As a vocal coach as well as a singer myself, I am bound to be picky about vocals. On the other hand, I am a big fan of the motto, ‘Progress not perfection’. Having endured a friend’s karaoke night recently, I know that people can still have fun listening to a performance with a less than pitch-perfect delivery. God knows, no-one’s going to care if Amanda Palmer sings one note off-key at one of her gigs. If the genre of music you’re doing is all about rebellion and breaking the rules, it’s fine to be pretty rough around the edges in your vocal delivery. But that goes for live performance. Not so much for recorded work.
Why it matters to have a solid vocal delivery on your track
If you want to get your fabulous new song out and played on radio stations and bought or downloaded and shared by your loyal fans, you need to bear in mind that the song will get played multiple times. If there’s a part in the song where the vocals aren’t bang on pitch or where you had a crack in your throat that caught on one word, you’re not going to be able to be there every time to conveniently ‘cough’ in the right place to cover it up. And slapping a tonne of reverb and delay on it won’t fix it either. Just imagine loving the track but the same beginning of a line every time being an irritating sound. It’s not ideal. Nor is an average, slightly off-key or mis-timed overall delivery throughout the song. You may find online indie radio stations playing your track despite this, but the listeners themselves will tune out.
2) The vocals ARE the song
How often have you heard this kind of conversation,
-”Do you know that song? It’s great.”
-”No, how does it go?”
-”It goes, …. ” [sings part of the bass line and guitar riff]?
I’m guessing, never. If someone asks you how it goes, you’re more than likely to hear someone singing back the vocal melody line and the lyrics. The baseline is immaterial, and, uncopyright-able as far as the songwriting goes. So why would you spend more time getting the bass sound right and individually EQ-ing the drums? If you don’t have a lot of time or a big budget for studio time, spend the money on making the vocals top-notch, because it’s the vocal line that makes the song, delivers the message and communicates the whole ethos of your music. Why would you leave that part to be just ‘ok’?
How to improve your vocals
If the vocals are so important, how can you improve them?
This is a total no-brainer, isn’t it? Well, it would appear so, but the vast majority of people leave this till the last minute and practise two days before going into the studio. Fail. Not only should you be doing regular singing work in the weeks leading up to going in to record your vocals on a track, but you should also be practising recording the track at home, to get clear on exactly how you want to sing it. Where do you want it to be loud and angry and where do you want to sing more soothingly, coaxingly?
Watch this video for more tips on how to do that kind of practice work:
2) Hire a good sound engineer
Paying for a highly skilled sound engineer to edit the best vocal performances out of a number of takes so that you have a near-flawless vocal track will be well worth the investment. Someone who is encouraging and focusses on the good parts you sang, not the mistakes you made is what you need to look for. They do need to be able to tell you where you need to do another take because there was something wrong with the last take, but the sound engineer should be matter-of-fact about this and if they are used to producing work for others, they should have developed a really encouraging but down-to-earth tone that helps you to feel comfortable, but also pushes you to give the best performance you can.