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  Getting a Better Vocal Performance  

The secret to a great vocal sound is a vocalist who knows how to work the mic, and an engineer/producer who can keep that vocalist motivated. I know. You thought I was going to tell you that the mic should be 6 to 9 inches from the singer (or 1 - 4 feet for classical) but if they're hot closer is cool. You thought I was going to recommend using a Popper-Stopper or other pantyhose deal. You thought I was going to mention going from that $2,800 mic into that $1,500 tube pre into that cool $1,900 compressor into that (very very important) de-esser, then eq'd a bit with NO effects onto tape. You thought I was going to tell you to keep the gain reduction from 1db to 5db and setting that (very very important) de-esser so that the sibilance is controlled and sounds natural, not peaky or spitty (enabling you to add more highs without glaring SS's).

Nope. That's not the secret to getting a great vocal sound.
Key: Vocalists reach a sweet spot in their energy and in their sound when singing, and it can occur on a scratch vocal when the band is pumping, or it can occur after five hours of singing. Your job is to recognize the sweet spot and maintain it so that the performance is it's best. If the performance lacks, it doesn't matter how expensive the mic is! A great performance on a cheap mic will get you signed much sooner than a so-so performance on a Telefunken.

The Million Dollar Vocal Secret: Specific motivational language will keep a singer fresh longer and get you a way-better performance. This idea applies even if the singer is the most radical dude (or dudette) in town. It's simple, but it's overlooked nearly ALL the time. Here goes. Use positive language. I call it the Perfect End Result. It saves the singer mental and emotional energy that can be put to good use in the lyric and melody.

What is the Perfect End Result? Here's some examples: "Dude... sing that note a little higher." vs. "Dude.... you're FLAT on that note." - "Tina bring your energy up a bit more." vs. "Tina, your energy is dragging down too much." - "It will sound great if you sustain that note longer." vs. "It sounds lame when you drop off the end of that note."

Every creative person PRIDES themselves in their performance. It creates a mental uphill battle when you give the person a comment about what you don't want vs. what you DO want. (This...by the way is a great tip for parenting your kids, too.)

Key: no...BIG KEY: The mind does not understand the word "don't". Why? Because the mind works in pictures, not letters. If I say think of green jello wiggling in a bowl in front of you, what do you think of? Now, let's experiment. Picture that green jello for a minute. Now...... DON'T think of dark red cherries in that wiggly green jello. DON'T think of bright yellow sprinkles on the jello and spilled on the table. DON'T think of your best friend taking your jello and dumping it on the floor. DON'T THINK OF IT! Don't think of your friend's shocked face as the jello splatters all over the floor!!! DON'T think about what I'm saying! DON'T sing that note SHARP again... DON'T SING SHARP!!!

Do you get it? I guarantee that while you were reading that paragraph, you were NOT thinking of an elephant. Ahem. Up until now. Now you're thinking elephant. But no matter how many times I said the word DON'T, you pictured what I said. Your mind automatically locked onto the image/idea no matter what - it was instantaneous and effortless.

If you tell your singer she sounds like her energy is low, she will have to FIGHT off the energy drain since attention was brought to it's lowness. It's easier for her to increase her energy if you say the
Perfect End Result - "Bring your energy up!" If you tell your vocalist what you DO want vs. what you DON'T want, that person doesn't have to mentally process away the mistake - they only have to aim forward at the bulls eye. If you tell your kids "Stay on the sidewalk, you'll be safer." - they will do it easier and more instinctively than if you tell them "Don't go out into the street, you could get killed."

I promise you. No matter what style of music you're into or what instrument you play, if you LOCK this technique into your method of music, you will accelerate your success and increase your staying power in delivering the passion and magic that music is all about.

Meanwhile, trust me. It's not the mic. It's the performance that will get you signed. Once you find the pocket, you'll know that groove is everything. LOCK IT in the pocket. Be committed to singing in tune!
BIG KEY: Practice DOESN'T make perfect - Practice makes progress. PERFECT practice makes perfect. Remember that idea every time you play or sing. It will make a huge difference in your musical skills and presentation.

More about Result Language here


Use common sense and read all the recording magazines you can get your hands on. If you're an engineer, it simply takes time and experimentation to discover what works. There are no rules. Try everything. Set up 10 mics around the guitar amp in different distances and combinations and phase settings. Study gain structure so you know how and where to eliminate distortion. Use good cables, good monitors (lots to talk about on my Studio Monitor Madness page) and compare your mixes (rough or final) to commercial CDs for reference. Look to the source of the sound as the main ingredient for great results. Be original and support others in their success. Positive energy towards others brings it right back to you - so receive it - there's plenty to go around.




Created 01/26/01 • Modified 03/13/06
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