In this post we’ll review the work done on Day 7 of producing the song “Lost in the Wind” from my 10-song producing marathon designed to overcome Finisher’s Block and get brand-new (and finished) songs of mine out into the world.
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If you’re new to this series of articles, be sure to return to the first day to catch up, or if you’re short on time, you can just see what I was working on yesterday.
By the way, if you’re wondering why the dates of the articles don’t add up right - it’s because I’m publishing these articles some days after the actual work took place. Have no fear - I took detailed notes each day, so it was easy to reconstruct what I did.
Getting Set Up to Record Vocals
As I got started on today’s production work, I was feeling tired but excited to be almost done with the song.
The morning and afternoon were all about recording practice vocal takes and learning how to improve my vocal recording process.
It’s pretty normal for me to research a few new techniques on YouTube right before I start. Today I started with this excellent video on recording vocals with 2 simple tips.
Following that great advice, I put a high-quality Stedman metal pop filter on the Shure BETA SM-58A microphone (which I love, by the way).
I backed up an extra foot from the mic as recommended (up until today, I’ve usually been “eating the mic”).
I also turned the pre-amp on the mic down to a lower level with tons of headroom. Again, this is the opposite of what I usually do, which is record my vocals very “hot.” That has probably been a mistake!
With lower gain on the mic, there’s absolutely no chance of clipping or distorting. Now the vocal sounds much better even with a wide range of dynamics.
As a way of adjusting to my new setup, I practiced singing the whole song about ten times, recording each vocal take for future use. Even though I was only doing practice runs, recording them still gives me the option to mix multiple takes later, or to catch a good one.
Initial Results of Vocal Takes
So, how are things sounding after adjusting the recording setup and doing those ten practice takes?
Well, I feel twice as confident about recording my vocals, just from a bit of YouTube research and a couple hours of practice.
I also learned how to practice live vocals with sound coming over the monitors for that “full band jam” feeling that’s so energetic and exciting. This contrasts with tracking the vocals while wearing headphones, which I don’t enjoy quite as much.
On the other hand, one possible problem is that recording with monitors might create undesirable sounds in the recording.
Note: My suspicions were confirmed and several of the “live monitor” takes were useless because of strange feedback-y noises on the recording. Still, I’m learning by doing and it’s awesome!
Other challenges: I’m having trouble timing and pitching the Bridge vocals leading into final Chorus. I’m kind of “feeling my way” through it and getting a bit closer each time. Also, realizing how much better of a singer I wish I was, lol.
Doing More Vocal Takes
As the evening drew on, I just kept doing tons and tons of vocal takes.
As the takes got more ‘serious’, I also started messing with compression, reverb, and other dynamics setting. Most of this I do by intuition and by using my ears.
I’m already up to almost ten serious vocal takes (above and beyond the ten practice takes from before). I’m surely being inefficient, but I’m also getting better, bit by bit.
Note: In the end I wrapped up with about 10 total takes. My voice was starting to get sore and I was pretty sure I would have enough material to put together a strong final take.
There was one last issue with recording the vocals… the transition from Bridge back into Chorus 3.
Finalizing the Bridge Vocal Take
So, finishing the Bridge vocals was a minor ordeal. Looking back, the main reason was my lack of a clear concept for the Bridge, combined with my extreme lack of experience actually writing Bridges.
In the end I did about 40 vocal takes of just the Bridge, but my voice was simply NOT coming through the mix. So, I ended up taking the vocal up an octave, into a (temporarily) uncomfortable range for me. This is good, getting out of my comfort zone.
In fact, I quickly realized my vocal limitations are much more psychological than physical.
I can hit these notes physically, but I’m afraid of them. I shrink before them. I’m too introverted for them. I don’t trust that I can hit the high notes. I’ve been told “be quiet” for one reason or another, too many times in my life.
FUCK THAT. I’m fucking going for it. If you don’t like it, fuck you. I like it. This is who I am. I’m going to sing what I want, in my own voice.
I like the sound of my 40th vocal take on the Bridge. I think it’s my best possible performance at my current level. I’m using it. I’ll be as loud as I want to be. This is my studio. This is the take I’m using.
Even More Vocal Takes?
Before sleeping, I had promised myself 5 more final attempts at my best-possible takes of the verses and choruses. For anyone keeping count, this would have put me at 15 ‘final takes’ for the Verses and Choruses and over 25 takes including practice sessions.
Even a poor singer like myself should be able to edit together something passable from that much raw material, is my thought.
But wait! Actually, forget that. I think the 10 takes I already have should be enough, and I want to move forward. This is a songwriting marathon, not a singing marathon. My voice is also sore and I don’t want to wait until tomorrow to recover. Therefore, I will build my final vocal track from the takes I currently have.
Eight Successful Vocal Takes
As I mentioned above, a few of the takes were unusable due to poor sound quality - the ones with the monitors active in the room while I recorded on the mic.
That’s unfortunate, because the energy on this style of vocal recording is great. I’ll just have to adapt to using headphones for vocal tracking; well not really adapt - it’s actually what I already mostly do in the first place.
In the end, I was left with eight ‘strong’ vocal takes to use for the entire song. That should be plenty.
What’s Left To Finish the Song?
The feeling of getting my vocals done is exhilerating. I’m like… I did that. I don’t have to do it again. I figured out how I want to make it sound.
I lost 30 minutes disappearing into the sound, with the A/C and fans turned off, getting sweaty, just looping the same 12 bars, headphones on, standing and dancing in front of the mic, psyching myself up, pushing my voice near the breaking point.
And now I have my takes, and I’m a better singer. With so little experience, every half-hour on the mic makes me feel noticeably more confident, comfortable and competent. And now I deserve a quick break.
Keeping myself organized, here’s what’s left to do:
- Assembling the Final Vocal.
- Mixing and Mastering.
By the end of today, I knew that I was going to finish this song. All the deep doubts are gone. Now we’re much closer to the end than the beginning.
Don’t stop here - read what I did on the next day!
P.S. Don’t forget to listen to the finished song and leave a comment on the track!