can coach me through the recording process and remind me where I'm coming from and what the intention of the words are. So the way I do this is first thing I like to do is to read through the lyrics as if I'm saying them to some to someone. And what those what the emotions are behind the words How was I feeling when I wrote the song was I angry was I inspired or was I in love. Who was I thinking about. What was the moment that triggered that song to be created. So once you get clear on all the different emotions that are there for you in the lyrics being able to ask those out and perform those so that your audience and your listeners really get that emotion that's what's going to make that connection. So doing that with the engineer is a great way to get vulnerable. There are going to be hearing you hearing the mistakes hearing everything that you do. So that's a great way to increase the relationship productivity in the in the room. It's really good energy to sort of get together on what the song is about. In the example of steaming hearts which you'll hear a little bit later the beginning part was just lyrics just a poem I was writing when I was really angry and it turned into a melody in my head I didn't even have a chorus I didn't have a whole big idea I just was writing words. And when I went to record the final song months after it finally got written I remembered those initial chicken scratch writing and so angry emotions and was able to get that kind of performance out. So that's the first thing really get clear on what the lyrics are to you and what you want them to say. The second thing is to figure out what kind of vocal techniques you're going to use you have varying degrees of strength as a vocalist. A lot of singers know about this but I'll just quickly go over you have your chest voice which is a really comfortable place to sing it's what we call belting. You're using all of the power that you have to get the loudest sound possible. When you go higher in range you know singing notes that are higher you reach a break and that's sometimes where people tend to crack if they don't have enough air pushing behind the notes. And then after that you have your head voice. And for guys this is where falsetto happens and the head voice takes a lot more air to get out a powerful sound. It's possible for people to belt in their head voice range but it's usually a place where you're going to be doing vocal flourishes or embellishments. It's also a place where you can get really vulnerable because it is a softer little bit weaker place in the vocal range. So for me my my head voice is it sounds like this and my chest voice it sounds like this. And it's you know a little more a little more brash. So you'll hear both of those in the examples that we deal with later. But it's good to know which technique you want to use where the range of the songs that you wrote or your co-writer wrote so that you are aware of how you're going to sing that when you get to the microphone and you can prepare and breathe the right way. If you're very lucky like I am I get to work with an engineer who is great working with singers and knows how to coach through breathing so that you can really focus on the performance so if you're lucky enough to work with someone like that and take advantage of it. So the next thing after thinking about which vocal range and style you're going to be singing in is to get in front of the microphone and get really comfortable. Right now you just need to know that the microphone is your friends. And don't be shy in front of the microphone. I usually use a pop screen the screen prevents loud sounds from getting through the microphone. And that's more of an engineering conversation so I'll leave that to Enrico the pop screen is not always necessary but it's almost always necessary. It saves your microphone from you know spitting and all that you know your microphone will have a longer life and a lot of words like BS and BS. They they the singer blows wind out of their mouths and the wind moves the capsule of the microphone at a very slow frequency. And that actually turns into a low frequency recording a rumble you know pop. That's why it's called pop filter. So Bob filters with quality are not supposed to take away high frequencies and detail out of the vocal sound but they do filter that wind especially when the singer's closing is singing close to the mike. If you're recording like three four five ten singers with one Mike far away you'll never get that that's you know pop futures are used for close miking situations right now just know you have the pop screen and then you have the microphone and the microphone is your friend. It's going to take exactly what you want to say and send it to all the listeners eventually. So when you're using a pop screen give it a little bit of room between the microphone and the pop screen. And then another inch or two depending on how quiet you're going to be singing. You don't really have to worry about the loudness. If you go from quiet to loud that's something the engineers going to be worrying about with compression settings and the gear that he or she is using. So just get really close. They'll tell you what to do just trust them they know what they're doing. As you get really close to the microphone Don't be intimidated by all the stuff in your face. Sometimes I can get in the way of the vulnerability of the intimacy that you're trying to create with your vocal. So just make sure you just get right there and just know that this is this is how it's supposed to be and you're doing everything right. When you are doing group songs which sometimes happens for background vocals if you're creating background vocals and you want a lot of people to sing them at once like a big chorus even if it's more than two people or just three or four people I often don't use the pop screen. A lot of times you'll have people standing around the microphone and you won't need to be worrying about the Pops that happen when you're really up close to your face. But that's the only time I really don't use a pop screen as if I'm doing snaps or anything else where I'm not being really close but all lead vocals I usually use the pop screen. After you get set up with your microphone and your pop screen it's all about you being comfortable. Are you warmed up. Are you hydrated. Are the lights is everything around you as comfortable as can be and in line with the energy of the song if you're doing a really happy upbeat song you may not want the candles and the dark lights you may want that bright light energy because that's what you're trying to portray. So if as long as you're comfortable and you're prepared and you know what you want to say and how you want to say it you're going to be fine. So when you're doing your lead vocal you want to be straight on not like background vocals sometimes background vocals because you're creating this big airy sound you're going to turn slightly from the microphone center so that you can get a little bit more of the air without worrying about distorting the microphone. But we'll get into that later. Enrica will explain that. So making the microphone and the pop screen your friend you're going to get that really intimate connection with the microphone and therefore your listeners and it's going to help you tell your story better. The more comfortable you are in front of the microphone. Sometimes when I'm singing about someone or about a specific moment I even get right up in there and pretend that someone's about to kiss me and that tapping the microphone and it's really it's kind of a special experience that you can create in this setting right here that you got to just don't be afraid of it when you record a singer setting you up is amazingly important. Cheryl was very clear about you know how how the mood and the vibe is important. When you went in you know and the singers look at the microphone and being friends with the microphone or having a relationship with a microphone you don't want to the engineer does not want to destroy that vibe because that's what really gets captured. You know make sure you understand recording an artist is like taking a picture of somebody. And when you take a picture of somebody and you you just say something weird. You know the whole semblance and the whole vibe of the whole the whole way that the image talks to you may not be exciting or hot or sad or or aggressive or whatever vibe you are going for. So whatever I do going forward don't let the technology the headphones the microphone the computer get in your way of you know destroying that that that moment that the vibe that specially that singer needs to be living and experiencing listening. You know Kim's headphones never ever give headphones to the singer before you listen to them. You know the voice the levels must be nice. You know she must feel good in the room with the lights and the lights even with the candles with all that. But what she is she is hearing or if it's a he. Usually they must love what they hear and they must love their vocal sound in that in the headphones and the way the vocal sound sits in the music. So it's a matter of vocal level track level and overall headphones of volume. So working together with a singer with that vibe and getting that sound translated that vibe translate into translated through the sound into the recording. What you want to do.