Recording Vocals | Start With the Singer

Aug 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Mike Levine



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Marcella Araica finds that giving an artist a handheld mic to use, like a Shure SM58, can sometimes do wonders to get a great performance.

Marcella Araica finds that giving an artist a handheld mic to use, like a Shure SM58, can sometimes do wonders to get a great performance.

Everyone agrees that making the singer comfortable goes a long way toward getting a great performance. So part of your pre-session preparation should include learning what kind of environment the singer likes and tailoring the lighting and vibe of your studio accordingly. Low lights and even candles are often used to set the mood. You might even run into the occasional singer whose comfort zone is decidedly non-standard. “Some artists want to sing in pitch black, where they turn all the lights out,” says Araica. “That’s their choice.”

You can also help by keeping the temperature in the vocal booth or live room warm. “You don’t want your vocalist to be freezing,” Araica says. “I think most professional singers understand the importance of keeping their body temperature warm.” She also recommends having room-temperature water available, which will refresh the singer but won’t tighten up their vocal chords as colder drinks can sometimes do.

Producer/engineer Dave Brainard (Jerrod Niemann, Jamey Johnson, Brandy Clark and others) attributes some of his success with vocalists to the relaxed feeling of his Nashville project studio. “It’s got a great vibe,” he says. “We’ve got a coffee machine, and we’ve got wine or beer available. It is a comfort thing. People come up here and they feel comfortable.”

Hamilton contends that the most important factor for bolstering singers’ confidence in the studio is to make them feel that you’ve got things totally in control on the technical side. “It starts with the comfort factor. Just sort of exuding a confidence that I’m grabbing whatever you’re throwing at me in a way that’s flattering,” he says. “Like if you’re sitting next to someone on an airplane who isn’t freaked out by turbulence, you sort of read their body language, and you’re like, ‘Oh cool, we’re not going to die.’ [Laughs] Like this guy has seen this 1,000 times and he’s not freaking out, so I guess I can chill.”

Araica will sometimes use what some might consider an unlikely technique, at least from a studio standpoint: She’ll have the vocalist sing into a handheld Shure SM58. While it can’t compare sonically to expensive studio condensers, the added level of confidence some artists get from holding a stage mic makes all the difference for Araica. “You can get a better performance out of an artist when they’re in the mindset that they’re on that stage or they’re rehearsing the song,” she says. “It’s my favorite mic to use. I can’t use it on everything, but on certain singers I love it, and they know how to open that mic.”

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