Avoid this common mistake when recording vocals

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Most vocalists are horrified when it comes to recording vocals. When did vocal recording become so repulsive? Wouldn’t it be awesome if you too could be positively excited about recording vocals in an enjoyable session and be satisfied with the result? I will give you an important tip how to avoid this common mistake when recording vocals. This writing will help you as a vocalist and a recording engineer.

Avoid this common mistake when recording vocals

My 25 years of professional sound engineering includes a great variety of both the vocalists and vocal recording experiences. I think experience is the biggest factor that leads to improved recording quality. A qualified massager can see the signs of which muscle is jammed by simply watching a person walk into the parlour. The experience tells where to start the treatment even without touching the patient. An experienced tv host feels right at home in front of the camera, while a green horn gets his feet wet and starts to stutter.

With the experience of over 1.000 vocal recording sessions I feel I can help you towards an improved result. You will find lots of cool tips from my Better Vocal Recording blog post that you can read here. Yet, on this blog post I will not go thru all those tips again. We will now concentrate on an important tip that will help every vocalist not only to improve the recording quality but also the recording experience.

Read more: Better Vocal Recording pt. 1

Vocal recording
Alexi Laiho recording vocals through Neumann U67 tube mic for Children Of Bodom in Astia-studio A early 2000’s.

“Can we do one word at a time?”

I have faced a peculiar situation on few sessions when the vocalist has demanded to record the vocal track one word at a time. Nowadays I definitely would not agree to do so. Yet, I value such experience as I can share it with you here on my blog. Just to make sure; when it comes to vocals I do not recommend recording each word separately.

Even though such experimenting might on some strange occasion sound even a bit tempting, it will make the vocal track sound unnatural in a very negative way. Recording each word separately makes it next to impossible to keep the tone, possible pitch, emotion, intensity and approximately 10 other small nuances solid. This activity is far from natural and makes it difficult to listen to. Unless you like experimenting and spending a long time recording a short part, I definitely do not recommend this way of tracking.

“How about a line at a time?”

This is something I used to do a lot. And I still might apply if some unfortunate punk has filled the song with continuous lyrics and left no breathing breaks at all. In such situation the last straw is to record a line at a time. Under normal circumstances I do not recommend using this method. When you fill the song with nonstop vocals, how will you manage the live shows? Will someone else sing the other half or will you just leave those parts silent? When you find yourself in this situation someone hasn’t done a good job at all with the pre-production. By putting more focus on the pre-production you can easily avoid such a pitfall. I know it because there has been times when I haven’t done a proper pre-production.

If you end up in a situation where recording one line at a time is the only option, I recommend singing at least the whole part with the uneven lines first. Then record the even lines to another track. You’ll get a much better result when you sing the whole song from the beginning to end on one go and leave out the even lines on the busy part. Then record the remaining parts on another track on one go. Do that with emotion, sing every word from the bottom of your heart and it will sound awesome!

Recording vocals
Hannu Lepola from Rajaton vocal group recording vocals in Astia-studio A vocal booth in 2018.

The importance of a pause

There are not many music lovers who love to listen a nonstop vocal track thru-out the song. Let’s take a cool vocal and piano solo example from an album that spent 741 weeks nonstop on the Billboard 200 list. Please take the time and check out the documentary about this classic. I am of course referring to the brilliant Classic Albums series of the Pink Floyd‘s epic Dark Side Of The Moon episode. The bass player Roger Waters speaks the words of wisdom when describing the vocals on the soothing Us And Them. Both the vocals and piano solo leave a lot of room which fits the song perfectly.

What’s good about the writing of this song, from my point of view, is the leaving of the gaps for the repeat echo.
–Roger Waters / Pink Floyd

You can listen Us And Them song here. Or better yet, by listening the song with full analog signal chain vinyl you too might get goosebumps and teary eyes. Getting the same reaction from the streaming service is very rare. Yet without the A/D and D/A conversion it’s much more common. If music doesn’t give you chills, the fault might not be with you but with the format you listen the music from…

Read more: Vinyl Records And How To Improve Enjoying Music

So do not fill every inch of the song with text. A pause is as important as a note.

The lyrics and something to say

For the vast majority the lyric writing is usually completed last. What if you would try the classic album way of writing and start by completing the lyrics first? This way you can compose the melody and chord progression to support your text. This method will bring a whole new way of making music and it’s another great way to stand out from the masses!

Yes, in a way it’s true that nearly everything has been said already. But this does not mean that you can sing nonsense. If you do not have anything to say, it’s better to stay silent. Always write the lyrics straight from the heart. Do not fear to be honest and as a matter of fact don’t be anything but honest! The listener is touched by your honesty and genuinity.

Lauri Penttilä vocal session for Horna Hiidentorni
Nazgul von Armageddon (Lauri “Werwolf” Penttilä) recording vocals for the Horna band debut album in Astia-studio late 90’s.

How to get the best result when recording vocals?

You should avoid this common mistake when recording vocals; do not record one word or a line at a time. Rehearse your parts before the recording and capture the lead vocal track on one take. Reserve the time to get into the correct state of mind before the recording starts. You should turn off all the distractions including the mobile phone always when in studio.

After testing nearly all possible variations when it comes to vocal recording, I highly recommend you to record one solid take from beginning to end. When compared to recording each word separately, this variant sounds a lot more solid and uniform. Get into the correct emotional state that fits the text and the mood of the song. This will help you capture awesome results.

Various ways to record vocals

Here is a list of some of the variations we have used when trying to improve vocal recording:

  • vocalist sings while standing
  • vocalist sings while sitting
  • vocalist sings while laying on a sofa
  • vocalist sings while sober
  • vocalist sings while drunk
  • vocalist sings in the morning
  • vocalist sings during the day
  • vocalist sings in the evening
  • vocalist sings at night
  • vocalist sings one word at a time
  • vocalist sings one line at a time
  • vocalist sings the whole song on one take
  • vocalist sings while the recording engineer is recording and no-one else is present
  • vocalist sings while the recording engineer is recording and the studio is full of people
  • vocalist sings to a microphone that’s on a stand
  • vocalist sings to a handheld microphone
  • vocalist sings inside the studio
  • vocalist sings outside the studio on the yard
  • vocalist sings with clothes on
  • vocalist sings naked
  • guitar player is naked in the control room while the vocalist sings
  • guitar player stands on his head in the control room while the vocalist sings
  • everyone in studio has their clothes on
  • everyone in studio including the vocalist and recording engineer are naked during recording

Genuine emotion during vocal tracking

Before recording you should get into the correct state of mind for the lyrics. Sometimes when the song needs energy and aggression I have commanded the vocalist to run three times around the studio building as fast as possible. When the vocalist returns to the vocal booth, I press record and we capture genuine true live energy!

Every song and sometimes each line should be sang to the person you wrote the text to. You should enter the emotional state you were in when you wrote the lyrics. The most important thing is to mean every word you say. If you don’t believe in yourself, no-one else will either. So always believe in yourself – be genuine and honest!

Vocal recording
Jarkko Ahola recording vocals for the Teräsbetoni band platinum-selling debut album Metallitotuus in Astia-studio A in 2005.

How to improve vocal recording

Thank you very much for reading my tip on how to avoid a common mistake when recording vocals. From the bottom of my heart I hope you will start using my tips as during the years I have found these to work the best.

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I cannot wait to reply your questions and comments so please do leave them below. To hear your vocals in great detail, reserve a tape recording session with me at Astia-studio by clicking here. Thank you very much and all the very best!

Astia-studio is a full analog recording studio located in eastern Finland with 25 years of experience. Bands and artists from all over the world including USA and the furthest corner of Russia, Vladivostok have arrived to us for tape recording sessions.

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