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One of the biggest learning experiences music producers can have is working with a vocalist! It can be challenging, exciting, nerve-wrecking, confusing, and most importantly… career changing!

It can seem a little scary going into it for the first time, or even after a dozen times, because you never really know what you’re going to get out of it. Sometimes it works out great, other times you wish you never even contacted them.

We want you to have positive experiences working with vocalists because it can change your career for the better. If you want to network and work with big names in the music industry, you should start to refine this skill set!

Here are seven tips you can take with you the next time you’re in the studio with a vocalist:

1. Keep Their Confidence Levels High

Like most, musicians perform better when they’re feeling confident. If they feel uncomfortable, unsure of the process, or cannot get along with you, they won’t be able to perform at their best.

So, have a conversation first! It’s important to get to know your vocalist a little bit. Have a conversation before you start recording and develop a comfort level.. Chances are, if you create a fun atmosphere, you can create some magic.

2. Give 5-6dB of Headroom

It is 100x easier to bring up volume on vocals when they are sounding quiet vs. trying to fix distortion out of vocals that were recorded too hot.

If your vocalist is “redlining,” turn down their incoming signal and test it before you begin recording. This is an easy way to stop potential headaches down the road. The last thing you want is to ask them to re-record a magical take because you dropped the ball on your input settings.

3. Know What You Want Beforehand

Do not go into the record session blind to what you want the vocalist to do. Do not say things like “do whatever feels right.” Spend time thinking about how you want the vocals to sound on your track and bring references of other songs to use as blueprints to better explain your ideas.

4. Simple Processing While Recording

Record non-destructively. Ideally, record vocals without effects and add them in later. If the vocalist wants to hear a little compression and reverb in their headphones, use a VST effect in their feed so it can be removed after the fact.

Again, it’s easier to capture a great take and tweak post-recording than it is to try to do everything at once.

Of course, if you have a trusty compression unit you feed all your vocals through, go ahead, don’t feel like you need to change your proven process.

5. Constructive Feedback (Don’t use “but” or “I don’t like this”)

Back to point number #1, keep the confidence high!

If you’re unhappy with a certain part of the song, don’t say things like “this sucks” or “I don’t like this part.”

Instead, try using “and”, and ask the vocalist questions like, “I really like what you did here, can we try a variation on the bridge?” Or, instead of saying, “You don’t sound very good in the outro,” how about, “there’s a few sharp notes in the outro, would you rather do pitch correction or re-take the vocals?”

Give the vocalist real power in their choices. This will help you get along and produce better music.

But be sure to avoid confusion! Many managers are trained to give a compliment, offer criticism, and finish off with another compliment. This is the very definition of a “crap sandwich” and it can leave others unclear on your intentions. If in doubt, be clear and direct (e.g., “we need to retake this part”). Don’t beat around the bush.

6. Provide Lyrics

This is commonly overseen and will make your workflow much faster if you already have lyrics, or at least a blueprint ready to go. Writing quality lyrics takes time and it should be prepared beforehand so you don’t end up sitting in the studio with a pen and paper struggling to get some words down for hours. No one likes this.

Also be ready with a music stand inside the recording booth, or at the very least an easy way for the vocalist to prop up the lyrics while they’re delivering their performance.

7. Take Breaks

Like #6, this one is easily forgotten. You don’t need to grind for hours on end to feel that you’ve done a good job. The vocalist you’re working with is only human and will need to rest his or her pipes to avoid overdoing it.

Take 15 to 20 minute breaks every couple of hours or so. Breaks can sometimes lead to creative breakthroughs too!

Conclusion

Once you understand the dynamic of working with studio singers, it can be a lot of fun! It’s so inspiring to watch singers work their magic, because it’s all in real time. You get to witness true talent unfold right before your eyes.

If you haven’t worked with a singer yet, we highly recommend it. Get out there and expand your music career by collaborating with other professionals!

Nick Voorhees
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