Recording technique is a skill that improves with practice. But there's some things you can do, even if it's your first song, that will help you get a better recording. Any engineer will tell you, a high quality performance up front means there's less that needs to be done in the mix. So to help you track vocals better, here's 5 quick things you can implement immediately.
Warm Up Your Voice
It blows my mind how many artists, especially rappers, don't warm up their voice before hitting the booth. Your larynx aka voicebox is a collection of muscle, ligaments, and mucous membrane. If a pro athlete warms up their most used muscles before a game, why shouldn't you? In addition to preventing injury, warmups can have a great psychological effect. You'll walk into your session more prepared and confident after a warmup. You'll also discover inflictions and voices that you'll be able to use in the future.
Perform Your Actual Verse While Checking Levels
When an engineer says they want to check your levels, give this process your utmost attention. This is the time where the engineer is trying to set the volume around what your song will require. One quick way to make this a more accurate process is to actually rap or sing your verse during mic checks. Usually artists will simply say "mic check 1, 2" or will perform their verse half-heartedly. It's pointless to whisper during the level check only to then scream a verse while recording. Your engineer will have to adjust volumes and you'll likely clip, potentially ruining a recording. Treat the level check like a real recording so you or your engineer can set volumes right from the jump.
The Tape On The Floor Trick
Most recordings aren't done in one take from start to end. You'll likely step away from the mic in between vocal takes. Because of this, you might record each verse from a different distance to the mic. This makes the volume different each time, and can change the overall timbre of your voice. To fix this, once you find a distance you like, put a piece of tape on the ground by both of your toes. This is now your recording spot. Every recording take you do should be from this spot. This will keep your distance and angle to the mic as consistent as possible.
Perfect Your Monitor Mix Early
Direct monitoring refers to being able to hear your voice in the headphones as you record. You should take the time to get a comfortable mix of your vocal and the beat early in your recording process. Make sure you can hear your voice front and center. Also make sure you can hear the music, especially the rhythm section, clearly. If you start recording and have to adjust the balance between beat/vocal later, there's a strong chance you'll sing at a different volume to compensate for the change. You end up with vocals that are vastly different levels of loudness, and now your engineer has to use more of that session time to fix the issue. Get a good monitor mix early and leave it alone.
Stabilize Your Line of Sight
Whether you write on paper or a phone, stabilizing the surface that your lyrics are on while you record will keep you from moving your head left and right too much. Some of us can hold a pad or phone with no problems. Congrats if that's you. But if you find yourself moving your line of sight a lot, ask if there is a music stand or surface you can place your lyrics on. In addition to keeping your head movements minimized, freeing your hands can often help with posture and breath control. Mobile phone writers, invest in a $15 gooseneck Phone holder that you can clamp to a mic stand. It's worth it.
None of these tips require a big studio, but they all can go a long way in making your music sound more professional. The next time you have some recording to do, pull these tips up and start to internalize the process. And if you need beats for your next session, visit my beat page.
Remember when we first started hearing the term "mumble rap"? Initially it referred to rappers that had lyrics we couldn't easily understand. But lately it's an umbrella term used to often inaccurately describe a majority of the new artists. This "one size fits all" narrative has unfortunately ushered in a divide between some of the older participants in hiphop, and the youth trying to forge their path in the game. I personally think lumping everyone into this tag is dismissive, and ironically it reminds me of when my generation and peers got lumped into being strictly "backpack" rap fans, and underground MCs.
Sean Price "The 3 Lyrical Ps" feat. Prodigy & Styles P (Prod. Harry Fraud)
Rest in Power to the God's. Peace to OG Styles P who continues to carry the torch for The LOX. Share this post for the culture.