Vocal technique is one of those subjects that singers either get really excited about when someone wants to discuss it or their eyes glaze over and their mind wanders… there really isn’t an in-between.
But as producers and engineers, we should care about how the singers we’re working with address their vocal technique – especially in genres that are harsh on a singer’s vocal cords.
Good vocal technique has a ton of benefits in the studio, just a few of which I want to cover here today. When a singer has good technique, they can sing with more power, with better consistency, and with more stamina – all translating to better recordings and sessions in general. There’s little that can derail a studio session as quickly as a singer who’s blown out their voice, which is why we want to avoid getting to that point as much as possible.
A great vocal coach can offer a lot more advice here than I can, but over the years I’ve picked up a few of the best tips for keeping a singer’s voice in tip-top shape in the studio. For starters, warming up before the session is key.
Don’t throw your singer right into the booth when they show up. Give them a chance to run through some exercises while you’re getting set up. Each singer will have their own warm up approach from scales to simply rehearsing the part they're about to sing. The key is to keep them loose and not give it their all until you’re ready to hit that record button.
Another huge aspect of a singer’s longevity is hydration. Drinks like coffee, soda & energy drinks can have a much more significant impact on a singer’s range, often causing them to push harder for a sound.
Surprisingly, even water can adversely affect a singer’s performance. Ice-cold water will cause their throat to tighten and constrict their vocal cords.
The best thing you can keep on hand in the studio for a singer is some room temperature bottled water. Room temperature water doesn’t shock the system like other drinks and keeps the vocal cords well lubricated so those hard-to-reach notes can be achieved more easily.
What’s Considered “Good” Vocal Technique?
Once your singer is warmed up, identifying good habits and vocal technique can help extend your sessions and improve the results you’re getting.
For starters, proper vocal technique requires good posture and a singer’s ability to “sing from their diaphragm”. This is common advice among vocal coaches and something that can take a lot of practice to achieve. The advice is sound though – by singing from the diaphragm instead of the throat or head, singers can better control the air being pushed through their vocal cords.
Beyond that, proper vocal technique also means properly singing into the microphone. Don’t scoff if that seems like common sense – there are plenty of singers that have trouble doing it.
Singing into a microphone means maintaining a consistent angle and distance from the mic. While moving back and forth to naturally compress their voice when they get louder is a great advanced technique, movement generally results in a less consistent sound.
So how can you help this?
For starters, give your singer a well-lit room if they’re reading lyrics. Place the microphone at an appropriate height and distance from the singer. Slightly above their mouth or nose can encourage them to tilt their head back a bit as they sing and subtly promotes good singing technique.
When set up just right, you can get incredibly clear, consistent & powerful results like in this example from Skyharbor’s Eric Emery:
As you can see, Eric maintains control over his voice and demonstrates great technique throughout his performance. His band’s music highlights what kind of results can be achieved when you actively work on your technique and develop good habits.
Pairing Vocal Technique With Vocal Production
When you’ve got a great singer with amazing topline melodies, stacked vocal harmonies, and the right production behind it, you’ve got a recipe for success in any genre.
As an engineer or producer, having the ability to contribute in a way that a vocal producer would traditionally can really help flesh out some of these aspects of a song when paired with the right voice. To learn more, check out our eBook, The Ultimate Vocal Producer’s Handbook.