Don’t put up with a mix that leaves you up in the air with rhythm and pitch.
By the time I’m involved with a singer, its usually too late to say, “support your tone” or, “sing from your diaphragm” or other such vocal-coach stuff.
There are some singers and some situations where I can recommend those fixes to help a singer in the heat of battle, but I’m always trying to support them in a way that inspires them to sing better and helps them unleash a great performance that’s hidden within their soul.
So, I support a vocalist who should already have practiced their craft; already honed their technique; and already developed their sound and refined their tone.
I have discovered that the best thing I can do for any vocalist is make sure that they are hearing a mix that provides two very important factors: pitch and rhythm.
Pitch Support for Vocalists
Singers need a solid pitch reference in their monitor mix—usually a guitar or keyboard, but that also might need to change from song to song.
There are a lot of keyboard and electric guitar sounds that include complex chorus or delays or oscillations; they can sound fantastic in the mix, but provide very ambiguous pitch references.
It’s important that a singer hears the most solid pitch reference possible, which is typically an unaffected acoustic guitar, electric guitar, or piano (acoustic or electric).
Also, the vocalist must, obviously, hear himself or herself well enough to make adjustments throughout each song.
So, whether you’re in the studio or on stage, remember to insist on a solid pitch reference, as you can’t accurately reference vocal intonation to wide chorus or complex delay effects.
Ensure that you have a solid harmonic instrument (piano, straight electric piano, guitar) in your mix.
Rhythm Support for Vocalists
The vocalist’s rhythmic performance is genre-dependent; it varies from style to style but is an important component of an excellent performance.
Therefore, it is extremely important that the vocalist hear an accurately defined rhythm from the band.
This isn’t always as easy as one might think, especially in a live show.
If a small jazz trio in an intimate setting is backing the singer, there is enough acoustic intimacy that the singer can easily sing in time with the instruments.
On the other hand, in a large room you might hear the reflection off the back wall louder than the sound on stage.
In a situation where a Plexiglas cage isolates the drums, the guitar amps are isolated and the keys and bass are running direct into the board, huge problems with rhythm can arise.
The issues of delayed refraction, a “laid” back vocal groove and the lack of a clear rhythmic element for the vocalist can result in a rhythmic mess – along with a frustrated singer and band.
So, there must be a rhythmic instrument in the vocalist’s monitor; if that instrument isn’t loud enough to dominate the reflected sound, the singer will always be rhythmically behind the band.
Vocalists must make sure they are not at a disadvantage because of these factors.
So, ensure that you have a defined rhythm reference in your monitor mix; you should at least be able to hear the hi hat, snare drum, and kick drum.
Sometimes acoustic guitar alone is enough; the main thing is that you are not singing from the rhythm that comes to you from the back wall.
Beyond The Basics
To re-cap: vocalists must not sell themselves short by putting up with a mix that leaves them up in the air with rhythm and pitch – and sound engineers must provide this essential support for singers in their monitor mix.
Beyond these basic elements there are many other ways that technology can support your voice – for example see my VoiceCouncil article on creating an inspiring mix.
Don’t ever be afraid of asking questions, learning new technological vocabulary and asking for different sounds in your mix when you feel you need them.
Bill Gibson, President of Northwest Music and Recording, is a writer, engineer, recordist, producer and teacher with over 25 years of experience. Bill is a best-selling author and has written over 30 books about recorded and live sound. His latest book, Q on Producing – written with Quincy Jones – provides an unparalleled inside look at production techniques behind the most commercially successful and artistically inspired music in pop culture history.
Featured Image – http://www.flickr.com/photos/lothlaurien/3753302622/sizes/z/in/photostream/ – Julie Crocheteire