The studio can be a scary place for singers, even for seasoned performers that are used to playing in loud bars to strangers on the regular. If you haven’t had practice recording yourself singing, it can be nerve-wracking. Today we’re going to explore some reasons why singing in a can is different than singing live and some tips you can use to make sure you nail your session and give your best performance.
- You’re not used to singing without your instrument/band playing. This one was hard for me to get used to. For those of us that consider ourselves less of a singer than say a guitarist or pianist that also sings, not having the comfort of our instrument to hide behind can make us feel very exposed. All you have to work with is what’s coming through your headphones! You might not know what to do with your hands (please don’t try to grab the microphones in the booth) or maybe you really thrive off the energy from a live audience, and they’re not there!
If you’re the fidgety instrumentalist type, it’ll take some time, but practice singing A capella in the mirror at home. This is a common technique that many vocal teachers will have you do for various posture and performance reasons, but it will also help you get used to singing without an instrument to play. Try practicing a song or two with your band without playing your instrument if you can. There’s no way to get that happening without just doing it. It could also be a nice change of dynamic in your set to have a song that you only sing with another member accompanying you!
For those of you that feel you need an audience to really give a good performance, try bringing a couple people into the studio that you know will give you plenty of encouragement as you’re in the booth. Ideally your producer, engineer, and band members can help fulfill this role. I know it might seem narcissistic, but it’s more than ok to tell them ahead of time to give you some cheerleading, and that this is something that will help you perform better. They want you to give the best you can too!
- It feels dead and lifeless in the booth. This is a tough one. The reality is that you’re in a small room that has no reflections, separated from the other people you’re working with, and it’s easy to get in your own head. You don’t feel like you can “feel” the music with just the headphones on and your parts are suffering for it.
Make sure to take the time to get the right headphone mix for each song. You should hear yourself enough to sing in pitch and with good timing without hearing too much of your voice and losing context for the song, and also be able to hear the track enough to get into the music but not overpower your voice or get bleed from your headphones into the mic.
If you feel like your voice sounds dead, try asking for a little reverb in your monitors, not too much, because that can mask imperfections in your performance, but a little bit can really help some singers nail the song.
The only other solution for this unfortunately is experience. The more vocal sessions you do the better and more comfortable you will be.
- Your voice wears out too quickly. Recording sessions can take a while, and most voices are not able to sing for 6 hours straight. Vocal fatigue is common in studio sessions but can be easily prevented.
Take some singing lessons and learn some ways to train your voice for endurance. It’s best to learn this sort of thing from someone experienced so that you don’t hurt your voice, and I can tell you that this kind of work takes time. We’ve all heard stories of singers that blow their vocal chords due to improper technique and a grueling touring schedule.
If you know you have a lot of singing to do in the studio, practice at home as much as you can! Try to get the takes you want in the studio in as little takes as possible to improve and maximize what you can accomplish during your session. Also make sure to take breaks frequently and see if there’s other things you can work on while you give your voice a rest between takes/songs. Instead of an 8 hour day to finish all the vocals on your project, try booking several 2 hour sessions on different days.
- You are nervous in front of your engineer or producer. This one is common, and one that we try to work against constantly. It’s one thing to have someone at a show listen to you sing, but having a professional musician scrutinize your singing in a time sensitive situation where money is on the line can be stressful of course.
Your engineer is working for you. Your producer is working for you. Our business as producers and engineers is built on word of mouth and good work, so believe me that they want you to succeed as much as you do. There is no need to feel embarrassed, they’ve heard tons of bad takes, hiccups, voice cracks, belches, lip noise, and pitch imperfections, and they don’t think any less of you for it. Just focus on making good music, and lean on their expertise and guidance. If this is an issue for you, try meeting up with them before your session if they are available and get to know them a little.
These are only a few things to scratch the surface, if you want to hear from another perspective check out this video of Betty Jaeger talking about preparing for a studio session as a vocalist. Good luck on your next session!