Mary Carewe tells us what it takes to capture your listeners with your voice alone without relying on technology.
Mary’s vocals have featured on the classical chart topping ADIEMUS recording and has recorded solo pieces for EMI and Universal. Her vocals were even sampled for techno track XTAL by Aphex Twin.
Mary explains the delicate balance between recording perfect takes whilst embracing your humanness.
1. Singing on stage vs. singing in the studio
The most obvious difference between recording in the studio and performing live is that you record a performance for posterity and a live performance is for the moment.
When you sing live the audience see your physicality and what they respond to is not just the aural experience but also the visual – they watch your face, your body movements, the way you interact with the others on stage – plus there’s the atmosphere, the lights, the adrenaline! You may get a bit carried away with the energy sometimes and over sing.
In the recording studio, you are making a recording that will be listened to over and over again – and that you will hear repeatedly – so it needs to be something that you and your producer are entirely happy with.
That doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be technically perfect but you don’t want imperfections that make you or others uncomfortable!
The thing that is even more important though is that you have to engage the audience with your voice alone. You have to ‘capture’ the listener’s attention from the first note and then you have to keep them with you to the very end.
You also have to make the performance sound as if it’s spontaneous and fresh and not something you have worked on for several hours. That takes a lot of energy and concentration and some people may find the process boring. But you can never sound bored or tired or as if you just ‘dialled it in’ because no one will give a damn about it if you do!
2. When to re-take and when to autotune
When I am recording a lead vocal I never want to leave the studio without having made sure that I like the way the final vocal will be put together.
I am in favour of ‘dropping in’, to use a phrase from the days of tape recording, so that you know each phrase matches the one before in level and emotional energy.
I would say it’s lazy to simply record 10 takes of the vocal and then leave the engineer or producer to go through the takes and ‘comp’ it together by picking words and phrases from each of those takes to create a totally new vocal.
You can guarantee in that scenario that the way they finally put it together you won’t like – or that they will find there is one phrase you just never sang right and will have to spend hours working on it using computer technology!
As for autotune – well, I like a voice to sound human but there are odd times when you have done a great bit of vocal and the feel is fab but there’s a tiny bit of tuning that you can’t live with…in that case I will ask the engineer to see if it can be corrected. If it can’t without sounding fake then I will redo the phrase.
3. Don’t rely on technology
I think singers should remember that whilst there is a lot that can be done on computers to make a vocal in tune and in time, the work needed to make a ‘bad’ vocal sound ‘good’ is enormous and it takes a huge amount of time and effort for the poor engineer!
It is so much better to be really self-critical and put your energy into making the vocal sound fantastic at the start – then it’s something you can be proud of. The producer will be delighted and the engineer can spend time on making the track sound as fabulous as your vocal.
My Reaction to This Week's Singing Competition Entry
Asha Fletcher-Peters - Lovely Bones
This is a really atmospheric song. It seems to me from this clip that you have a lot of very creative ideas. Your voice is good, though as yet not completely in your control – the ‘operatic line’ shows that you will benefit from learning more about connecting your voice to your breath and support – that’s the reason why the line isn’t quite as smooth as it could be. However, it’s a great sound. That lack of breath control is also clear in the lead vocal (eg at 0.55-58 where the pitch and tone go a bit off at the ends of the lines) but you obviously have a voice with real potential. I would love to hear this again in a couple of years time when perhaps you have had some more technical singing lessons. Great stuff!
Mary has long been established as one of the UK’s most in demand and versatile vocalists. Her experience includes work as an international concert soloist as well as a highly regarded session singer. Her vocals feature on the classical chart-topping ADIEMUS recordings and she is sampled on the Aphex Twin track XTAL. She has sung BVs for artists including Steps, Westlife, Pulp and Joe Cocker, on numerous Hollywood film soundtracks such as Dr Strange, The Hobbit, Pirates Of The Caribbean and Disney’s Beauty And The Beast, TV shows like Pop Idol, Stars In Their Eyes, French And Saunders and Benidorm, and many TV and radio jingles most notably ‘Autoglass’ for which she apologises! As a soloist, Mary has recorded film music, theatre songs and classic pop repertoire for releases by EMI, Universal and Readers Digest and she performs around the world with orchestras in iconic venues such as Carnegie Hall and the Royal Albert Hall. www.marycarewe.com