How to practice singing and do vocal recordings

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I get many questions of how to improve singing and vocal recordings. Here I’m going to share some simple tips and tricks. This tutorial will cover:

  • How to practice singing
  • How to record vocals

Practice singing

Practicing the song should be done at home and not in the studio when you pay expensive money and waste other people’s time.

If you have written the song maybe you think you already know it but my experience is that when you record the song for the first time it’s always something different from what’s on the paper or in your head.

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First of all, you have to stand up. That’s very important when singing, then you can breathe properly. You shouldn’t be too stiff while you sing. But if you dance around too much, then you lose contact with the mic. But you always sing better if you imagine that you’re performing live.

I do three things when I practice singing a new song:

  1. First thing in the practice process is to read the song. That way you can envision the lyrics in your head and see it in front of you. That will help emphasize parts of the lyrics which will make the vocals more alive.
  2. The next thing is to hum it. Both the reading and the humming, I do several times. Before you actually sing it. An alternative to humming is to sing it without consonants. “Happy birthday to you” would be “a-y i-a o ou” Both humming and singing without consonants helps you find the correct pitch.
  3. Sing it. When you sing it, then sing it from start to the end a couple of times. If you have the backing track you can practice with and without it. Practice to sing and try to hear your voice. If you have a mic you can sing in the mic with feedback in your headphones, so you hear your vocals. It’s also good to practice with mic and headphones so you’re comfortable with it when you come to the studio. If it feels awkward singing with headphones you can put one of the phones beside your ear. If some part feels difficult, practice that one separately several times. Also consider changing the lyrics if the lyrics doesn’t fit perfectly. If your’ not the songwriter that would be Ok anyhow. It’s you that going to do the job after all. Most song writers are used to that and will accept it. The lyrics should follow the rhythm of the song. See How to write your second hit song

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Recording vocals

But now you have practiced the song and it’s time to start recording it.

You will listen to the backing track in your headphones so it’s good if you have practiced that before so it doesn’t feel uncomfortable.

Use a pop killer, that’s something you should always use. It kills pops, like consonants that can be very noisy in the recording. It’s also possible to kill these pops in a filter effect afterwards but it’s better to use the pop filter.

The distance to the mic should be about 10 centimeters or 4 inches.

First thing is to sing it from start to end. You can do that two times, maybe three times. The more recorded vocals the engineer have, the easier the editing will be.

Sing the song in smaller parts

I actually want to sing the song in parts. It works for me, but if you think it’s crazy or doesn’t work for you, then at least you should sing one verse three times, and then the second verse three times, and so on. But I actually go down to phrases. Here’s How you do it: The engineer marks the bars of the phrase in the DAW. Then presses the cycle button which will make the recording make several takes after each other of that particular section. When this is done, and you have recorded the whole song in different sections, then the engineer can pick from every section the take that works the best.

Maybe you think that there will inconsistencies between these different takes. My experience is there won’t. If you’re singing the song from start to end, there may also be inconsistencies, because when you have been singing for three minutes from start to end, so you don’t sing in the same way when you begin and end.

But if you still want to sing from the beginning to the end, I would recommend you to sing verse 1, 2, 3 and then go back to verse 1 and sing that one last. Then you perhaps get that consistency anyway.

I prefer to have at least five or six takes of every part and is often the second last part that’s the best. I don’t know why, but that’s an experience I have.

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Dubs and harmonies

The engineer will make your vocals sound thicker by adding Eq, reverb, harmonies and other effects in the post production. It’s possible to do this with just one take, but it might sound better with several takes.

Dubs

A dub is a duplicate take that will make the vocals thicker and will sound like a reverb or delay. It can also be panned to the sides so your vocals will fill the room better. The dub must be aligned perfectly with the main take so it doesn’t sound like two voices. You achieve this by singing shorter parts several times as described above so each take will be similar to the others. Particularly important are consonants in the beginning and end of words that will be hard to sync. They can be edited away by the engineer, but you can also sing each word without these constants in the dub take. The word “Consonant” would be sung as “-onsonan-“

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Harmonies

Harmonies or stems can also be created from the main take by the engineer, but they will better if you sing the harmonies.

Dubs and harmonies might be used to create a backing choir sound, but it can also be more subtle and not hearable to the listener but will anyhow create a thicker sound.

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Post production

A lot of things can be done in post production. See How to mix your vocals professionally

How to practice singing and do vocal recordings
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