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Preparing for a Vocal Recording Session

Lets face it — preparation for anything tends to be kind of a bitch. Practicing all the parts of the music to a metronome, setting up microphone stands, setting levels/compressors/effects, laying carpets and other ghetto ways to deaden ugly frequencies. All in hopes that it will make your music sound sexier.

Last summer, while recording my band a few demo tracks, I seriously underestimated how long it would take to prep for each recording session. It was the sole reason our demo project turned into a rush job, and our recordings definitely suffered because of it!

Vocals, in particular, were a super-robo-bitch. It figures I’d find an article giving advice on how to prepare effectively NOW, and not 6 months ago. Anyway, this little ditty makes some excellent points that I’d like to share!

picture obtained at

1. WRITE DOWN THE LYRICS!! There’s nothing worse than a singer showing up for a session thinking he knows all the words and starts brain farting all over what could have been some great takes.

2. Set up the microphone prior to the session. The microphone should be positioned accordingly and the preamp levels should be set to some sort of baseline level so only minor adjustments need to be made once the sesh starts.

3. Patch reverb into the monitoring chain. Not necessary but it helps the singer and you get an idea of how the track will sound in the final mix

4. Digital sessions are organized and ready for playback. In the actual project file in whatever sequencer you are using (ProTools, Sonar, Cubase, etc), make sure to create several empty tracks in advance so time isn’t wasted moving things around during the session. Also, make sure you are able to playback the entire mix when needed - freeze some tracks if necessary!

5. IMPORTANT - MAKE SURE THE VOCALIST IS COMFORTABLE. Keep extra people, friends, enemies away from the session. The last thing a vocalist will want to hear is people cracking jokes about the session. Make refreshments available too! (water, wine, lemon juice, whatever their preference).

6. Don’t make them practice too long beforehand. Vocalists tend to give their best performances during the 1st hour of recording. Don’t waste it with a bunch of do-re-me’s.

7. NO Negative Feedback! Don’t tell a vocalist that a take was bad, or flat, or sharp, or poopydoodies. He/she will most likely start to hate you. Keep everything positive, compliment them when you hear something you like and ask them what THEY thought of the take if you thought something was off. Usually they will admit it.

8. Is the material ready? Are the melodies tight, rehearsed and polished accordingly? Is the singer satisfied with the arrangement of the lyrics? These questions must be addressed pre-session. I know from experience with my band because we skipped this vital step and ending up having to tailor some things here and there. This took lots of time, and our recordings suffered.

“Success always comes when preparation meets opportunity” -Henry Hartman



Chris Bracco is an aspiring producer/music biz entrepreneur. Chris currently attends Penn State University, working towards a major in Business Management and minor in Music Technology. He is also currently interning for Ariel Publicity & Cyber PR, doing promotion for artists they represent. He also plays guitar in & manages a funky rap/rock quintet named “A.S.B.P.K.”

If you would like to learn a bit more about Chris, please visit his personal e-portfolio, his blog or his band’s website:
Chris Bracco’s E-Portfolio
Tight Mix — The Future of Music & Audio Recording
A.S.B.P.K. Music

If you would like to contact Chris, please don’t hesitate to e-mail him at

Reader Comments (11)

Great article Chris! I admit that I violate rule #7 continuously, in as constructive a way as possible. For my own music, I keep a mic always set up. There will be no practicing! :)

Color Theory
Passive Promotion

Good post! I would like to thank you for sharing your such a good post here. You are putting very good effort into the stuff you post. Keep up the good work.

Vocal Music School

June 17 | Unregistered CommenterJanet

LOVE #7!!!

One of the people who got the best vocal performances out of me used to say "You can do it better"! Positive feedback in the form of encouragement works WONDERS.

Thanks for the great post.


June 29 | Unregistered CommenterMark

i use the "you can do it better" phrase ALL THE TIME. and you know what? it has gotten me a better take every single time. flawless method!

Yep, "you can do it better" (said with some enthusiasm, not as if you're resigned to failure!) is a really solid approach.

One thing I'd mention about "making people comfortable" is that "comfort" means different things to different people. Some vocalists actually feel MORE at ease with a few friends around, and find the studio experience a bit daunting without some company. (Whether that gets good results in every case is another story. YMMV.)

Some people work best when things happen so casually and smoothly that they hardly notice you're recording them - others work better with a bit of fuss and protocol to make them feel like they're involved in something big and important.

The point is that you need to be empathic enough to know how to deal with different people differently. And you need to adjust your approach quickly and effortlessly if you get it wrong.

A quick word about refreshments: cold drinks play havoc with vocal cords, so the wine mentioned above should be a nice red - something from the Man-O-War vineyard on Waiheke would be nice - and stay away from the chilled chardonnay.

All in all though, good advice Chris.

July 1 | Unregistered Commenterfelix

I disagree with #7.

If it's good, it's good. If it's bad, it's bad. No need for sugar coating, just give it to me straight! Here's why: I know how that take went just as well as you (the producer) do. If you shower me with false praise, I'll just end up not trusting you!

I agree about the false praise - actively praising a bad take isn't going to help get a better one - but there's a big difference between false praise and being positive.

July 2 | Unregistered Commenterfelix

One other thing to bear in mind is monitoring. I would suggest to have as many different models of cans (both open and closed) to hand as possible and also to prepare the patching to run NS10s or similar out of phase.
What the singer can hear makes a huge difference to the performance. Be prepared to be flexible and also remember that a great performance with a bit of monitor bleed is better than a pristine recording of a rubbish take.

July 2 | Unregistered CommenterRuben Kenig

As a recording engineer/producer, not telling the singer it was sharp/flat is a mistake. They need to know. Be constructive, but tell them what was wrong. You'll fix it faster, and they'll learn to trust your ear. It's your profession, you're supposed to hear things better than others.

July 3 | Unregistered CommenterJ Kosier

Cracking jokes about the session between friends in the band is what makes it fun though. Otherwise you may as well be stuck back in work.

July 3 | Unregistered Commenterdunc

My producer always said, "Very good! One more time, a little louder/give it more oomph/give it some life..." and it always worked for me. The "very good" was helpful and I don't think it was false praise per se.. can be interpreted differently

April 6 | Unregistered Commentersinger

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