On Producing Your Own Vocals

First of all, let me just say that it is never recommended.

The truth is, the producer hat and the vocalist hat are essentially at odds with each other. Just because you can do each one separately, doesn’t mean it will go smoothly when you try to do them together. The producer is the critical ear, the filter. Your producer brain wants to say no, do it better, that is not good enough. The producer brain is quite discerning. Then there is the performing brain — that is the part that must stay open. The performing brain must be supported, encouraged. There are no mistakes. The performance requires feelings, openness, vulnerabilty and safety.

Can you see how those things are nearly opposite? Stay too accepting, and you’ll never get that good take. Stay too critical, and you’ll never get that good take.

So, with this in mind, I am going to try to disclose some of my conclusions after sweating it out like crazy:

  1. Record first, edit later. Don’t think about editing on recording day, one hat at a time.
  2. Get ‘present’ – that stands to reason for any performance task. Be accepting. Too much desire for a perfect take almost guarantees a lack of results.
  3. Try taking on different characters. Who are you? Can you be someone else? This can help you get unstuck and give you some juice.
  4. Learn how to tell when you have enough good takes. Cover your bases, but don’t treat your voice like a sweatshop. You can always do pickups later.
  5. Pretend you are editing someone else’s voice. This is not you. Someone else hired you to do their hit song, and they happen to sound an awful lot like you.
  6. Learn to hear for microscopic details in a performance: breaths, little scoops, funny clicks or warbles. They will seem huge after 300 listens.
  7. Use autotune, don’t abuse it (unless you really want to.) It’s a great tool, which you can use to massage sneaky little words like “the” or “a” which people generally sing less accurately.
  8. Remember that a recorded performance is very different than a live performance. So don’t be shy about take looping.
  9. Don’t be afraid to screw up. In your home studio, time is free. Do it, and re-do it. Your morale may falter, but none of the time is wasted.
  10. Pat yourself on the back. Nobody else in the room to do it, and besides, no one is looking so you won’t look funny.

2 thoughts on “On Producing Your Own Vocals

  1. Very useful tips. Thanks! Personally, I find the major leap is getting into experimental mode when my work-day activity is all about steady and continuous production. Production of information and communications and so on, not music production 🙂 And when in ‘music-mode’ I have to switch off criticism and try larking around and think of myself as making demos for me. Which is another reason vocals are difficult because I don’t sing to myself! The ‘adopting a persona’ will be especially handy, since lyric-writing connects me to my most vulnerable aspects – the things I least want to broadcast. Maybe a ‘least want / most need’ dichotomy…

  2. I’ll be attempting to record some songs over Christmas so I’ll definitely follow your advice here. The biggest hurdle I’ve found is actually finding somewhere to record at all. It’s not often I get an empty house to myself and I’m not overly keen on people hearing me sing the same lines over and over!
    Anyway, thanks for the tips, Líam

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