Preparing for a vocal recording session

Natasha Burns

Natasha Burns

Preparation is key!


Learn your song. Seriously. No shortcuts. Consider all ideas from your style menu (more on that later), then commit these decisions to memory so that you’re not overthinking during your session. Be sure to practice your harmonies, BVs and ad libs before you get into the studio – these can be some of the hardest parts to nail, because you almost never perform them live! A vocal coach can really help with this if you need it. Your lyrics and stylistic choices need to become a part of you in order for you to connect with the text and perform effectively. It’s really easy to lose the sense of performance when recording. By rehearsing inside out and back to front, you should be able to lose yourself in the music, just like Eminem said…

Be prepared!

Yes in more ways than rehearsal!

Rest the night before your session. Don’t go out the night before, and avoid gigging too. Remember your warm ups. Personalised exercises to get the best out of your technique can come from an experienced vocal coach, but for some general hints and tips, check here.

Be open to having every detail of your vocal delivery and arrangement addressed, reworked and perfected.

Be willing to allow mistakes to happen. Don’t abandon your technique, of course! If you’ve done your preparation, you should be able to tap into the soul of the song. Trust your producer and/or engineer to get what they need.

Speaking of which, be sure to ask for whatever you need in your headphone mix – enjoy your voice!

So what’s a style menu?

An idea coined by Kaya Herstad-Carney and I love it! I really love the idea of picking a bit of this and a bit of that from an extensive menu in order to have the tastiest, most fulfilling experience! Some, like Joshua Alamu, prefer to use a laboratory analogy, but a menu is my preference…maybe I like food?! Here is Kaya’s infographic to explain:

Contemplating lots of these are the things that set a really well prepared singer apart from the rest. Take I can’t feel my face by The Weeknd:

The vocals in the opening verse and pre chorus have a very funky Michael Jackson vibe, with some scoops, and slide on and off notes, as well as some breathy offsets to break up the sound. Additionally, it has a syncopated, ‘in the pocket’ rhythmic quality, particularly in the verse. The chorus contrasts completely with the verse –  it has a more hazy, lazy quality. The tone quality and note choice of the word ‘you’ is something really to note – a deliberately out of tune ‘blue’ note. The rhythm and syllabic placement is much less syncopated – all about that catchy, easy to sing chorus!

As an aside, I could chat to you for hours about The Weeknd’s vocal delivery, so hit me up for a geeky chat!

Two final thoughts:

Don’t be afraid of studio magic! Stuff like Melodyne, comping, double tracking, effects are totally standard across the industry these days. It’s a bit weird the first few times, but you’ll get used to it.

Don’t forget to breathe and enjoy the experience. We are the lucky ones, right?!

Natasha Burns

Natasha Burns

Natasha is a music teacher and performance coach with over a decade of experience in the industry.

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