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  • Number of vocal takes

    I was reading that Brian McKnight is uber-fast in recording vocals and pretty much nails everything. I find that since I am recording on my own I take probably too many takes trying to get things the way I want them.

    How many vocal takes do singers out in the real world take? I wonder how many, say Sheryl Crow or Ryan Adams (just random off the top of my head) take before they hit what they want. And also how much comping is done to get a complete performance.
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  • #2
    Oh, geeez, in my studio, it really varies.

    I've done a session where a singer has taken 9 hours to nail one song. I've also done a session where the singer took three separate sessions of 5 hours each to get anything decent.

    On the other hand, I've done a recording session where the singer nailed 15 really good takes in 3 hours, swigging aloe vera juice while I was getting the next session up.

    Most people are somewhere in between.
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    • #3
      I don't know about about others, but it takes me at least 3 full song runs to get warmed into the vocal, then about 3 - 12 more to get it right, then maybe some punch in fixes. That's the lead voc. Then there are 4 to 16 tracks of backing vocals. Not sure on actual clock time anymore... maybe 1 - 3 hours. Usually a full song vocals take me a day or two. I nail the pitches, but it's perfecting the nuances and delivery that require multiple takes for me. I want you to HEAR my facial expression and FEEL the emotional intention. Then of course too much singing and the voice goes raw and tires out.

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      • #4
        By the 5th full take I find the singer is loosing the flame. Try going through the entire song 3 times pick the good one and focus on the bad spots that is how you get a really good mix apart from the person just nailing it. The feeling is far more important that the final pitch. That is why we all listen to sub par vocals, because they mean something after take 5 it means nothing.

        When I am in the studio doing more than 5 takes I have to bring up the emotion to get the vocal sounding right.

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        • #5
          What icebryce said. 3 seems to be a comfortable number. Everyone is different of course. Say a singer knows the tune well and is warmed up. I'll take a pass to "get levels". Recording it unannounced of course. I don't make a big deal of it afterward. No mention, just carry on.

          Then we track another 2 at least. I keep notes as we track. Broad stroke notes like

          take 2!
          3 last chorus!
          bridge from 4

          Some singers need the song to be broken up into sections and dealt with piecemeal. I've gotten some excellent vocals with this approach too. It depends. You look at the playlist in a PT session for a vox tracking session like that and it's little regions spread all over many playlists.

          And sometimes... after barking up the wrong tree for a couple hours something will click. "Let's do the whole thing an octave down." "Let's dump this agro tone and get easy and breathy..." Whatever, something clicks and a new direction presents itself and viola! One or 2 takes with the new approach and you're done.

          Then to comping. Sometimes I will go phrase by phrase and audition every take into a Comp track. Sometimes, with the better singers, I'll go right to "take 2!" per my notes and paste in from other takes over the weaker bits.
          ___

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          • #6
            I was reading that Brian McKnight is uber-fast in recording vocals and pretty much nails everything.
            On the other hand, Belinda Carlisle drove a guy I know right out of the business. :facepalm:
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            • #7
              I've had great singers who can run a song through twice to warm up and nail it on the third for a hit. I've had other who couldnt hit a bull in the butt with a bass fiddel as they say. Theres alot of so called singers that should have stayed in the kereoke bars as far as I'm concerned. Intermediates try to sing like everyone else and still havent learned to use their own voice.

              For my own stuff it varies. I write originals to tape and may do one lousey take to kind of nail the melody down, maybe a few punch ins as I come up with ideas. Once I get the lyrics complete I'll work it with the band for a few times over a few sessions. By then I usually have a solid part and can do a decent job in a take or two. I prefer to do complete takes and find it hard to maintain momentum punching in so if needed I prefer to cut and paste parts together.

              As far as quality goes, I had alot of great singers in my family which helped alot growing up. I spent many years backing up great singers too. I know when I'm singing at my peak and dont even need to hear a playback to verify it. You know when harmonies are dead on when you hear angels in the room. John Philips used to call it "Elmer is in the room".

              Like with anything my own stuff may be great to some and crap to others. Having a unique voice quality and good technique makes a voice immediately identifyable and pro sounding. My voice was pretty terrible as a kid. Over the years of abusing it I developed a cross between Jow Walsh and Niels Lofsgrin. Not everyone cup of tea but at least I can stay in tune without an autotune program while working it like my instruments and get results.

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              • #8
                A big deal is for the singer to have their exact phrasing worked out prior to the session. The subltities of phrasing can make all the difference.
                If that is being worked out at tracking time then the time it takes to get a keeper expands accordingly.

                Even with that in the bag a good singer can do it in 1-3 takes and a bad one could go on forever and never get a happy take.
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                • #9
                  A big deal is for the singer to have their exact phrasing worked out prior to the session. The subltities of phrasing can make all the difference.
                  If that is being worked out at tracking time then the time it takes to get a keeper expands accordingly.

                  Even with that in the bag a good singer can do it in 1-3 takes and a bad one could go on forever and never get a happy take.


                  Good point. I count a take as something I keep. If it's clearly not in the ballpark, it's gone. So if I ask a singer to phrase the 8th note pickup like "this" and he tries and it sounds like the rhythm is falling down the staris drunk... that's not a take. That's gone into the ether. Apple-Z.

                  Let's try it again. Bam... that is it man. Take 1. Let's get it again!
                  ___

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                  • #10
                    I've had great singers who can run a song through twice to warm up and nail it on the third for a hit. I've had other who couldnt hit a bull in the butt with a bass fiddel as they say. Theres alot of so called singers that should have stayed in the kereoke bars as far as I'm concerned. Intermediates try to sing like everyone else and still havent learned to use their own voice.

                    For my own stuff it varies. I write originals to tape and may do one lousey take to kind of nail the melody down, maybe a few punch ins as I come up with ideas. Once I get the lyrics complete I'll work it with the band for a few times over a few sessions. By then I usually have a solid part and can do a decent job in a take or two. I prefer to do complete takes and find it hard to maintain momentum punching in so if needed I prefer to cut and paste parts together.

                    As far as quality goes, I had alot of great singers in my family which helped alot growing up. I spent many years backing up great singers too. I know when I'm singing at my peak and dont even need to hear a playback to verify it. You know when harmonies are dead on when you hear angels in the room. John Philips used to call it "Elmer is in the room".

                    Like with anything my own stuff may be great to some and crap to others. Having a unique voice quality and good technique makes a voice immediately identifyable and pro sounding. My voice was pretty terrible as a kid. Over the years of abusing it I developed a cross between Jow Walsh and Niels Lofsgrin. Not everyone cup of tea but at least I can stay in tune without an autotune program while working it like my instruments and get results.




                    Well let me take the time to bow down to you that you have good pitch and don't need an auto tune program. The only who cares about that are engineers/mixers/mastering cats. The fans don't mind auto tune especially if the attitude of the song is write on but the pitch needs a bit of correction. Kurt Cobain didn't have great pitch. Are you a better singer than him? What about Eddie Vedder? He's not a great singer pitch wise and neither was Bob Dylan. Should we just forget about all the singers who had better emotion in their vocals than maintaining perfect pitch? Something to think about. Like I said, unless auto tune sounds like Cher on the song "I believe" , fans just hear if it's in tune or not

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                    • #11
                      Well let me take the time to bow down to you that you have good pitch and don't need an auto tune program. The only who cares about that are engineers/mixers/mastering cats. The fans don't mind auto tune especially if the attitude of the song is write on but the pitch needs a bit of correction. Kurt Cobain didn't have great pitch. Are you a better singer than him? What about Eddie Vedder? He's not a great singer pitch wise and neither was Bob Dylan. Should we just forget about all the singers who had better emotion in their vocals than maintaining perfect pitch? Something to think about. Like I said, unless auto tune sounds like Cher on the song "I believe" , fans just hear if it's in tune or not



                      Now I'm not against autotune but I have to say I'd prefer it either be used as an effect or avoided, as to me it makes all stuff (i.e radio fodder) bland and devoid of the emotion you are talking about with Cobain, Dylan etc. They'd have sounded crap through autotune, and I'm sure Dylan doesnt use it at the moment (though you can't rule out him undertaking a Trans-like odyssey one day....or maybe you can!).

                      I have crap pitch but I don't use autotune, as I'd rather not hit the note a la Dylan (or use multiple takes and accept the unevenness that can sometimes result doing different sessions etc.) that sound bland i.e Top 40 girl bands who you know can't sing and so do they, yet they make records to bother me anyway...
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                      • #12
                        I love using decent takes to comp up the vocals with the left overs or take the second chorus use it under the first and the first under the third... really easy way to thicken up the vocals.

                        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lUAjNaBK9b0

                        this should help some of you with your vocal tones.

                        pay close attention to the compressor and the layers of doubles in the hook.

                        listen they are not all tight.

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                        • #13
                          By the 5th full take I find the singer is loosing the flame.

                          In my experience, it entirely depends on the singer. For a lot of singers, I tend to agree with you - they lose something after the third take. However, that's not always the case. Some singers have a long slow ramp up time before they start nailing things. Others are "get it on the first take, or forget it" singers. Craig Anderton did a great article in EQ a while back about how different singers "peak" in different ways and at different times, and I found it to be very true; not only for singers, but for musicians and tracking in general. I thought it was a fascinating article on a subject that is, IMHO, very important, and yet one I had never seen discussed in print before. I asked Craig if it is online, and if it is, I'll post a link later.

                          IMO, the trick is knowing what type of singer you're dealing with, and being prepared to respond accordingly. Which to my way of thinking means, being ready to grab it from the first take - and every take thereafter. A lot of it is studio psychology - knowing when to push, and when to let them rest and try again a little later - which can, on occasion, "reset" an early take peaker.

                          So my answer to the OP is, "however many takes it takes."
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                          • #14
                            I just did a sesh with a really inconsistent singer and what I did was do 7 takes of the song that were decent and then when piece by piece and made one good take.

                            sometimes its the only way.

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                            • #15
                              It depends on the singer... typically I try to have the singer do 3 takes... make a compilation of the 3 then have them do two more and drop in things here and there to the compilation [if it's better]... and then have them do one or two "totally over the top" takes and determine if any of the lines from those takes will help the song at one point or another.

                              That's with a really good singer.

                              With an average singer we may go through the "record and compile" process several additional times until we get a real track.

                              With a great singer I'll have them record something, comment on what they would like to fix / change and follow their wishes.

                              Peace.
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