Grammy nominated producer and mix engineer Mark Needham explains some secrets behind a great vocal take.
As a producer the most important thing that I want to get from a vocalist in the studio is “believability.”
Singers should do whatever it takes to achieve this. Do people know that you really mean those lyrics?
When the answer to that question is “yes,” you’ve done it.
There are many practical things you can do to help you get there. I encourage singers to practice with headphones.
Some singers like to sing with headphones on both ears, others with the headphones just on one ear. If you are singing with just one ear covered, you’ll want to watch out for “bleed”—sound coming out of your headphones and getting into the recording.
You simply make sure that the side not covering your ear is muffled against your head.
The main thing is to practice with headphones at home, so much so that the actual notes and techniques are afterthoughts—you can focus solely on the emotion.
Find what makes you relaxed in the studio, be it closing your eyes, singing in your underwear or setting the lighting right.
In every major studio, there is a separate headphone mixer that you can set and control yourself.
It will say “drums,” “bass,” “guitar,” “lead vocal,” “echo,” etc. You can adjust this yourself, making the sound comfortable so you can deliver a great vocal performance.
These units are affordable for home use—this gives you the opportunity to get even more comfortable with the recording environment while practicing at home.
Yet there are different ways to achieve spontaneity in the studio.
Real World Solutions
Chris Isaak was having trouble getting into one studio session and so we had him sing live in front of a pair of Yamaha HS 120-watt monitors.
We put the mic right in front of the speakers and let the bleed come in—and it was fine. Most importantly, this released his emotion.
Again, when we were recording the Hot Fuss album with The Killers, Brandon Flowers was holding an SM 58 in front of live speakers.
Then there are some things you can do to get the “mood” right—this will be different from singer to singer.
In my studio I’ve built a little vocal booth out of PVC pipes with nice curtains hanging from it.
I have a nice, soft lamp in there—enough light to see the lyrics, but not so blazing that the mood is lost.
Do whatever it takes to make that space your own.
Mark Needham is a Producer and Mix Engineer who has worked with Chris Isaak, Blondie, Shakira, Stevie Nicks, Billie Ray Cyrus, The Killers, Fleetwood Mac – and many, many more. Chris Isaak says, “If I didn’t think he (Mark Needham) was damn good I wouldn’t still be working alongside him in a studio.” Mark’s projects have received numerous Grammy nominations, Gold and Platinum RIAA awards and Top Billboard chart spots. Ronnie Vannucci of the Killers says, “Never have I seen a Mix Engineer (like Mark) ‘play’ the console just as passionately as a musician plays an instrument.” See more about Mark at www.markneedham.com