Our production style at Novasound is continually evolving. One of the most influential changes we made was learning to treat vocals as a texture in the mix. Instead of the vocals being placed ‘on top’ of the track, we wanted them to feel more embedded and experimented with how vocals can be recorded, layered, arranged and manipulated to define the style of the track. We’ve been inspired by the innovative vocal production on the Billie Eilish album. It’s not just about what she’s saying, it’s how she’s saying it and, ultimately, how it makes the listener feel. Our approach to vocals is all about maximising impact and this comes down to attention to detail – double tracking, placement and panning, filtering, automated effects and experimental delivery. When it comes to recording, vocal performance is crucial. Post-production should be about enhancing the singer’s authentic voice, not masking it with countless effects or generic presets.
From working with so many different artists and collaborating across so many different genres, we started to recognise trends in the way people work. Irrespective of the style of music, getting the vocals right is a really common challenge on any track.
As a listener, vocals are, undoubtedly, what you’re drawn to. Whenever you hear a human voice, in any context, your instinct is to pay attention and try to connect to it. So – with that in mind – it’s surprising how little time and consideration can go into vocal recording. In most cases, vocals are recorded last so it’s common for bands to run behind schedule in the studio and eat into the allocated time for vocal tracking. It’s common for singers to put down a guide vocal early on and, very often, they get used to this rough take and become less inclined to experiment on their actual lead vocal takes. A lot of singers are guilty of ‘busking’ melodies in the rehearsal room and, before you know it, the quick choice you made as a placeholder suddenly becomes the real thing. If the direction and performance of the lead vocal isn’t properly considered, there is a knock-on effect on the wider vocal arrangement. A hesitant or half-baked lead vocal is difficult to double track or use as a basis for harmonies and BV’s.
Whenever I’m working with a singer in the booth or in a 1:1 session, I love seeing and hearing their performance evolve with every take. I think it’s important to allow time and space to get comfortable and warm up together. Personally, I like to feel confident with the parameters of the track before I start recording so I’ll always ask myself – where’s the lowest note I need to hit here and where’s the highest? Sometimes hitting these notes in another context is an effective lead in to recording your track – it might be running scales or singing a cover you like in the same key. Understanding where to breathe and recover is just as important as nailing the singing part. There’s definitely merit in getting a full take start to finish, in terms of energy and momentum, but recording is about capturing the best possible version. When it comes to tracking my own vocals, I’ll often punch in on individual sections to tighten the timing or increase pitch accuracy and would encourage any singer to do the same. Think about it from a listener’s perspective – when you listen to your favourite song, are you ever thinking about if the vocal was recorded in one take or not?!
Recording vocals can be daunting but use the vocal booth as your own little zone (even if it’s just a makeshift one in a cupboard in your bedroom). Having space is important. Allocate plenty of time – don’t record against the clock! Know your track inside out – especially where to breathe and rest in between sections! Get creative – what else can you add to maximise impact?! Think beyond just getting a ‘decent take’.
If you want to chat about vocals on your next project, get in touch. We’d love to hear from you and help in any way we can!
For more information, check out our free Recording Vocals at Home guide on our Novaskills page and our Bespoke Vocal Lesson Package!