by Craig Anderton
Vocals are the emotional focus of most popular music, yet many self-produced songs don't pay enough attention to the voice's crucial importance. Part of this is due to the difficulty in being objective enough to produce your own vocals; luckily, I've been fortunate to work with some great producers over the years, and have picked up some points to remember when producing myself. So, let's look at a way to step back and put more EDR (Emotional Dynamic Range) into your vocals.
Dynamics isn't just about level variations, but also emotional variations. No matter how well you know the words to a song, begin by printing out or writing a copy of the lyrics. This will become a road map that guides your delivery through the piece. Reviewing a song and showing where to add emphasis can help guide a vocal performance.
Grab two different colored pens, and analyze the lyrics. Underline words or phrases that should be emphasized in one color (e.g., blue), and words that are crucial to the point of the song in the other color (e.g., red). For example, here are notes on the second verse for a song I recorded a couple years ago.
In line 2, "feel" and "heat" get emphasis, especially because "heat" refers back to "hot," and is foreshadowing to "Miami" in the fourth line.
Line 3 doesn't get a huge emphasis, as it provides the "breather" before hitting the payoff line, which includes the title of the song ("The Miami Beat"). "Dancing" has major emphasis, "Miami beat" gets less because it re-appears several times in the tune . . . no point in wearing out its welcome.
By going through a song line by line, you'll have a better idea of where/how to make the song tell a story, create a flow from beginning to end, and emphasize the most important elements. Also, going over the lyrics with a fine-tooth comb is good quality control to make sure every word counts.
Emphasis is not just about singing louder. Other ways to emphasize a word or phrase are:
As vocals are the primary human-to-human connection in a great deal of popular music, reflect on every word, because every word is important. If some words simply don't work, it's better to rewrite the song than rely on vocal technique or artifice to carry you through.
Craig Anderton is Editor Emeritus of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.
I could not agree more. Thank you for pointing this out. Many vocalist forget that it's through(but not limited to) emotion that people connect with a song.
Toning down the vocals to a song is sometimes harder than going all colorful on a song. I can attest to what you said about this topic. With some songs, as you put it so well, less is more and more is less.
One trick that I use, that I find helps, is seeing the vocals in wavelength in my mind as I sing them.
The enunciation of words also helps. For example, "Alone" has a more darker and heavier feel to it when sung phonetically "uh-lone" then the bright sounding "eh-lone" .
Anyway, I though I could add to your masterpiece of a post.
This post was a great find. Thank you once again.