Getting a great vocal take comes from having a comfortable vocalist, and most of the time it’s the little things and attention to detail that counts the most. Here’s a checklist from my Music Producer’s Handbook to follow before vocal recording that will help make sure your singer is as comfortable as possible to enable a great performance.
☐ Would a handheld mic work better? Some singers aren’t comfortable unless they feel as though they’re on stage. Give him or her an SM58 and don’t worry about the sound. A great performance beats a great sound any day.
☐ Is the headphone mix at the correct level? If the track is too loud, the vocalist may sing sharp or too hard. If the track is too soft, the singer may not sing aggressively enough.
☐ Is the room ambience conducive to evoking a good vocal? Are the lights too bright? Does the singer feel claustrophobic?
☐ Is the sound of the headphones conducive to producing a good vocal? A touch of reverb or delay in the headphones can help the singer feel more comfortable with the headphones mix.
☐ Did you explain to the vocalist exactly what you need or where he or she was wrong? If the take wasn’t good for whatever reason, explain what was wrong in a kind and gentle way. Something like “That was really good, but I think you can do it even better. The pitch was a little sharp.”
☐ Does the singer have the three Ps: pitch, pocket, and passion? A great vocal needs all three.
☐ Do you have the studio talkback mic on? If musicians are tracking with the vocal, can you hear them at all times between takes?
☐ Do you have the control room talkback mic always on? Can the vocalist hear you at all times in between takes? Periods of silence can be a mood killer.
You can read more from The Music Producer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.