Preparation and Skill: The Key to recording a great vocal track

In my experience, there are two things that make great vocals: preparation, and skill. The key to recording a great vocal track is simply to be prepared before the session even starts, and to have adequate knowledge of your craft to get the most out of the equipment you have.

Great Vocals are a thing of the moment. The job of the engineer is to capture that moment as it happens, because it might never happen again. What do you tell the client who just recorded the vocals of their life, only to find out that you didn’t press record, or that you had the levels too high (or too low). That lost moment could mean the difference between platinum and plastic. It could also mean the loss of your client and career. A good engineer will ensure that the equipment is set up and functioning properly before the session even starts. I have seen many occasions where the first take was the best and for some it took 10takes. What ever it is, you have to be ready to capture it. Also not being prepared can often kill “the mood” of the performer. Mood is everything with artistic expression. Sound checks, to make sure a good signal is going out, and headphone checks to make sure that the performer has a good sound are all essential to getting that good vocal.

You also need to have the skill to properly operate the equipment you have so you can maximize the potential of it. However I’ve heard plenty of great vocals on less than stellar recordings. It is the ability of the vocalist to transmit the passion and emotion of the song that makes it good. One of my favorite vocals is “Minnie Riperton’s” song “Loving You” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kE0pwJ5PMDg).

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Now I swear that I’ve never saw this woman until today (when I searched for a youtube video for this discussion). However I’ve listened to this song since I was 3 years old, and I Fall in Love every time I hear her sing it. Just on hearing her performance of this song, I would swear that she was the sexiest woman on earth. My young kids even love this song. They don’t know what love is, but request it. The gear definitely is strong factor, but it’s about capturing the moment.

Gear is icing on the cake. You have to get the cake right first. However, one of the best things I ever bought for myself was a good a good Preamp. I didn’t know what I was missing until I bought one. It made me want to go back and rerecord everything I ever did. It made a true believer out of me that no matter how great your microphone is your sound will only be as good as the preamp you have to pass it through. With digital recording, a poor quality Preamp and A/D Convertor means poor quality recording. So do your music a favor and invest in a decent preamp.

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