Ellie had written and produced a ‘club’ dance track with a fantasy vibe and it was time to record her lead vocal in the studio. After two unsuccessful attempts she became very nervous about trying again.
She had never invested so much time and energy on music before and her previous studio experiences had been quite negative – singing for young and inexperienced producers and under time pressure with poor facilities.
Ellie asked me to be with her in the studio as a coach during her performance as it meant a great deal to her to get it right.
After a warm up and a run through of the song it was apparent that Ellie was not at all at ease.
Her pitching was inaccurate and her voice quality was thin and breathless; she was visibly shaking and close to tears.
I encouraged her to call the session to a halt. We sat down and identified three things that needed to be done to make the studio session a success:
Experiment With Headphone Balance
One of the issues Ellie had was that she was hearing low volume in the track as well as a ‘dry’ vocal when what she really needed was more background volume to help her intonation and some reverb.
New studio singers often require reverb to feel their ‘vibe’ on the headphones. She had little idea of how to ask for the correct balance in her headphones and her whole audio experience was flawed due to nerves.
We sat down with the engineer. He was relatively young but fortunately very intelligent and experienced and he supported the conversation. It turned out that this was a vital component of the session as part of the issue was also that Ellie feared she was ‘taking too long’ to get herself ready to record a take.
We agreed to re-schedule and Ellie booked a short group of sessions.
It would be great if others around us created a sense of calm that would help release our singing voice; and in many places this is the case.
However, ultimate we need to do this for ourselves… there are three exercises that I ran through with Ellie and they will work with most young singers as relaxing / resonating facilitators.
At our next session I began with floor work so that she could return to basics about breathing and relaxing her abdomen.
Ellie slowed her breathing down and allowed her body weight to increase on exhalation.
She added a relaxed blown ‘v’ shape to the outward breath.
Finally, she sang simple ascending tones on alternating ‘eh’ and ‘ah’ shapes and explored placing the sound in different areas – during this work she found some very rich resonance.
The following week we took this floor work into the live room of the studio and brought the mic and headphones out of the booth into the open space. I set up a 3-way communication with the mic and headsets – the engineer, Ellie and myself.
Ellie lay down and worked through the track with some very basic ‘one tone’ improvised singing. She liked the sounds she heard and this encouraged her; she relaxed and her confidence grew so much that she simply opened up; I spoke with the engineer about what he could hear and how he could encourage these sounds.
Experimenting With Audio
We played (the three of us) with levels of reverb, variations in volume on the backing track etc and before long, Ellie was chatting to the engineer with a newfound confidence; over a couple of sessions, she began to appreciate his role and his requirements. She learned to decide whether she wanted to hear herself or do another take (recording) first; she also learned to ask for different qualities of sound.
She could begin to discern exactly where and why she was happy or not with her vocal quality and she was able to recognize when she needed to do appropriate stretches and warming exercises during the recording.
After three weeks of workshops in the studio, Ellie became very relaxed and recorded a couple of beautiful takes!
Many young singers don’t appreciate how much skill is required to produce a relaxed and convincing performance in the vocal booth; much of the work is related to the singer’s ability to respond to the engineer / producer and to be open and communicative as opposed to feeling ‘got at’.
Overcoming this barrier takes time and there’s no point in rushing a singer into a space that feels alien and cold; they need to learn the language of the studio.