Great vocalists do their best work when they feel comfortable and inspired on stage or in studio. 

I learned early in my career that I can get a lot more out of a singer by providing an intelligent and inspiring mix than I can by trying to get them to adjust their technique in the middle of a gig or recording session.

My goal when I act as a sound operator is to create a mix and an acoustic environment that will inspire the vocalist to sing beautifully with his or her best tone and most emotional performance. Each singer is unique and a mix that is inspiring will be unique to him or her. There are, though, some things that I’ve found in common among vocalists:

The sound should be full and clean. In a live performance, this can be achieved by finding the right balance between the sound in the room and the sound from the monitors. It’s often better to start with the monitors at a low level so the vocals are actually being heard from the FOH system. Sometimes the monitors are so loud that the singer’s main speakers are hardly turned up, resulting in a sound that’s thin and ugly for the singer and muffled and ugly for the audience—that’s just not inspiring for anyone.

Invite the sound operator on stage. The best thing the sound operator can do for the singer is get up on stage and listen to what you’re hearing. This is often necessary if you are not on the same page as your engineer in terms of vocabulary. Simply standing where the vocalist stands will typically reveal a simple solution to the adept sound operator.

Have your own mix in the studio. In the studio, your mix is more important than the control room mix. I virtually always monitor the singer’s mix in the control room. This is really where I learned the importance of providing an inspiring mix—I discovered that, rather than asking a singer to pay more attention to intonation, I could just turn up or down the correct mix ingredient and, all of a sudden as if by magic, they were right in the pocket. I didn’t need to say a thing.

Create an atmosphere that inspires emotion. It’s a given that singers should study and practice and know all about their vocal apparatus, but I’ve found that great singers sing best when they feel comfortable: when the lights are just right, when the candles are set perfectly, when the surrounding surfaces are warm and comforting, when they feel a vibe. All of these things may seem superficial and unimportant to the “inner geek” of the sound engineer, but singers are about feeling, soul, emotion and vibe. If you can make yourself feel comfortable in the studio and stage and your engineer provides a solid and inspiring mix, you’ll give your best performance every time.

Build a good relationship with your sound engineer.Do whatever you can do to build a relationship with the sound engineer that is positive, friendly and warm – sound engineers need to reciprocate. When you know that your engineer is on your side and that they are confident in your abilities and talent, you’ll take chances and go out on a limb to try new things. Sometimes, these new things raise the level of the entire song, production, or performance. The importance of a supportive relationship between the vocalist and the sound operator can’t be overstated.

Get a good sleep. OK this is not strictly a technological consideration, but tired singers struggle much more than rested singers. Rest, health, and good nutrition are extremely important ingredients in the performer’s tool kit – and contribute hugely to the quality of the resulting mix.


—This post was previously published at Voice Council Magazine.

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