You’d think a studio microphone was a live grenade, for the amount of fear it strikes in some singers. Especially in the recording studio.
You’re thinking about the wasted time and money of multiple takes. You’re focused on the fact that the recording HAS to be your best, because it’ll be captured forever. You’re worried what the studio engineer thinks of your voice, because surely s/he’s heard much better singers than you. You’re worried that you’ll be able to sing well in front of the studio musicians you’ve hired… or simply your bandmates, who you don’t want to let down!
Plus, the environment feels totally different than the live stage you’re used to. Where’s the energy of the crowd? How can you possibly bring in the right attitude and energy when you’re singing in a little booth, there’s no audience, and you’ve got a pop screen right in front of your face? How can you loosen up your throat, which is so tight that your voice is breaking where it doesn’t normally break any more? Why do you feel like you can’t really let loose like you do when you sing live?
There’s a lot you can do in advance, and more you can do in the studio. Here are just a few ideas.
Sing Outside the Box
Yep, literally. If you’re inside an isolation booth or singing into a corner of a room surrounded by sound dampening foam, you have to sing as if you’re outside of that box, that space. You have to sing past the wall, past the room, past the foam pads.
If you focus on the size of the small box you’re in, you’ll sing small. But if you close your eyes and visualize yourself on a big stage, like at a festival, you’ll sing big. It doesn’t matter if you visualize a real situation you’ve been in, or an imaginary dream gig, or simply imagine singing in a huge field. What matters is that you keep the image and feeling of a big physical space in your head while you sing. Get out of your box!
Record, Record, Record All the Time
Record yourself at home all the time. This way you can…
- Get used to what your voice sounds like, so you aren’t shocked (if this is one of the first times you’re hearing yourself recorded)
- Get used to the different “voices” you may have on different days, and how to shape them into the voice you want each day
- Practice singing the same way, whether there’s a microphone in front of you or not
- Learn how strong resonance affects recorded volume (and thus potential distortion)
Be Completely Prepared
Why stress yourself out by wasting time and money because YOU aren’t totally sure of the exact melody and rhythm of every single line of the song?
I sang Superstition by Stevie Wonder live for a year before I realized, while preparing for a recording session, that I didn’t know the exact pitches of a vocal lick at the end of one of the choruses. I had been fudging it the entire time. Since it ended in my low range, my voice was typically drowned out by the band before the lick was over. But in the studio recording scratch vocals, it became evident that I didn’t know exactly which pitches to sing!
Run through your songs and make sure you know exactly how everything goes. Not approximately. Exactly.
When you get stressed, your body pumps hormones into the bloodstream preparing you for self-defense. Since you don’t have any tigers to fight off in the studio, these hormones can make you shaky or tense. Get rid of them by moving around physically between takes. This can also help you get into the right mindset for the energy level of your song.
Rock? Jump up and down, shake out your arms and legs… heck, you can even leave the studio and do a quick sprint or two. Seriously, you’ll be amazed how much it helps. Slow jazz? Stretch out, touch your toes, do a couple of quick yoga poses.
Change Negative Pressure into a Positive Opportunity
It’s easy to get nervous if you see each take with a mindset of “I better get it right this time, or else I have to do it again!”
But if you think about it, live performance is MUCH more demanding. In a live situation, you truly have only ONE opportunity to sing every line. So, see the recording studio as a place where you have the opportunity to try things over and over until you get it just right.
When I pretend each take is probably going to be thrown away, there’s much more life, energy, and expression in my voice… which, of course, means that I get a good take much sooner than when I aim for the perfect take every time.
Just see each take as one more take which you’re unlikely to end up using, since you will probably do 10 or 20 or 100 more takes anyway. That takes the pressure off.
If you’d like more help on preparing to record in the studio, check out the Recording in the Studio class.
(c) 2009 Adrienne Osborn