What is the most important part of any song production?
Well, unless you’re making instrumental music, it’s the vocal.
The vocal is what makes a song human and timeless. It’s the part that conveys a message and a vehicle for emotion.
That said, when producing a song, it’s super important to work hard at getting the vocal just right. Here are some tips on how to do just that!
1. Find the right vocalist.
With it being so easy to record yourself nowadays, there are a lot of mediocre vocalists out there making music because we have autotune, and it isn’t super hard to learn to edit yourself with a little practice.
So step one in producing a great vocal is picking the right vocalist for a song.
This may seem so obvious, but so many people wonder why their song isn’t getting heard and much of the time, it’s because it isn’t the right person singing it.
Many times, even if someone has a great voice, you have to ask yourself, is it the right voice for the song?
So, start with the right vocalist. We have some amazing vocalists in our Song Chasers Community which you can find out more about here!
You can also find great vocalists for hire on soundbetter.com
Then, once you find the right vocalist, it’s all about capturing the best performances possible. You can take multiple takes and comp together the best parts of each, so don’t worry about perfection as much as evoking an emotional performance. Feeling beats perfection any day.
2. Record vocals well
Step two is recording the vocal well.
This is the engineering part that so many overlook.
Recording the vocal well starts with a good clean, low-noise mic, and a dead room. You want it to be as dead as possible. If you need to make a fort out of blankets and sleeping bags, then do it. Whatever it takes.
I’ve been in hotel rooms all covered up In a blanket fort and cutting major label record vocals with the artist on tour. Do what you have to do.
Even if you think your room sounds dead, but it actually has a tiny bit of an echo, when you get to the mixing stage, it will sound like your voice is in a tin can. Instead, you want the nice up front, crisp vocal that modern music requires. Try clapping in your room as a good test.
You’ll also want a clean mic with very low noise.
There are plenty of budget friendly options out there – for $350 – the shure SM7B is pretty hard to go wrong with. Or the miktek mk300 for $300 is pretty great bang for the buck too.
Make sure to get a pop filter for $20-$30 to place a couple inches away from the mic grille as well.
Then you need a simple interface. Even a $100 interface like the focusrite Scarlett solo will do. If you want to spend a little more and get some great plugins that you can record through, then the uad Arrow for $475 is a fantastic option.
You’ll also need to be able to hear the recording well. A simple pair of $100 shure headphones is just fine – make that two if you’re recording another singer. Of course you’ll need the basic cables to connect everything and your laptop, but that’s pretty much everything that you need on a basic level.
To set your vocal level, have your vocalist sing the loudest part of the song and make sure you aren’t distorting your interface mic input. Depending on which one you use, generally you want the loud parts to be metering in the yellow, and to avoid hitting the red.
If you have a super dynamic song where the verses are really quiet and the choruses are crazy loud, then it’s best to record those parts separately and adjust the gain on the mic input to be a little hotter on the quiet sections.
3. Nail the edit
Third, be sure to nail the edit.
I always say that the edit performance has to be as good if not better than the vocal performance for the song to get to the finish line.
Nowadays, the sound of a well produced modern vocal means that every note is on time on the grid, and pretty much is in perfect tune. That’s what the human ear has gotten used to hearing and wanting.
We have a genius module on vocal production and how to really dive deep into it in our Music Production Mastery Course, but as a quick crash course –
You’ll want to get Antares auto tune or celemony Melodyne. Those are pretty much the industry standards for vocal editing.
After you’ve got your vocal tales recorded and comped, start by analyzing the timing and shifting around the spots that need nudging.
Then you’ll want to hand tune the whole song performance. I never leave it on auto mode. You want it to sound natural, but in perfect tune. The natural part comes from note transitions like scoops into and out of the notes, or moving from note to note. Most singers have a small transition, so you’ll want to get really good at leaving those in tact while tuning the main note. Again, vocal editing is a huge topic and takes a long time to explain, so email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in our Music Production Mastery Course and I’ll hook you up with a discount If you mention this video. But you want to get as good as you can on vocal editing.
4. Get the mix to sit well with the instrumentation
My quick tips on this:
Use lots of volume automation rather than just over compressing the vocal.
Don’t be afraid to brighten the vocal up a good bit to get it to sit on top of the mix. Just make sure it doesn’t get brittle.
Use a couple different compressors in sequence to tame some of the dynamics.
Carve out most all of the low end and some of the low mids.
Add reverb and delay to taste. This will depend on the genre. Sometimes you want it to be super dry.
And that is pretty much the gist of getting a top quality vocal production!
It’s an art as much as it is a science. You get good at it by practice – just go do it a ton and work with great singers as much as you can.