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Vocal Technique used in the studio (Advice Please!)

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Hi There

Well right now I'm a few weeks away from recording a song at a studio. They will present the song to me the same day/ or finish writing it the same day. I've been singing for more than 6 years, and it's my profession. Negative thoughts are surpassing me, and I'm freaking out right now! I want to go feeling confident. So if anyone can answer the questions below, then thank you sooo much! I don't want to have negative thoughts :(

- Right now I have a decent belting range. It can go up to a 'High E' (an octave higher than middle c-e). And then I can switch to head voice which goes up an octave from the High E. And my lowest, I can go lady gaga bad romance low. Is that a good range to present and have at a studio?

- About vibrato. Where are you supposed to feel it? I normally feel it in my neck, I've got a reaally loose vibrato, any tricks/ exercises on how to control it? Or develop it correctly?

- Speaking vocal terms, what are the basics that should be prepared? like the vibrato... , belting? I know feeling is the top priority! Without feeling, your just singing another song, it doesn't make it special in any sense. I'm working on feeling and character right now.

Are there any REALLY effective exercises I can use/practice for vocal techniques. Like, doing scales and solfege (Do re mi fa sol la ti do) that's effective for the range and pitch, right? Any resources where I can find examples of good scales. Cause, really, all I do is "do do do" on a 5 scale up and down.

Ack! I can't relax, I'm freaking out. One day I'm fine, then the next my mind fishes in negative thoughts. And you know what they say, your thoughts change the world you live in. =( I don't want my negative thoughts to affect my career.

Any help will do! Thank You so much!

- Sabrina :D

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If you want help to think more positive thoughts and not let your nerves get the best of you, google Mark Baxter (Steven Tyler's vocal coach). You're right about feeling being the most important part. I developed my vibrato incrementally, i.e. first I did it very slowly and tried to increase the speed until I felt it sounded decent and free. I think that many "money" notes for females tend to be in the D5 to G5 range. The F5 note seems to be common and so does the E5 (your top belt note), so you should be fine. Being slightly worried shows that you care, so that's just a good thing. Just don't freak out. For vocal program suggestions, scales, audio examples, vocal technique talk, brotherly love, bickering, madness, world peace and everything in between, surf this web site like there is no tomorrow. Good luck in the studio, Sabrina.

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I agree with Mr Bounce. It is totally unprofessional to spring the material on you on the day of recording. How young are they, anyway? Look, it's not uncommon for a band to work on a song for months before getting a chance to go in the studio but by then, they have the basic idea down and only tweak it here and there. Per David Lee Roth, you have to train your voice for the songs you are going to do in the set. The same goes with recording.

I'm trying so hard to be nice but who's idea was it to not rehearse or get familiar with the music until the moment of recording? No one, and I mean no one does it that. At the very least, it costs more in recording time and time is big money, there. I think I'll step away before I say something that could hurt your friends, or whoever they are, feelings.

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Well right now I'm a few weeks away from recording a song at a studio. They will present the song to me the same day/ or finish writing it the same day. I've been singing for more than 6 years, and it's my profession. Negative thoughts are surpassing me, and I'm freaking out right now! I want to go feeling confident. So if anyone can answer the questions below, then thank you sooo much! I don't want to have negative thoughts :(


Ack! I can't relax, I'm freaking out. One day I'm fine, then the next my mind fishes in negative thoughts. And you know what they say, your thoughts change the world you live in. =( I don't want my negative thoughts to affect my career.

Hi, Sabrina! I have comments in two areas: 1) how to be thinking about this, so as to reduce the 'freak out' factor, and 2) what you can do to prepare.

This is not directed at you in any way, but this deal sounds a bit goofy. As others have said, going into a studio to record a song at sight is just not what is done. Recording is a collaboration of professionals, and they should treat each other like professionals. Specifically, I think you should set the expectation, in conversation or correspondence, that you receive the lyrics, the melodic material, and even a rough backing track at least 1 week in advance of the recording session.

In these sorts of conversations, the question is not 'if', but 'when'. The first time you broach the subject, mention nicely that, of course, you expect to receive the materials, in rough or preliminary form, as they firm up, so that you are not reading everything 'cold' the day of the session. Then ask the hard question: When do you think I can start seeing and hearing these materials?

At this point, the hardest part: zip your lip. Let that question just sit out there, in silence. If you break the silence, you will not get a workable answer. Just wait for them to break the silence with the answer, even if it is a minute or more. Once they reply, then you can ask what parts to expect when, etc, what the planned style of the piece is.. stuff like that. Whatever they can tell you will be important to getting ready.

Now, to prepare for this: The freakyness comes from the unfamilarity, which is closely related to our natural fear of the unknown So, the key is in preparation... getting your mind in the habit of assimilating a new song, unheard and unseen, very rapidly. Session musicans (instrumentalists) are taught to do this, and actually expect not to see the charts until they walk into the room.

How to do this as a singer? If you don't have one already, get yourself a fake book... just words, melody and chords, and begin singing the songs at sight. 'At sight' does not mean in the first 10 seconds. There is a little study time allowed. Go buy yourself a few red pencils.

Here is the sequence of analysis I would recommend in practice. If you don't have 6 weeks, go as far as you can day by day and week by week:

1) Words: Scan the text, and get a sense of what the song expresses... the ideas, the emotional level, who may be singing it, to whom, etc.

2) Tempo marking, for basic speed.

3) Key signature, first and last chord to get the key. Scan the whole score for any transpositions/changes in signature.

4) As you scan, look for tempo and dynamic changes, especially the abrupt or gradual ones.

Those first things will establish the notational conventions used in making the words and score fit together , and will begin to illuminate the structure of the piece.

5) Form: find whatever verses, bridges, choruses, repeats, etc there may be... the structural 'map' of the piece, and diagram it for yourself. Something like ' 4 bars of intro, 16 bar verse, 8 bar chorus, 16 bar verse, chorus, 16 bar contrasting material, chorus, lift whole step, final chorus a little slower with a big finish.

Items 1-5 can be done, once you get the hang of it, in 2 or 3 minutes, in the same way that you learn where the particular controls are in a car that you are driving for the first time, or the layout of an apartment that you are visiting for a party. You know... where is the ignition, shifter, mirrors, window controls, seat adjustment, door locks... how is the visibility?

The reason for this practice is to get a patterned habit, a series of actions that approach being automatic for you.

6) The melody & rhythm. Using the key info for basic tonality, blow the first 2 notes on a pitchpipe, and then think through the melody without actually singing it. Sing it in your head, in rhythm. Circle any tricky rhythms with your red pencil. Mark the phrase breaths as you do.

7) Add the words to the melody and rhythm in your mental practice. Start with the chorus. Do that 3 times. Then the finish of the piece, and then the verses.

The entire review sequence for a song of 4 minutes duration will proably be 15 minutes. So, each day between now and your gig, get out your fake book and spend 15 mins on 4 songs brand new songs, ones you do not know... a total of one hour. Go to the next 4 songs the next day. Remember, all this is entirely mental. No singing yet.

By the time you get to your 4th day of this, your mind will be adjusting to the sequence of things, and you will notice that you do them more rapidly than you did the first day. On the 6th day, I think the comfort level with the process will become noticable.

Take a day off from the process.

The next day, starting week 2: Before you start your hour, be sure you are wamed up vocally. After all your other steps, locate the chorus, or whatever you have identified as the part of the song that is most often repeated, if any, and SING (yes, actually sing) it. If there is nothing repeated, then whatever is the climax... the moment of highest emotional intensity (or sublime nuance) in the song. Sing it with conviction, as if you were performing it. No hesitancy whatsoever, in-tempo, with phrasing and dynamics, 3 times in a row.

Continue the 1-8 steps for each new song that week. Take a day off from the cycle on day 14.

Week 3: Do steps 1-8, after the 3rd time through the sung chorus, add step 9) Sing through the intro and first verse, and continue on to the 1st instance of the chorus. Do that 3 times. Take off day 21.

By now, you will probably only take 10 minutes on a song to get to the point that you are actually singing, and each day you may find that you are getting closer and closer to being ready to sing a whole song.

Week 4: Take inventory. Do your process, and add step 10: the singing of the whole song 1 time, end-to-end, with conviction, no stopping. Note any places in the score where you did not do performance-quality singing, and during a separate practice session, work out (polish) those places. In other words, mark during your run-through, and fix your issues in the practice room.

***Recieve the materials for the song. If you get an actual score, make it the first song in your practice for each day this next week.***

Week 5: After your first step 10 run through, marking any issues, go back and work them, and then sing the song 1 more time through with the fixes. This week, you may only be able to do 3 songs in the hour, but you will be very near performance quality, starting from scratch, in 20 minutes.

The day of the gig... relax and go in with confident excitement. Warm up early in the day. Take your pitchpipe as you leave for the gig! Walk in the door 1/2 hour before your 'call', greet everybody in a friendly way, tell them you are happy to be there, and ask for the chart so you can prep. Go someplace quiet, an office, or back to your car, and do your steps for 20 minutes, returning to the studio area right before your 'call' time, with the confidence that readyness has prepared you for. Also, during your prep, notice if the chart has changed from any materials you recieved the week prior.

Knock 'em dead!

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Sabrina - There are a lot of studio musicians that walk into the studio cold and get to work on material that they never heard before. I used to be a part time studio musician and would do that sort of stuff all the time - guitar/keys/voice. But if you aren't used to that it can be a bit nerve wracking. The engineer's job is to make you feel comfortable. If this is a real studio with a real recording engineer they will go out of their way to make you feel comfortable. That is their job and they know it. If you are nervous, which is totally natural, they will (should) help you with that. They know that they will get the best recording when you feel comfortable - so it is to their advantage to lighten things up and make you feel comfortable. Just remember that when you are feeling scared.

Also remember that there is a reason they chose you for this job - they have confidence in your abilities. Remember that too.

They may put you in a vocal booth and you'll have communication with them at all times. You'll undoubtedly be wearing some "cans" (studio jargon for "headphones") to hear yourself which may be a different experience for you. The cans will be "closed" for total isolation so that what you hear doesn't bleed into the mic you are singing in. That is different from how your hear yourself normally. Sometimes what I do is take one side of the headphones and expose one of my ears slightly so I can also hear myself in the room too.

Is there a way you could get in on the songwriting process prior to the studio date?

One last thing - Don't go out of your way to make your voice sound a particular way that isn't natural for you. A few weeks is not a lot of time to "re-vamp" your vibrato or something like that. The people that are calling you in for this session did this because they like the way you normally sound. There are a lot of excersizes you could do however that may help. But you've got to be easy on yourself. If you start a lot of heavy practicing now it could put some strains on your voice by the time the studio date comes. I'd stick with easy stuff and if it tickles or feels uncomfortable in any way - stop immediately and take a break. You can try octave arpeggios, or simple ascending and descending scales. Make sure it always feels natural. Sing the songs you normally sing.

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