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The Engineer Meets The Vocal Coach

Wes Maebe makes the case for and against a vocal coach in the studio.

What’s bugging you?

Ask any recording engineer what frustrates them in the studio and you’ll get a fabulously long list of items with varying degrees of annoyance.

Everything from dodgy wiring, ill-maintained equipment and unlabeled patch bays to buzzing instruments and unorganized band members.

One of the big peeves has to be when you’re all set to do a full on vocal session, the mic and and the Pre amp are warmed up and you’re faced with a vocalist who’s underprepared, comes in cold, went out and partied heavily the night before or simply has a bout of red light fever.

The Coach on the Couch

So, do you want a vocal coach on the studio when you’re recording?

The Case Against

Personally I don’t mind at all. But in general I’d say that it’s best to keep all distractions out of the studio environment.

When you’re laying down vocals, it’s all about you, your need to be in the zone, feel comfortable so you can put your heart and soul into the performance.

When you’re in the studio, time is money. You should come in prepared and warmed up, ready to rock.

The Case For

However, we’re all human beings and the voice is one of the most fragile and volatile of instruments.

It’s not that you can pop out to the store and buy a new set of vocal chords like a set of strings for a guitar.

Today’s time and budget constraints impose even more stress on singers.

Everything needs to be done quick, quick, quick and in many cases there’s no contingency built into the recording schedule.

You can come down with a cold, things may unfold in your personal life, etc., that can really mess things up when you get to recording.

The bottom line of it is that we need to get the job done and it’s going to be a case of “whatever it takes”.

And sometimes it takes a coach in the studio.

Studio Life – The Real Story

Generally you’d have your coaching sessions built around your production schedule, but in panic situations like these it can be amazingly supportive to have your coach in the studio.

I recently did a session at a Soho recording facility which was filmed by VoiceCouncil Magazine and the singer brought her vocal coach with her.

As it turned out it was the perfect scenario as the singer had just had a cold, didn’t have time to warm up before the session and had been a little naughty and had drank a milky drink before hand, so plenty of phlegm on the voice.

Just to make a point I requested we do a vocal take pre and post coaching and the difference was night and day.

Initially we all agreed the voice was great but a bit strained and thin –and there were a few notes we couldn’t quite reach.

After about 20 minutes of warm up exercises the progress was phenomenal.

Both singer and vocal coach were in the recording room on headphones so they could monitor where they were heading in context of he track.

We put down another take, by which time I had the coach next to me behind the desk so she could provide pointers and advice over the talkback.

That third take nailed it.

The voice had gone from a nice but rather tired voice to an open, warm and extremely soulful instrument.

In situations like these, it is definitely worth it to have your coach at hand.

Team Players

It was obvious in the example above that this works.

As with everything and everyone in the studio the coach needs to be a team player.

I’ve been in situations where the coach halts all proceedings because he/she only work in certain ways and refuses to deviate from that.

In the studio we need to be able to get on with work and we all need to be flexible in order to get the music down.

The coach is there to be relieve us all from a stressful situation, not add to it.

Relax, have fun and sing your heart out – coach or no coach.

  • I think it is great to always remind singers about vocal health before they enter the studio.  Drinking a lot of fluids, avoiding sugary and dairy drinks, and eating a light meal before will all help.  Also, if possible, schedule vocal sessions later in the day, as the voice often sounds better later in the afternoon.