Vocalists: How to Avoid Burning Out in the Recording Studio

Posted by Christine Occhino on Sep 3, 2015 08:00 AM
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We've all faced that moment of sheer panic and disbelief that maybe, just maybe, you won't make it through this recording session vocally unscathed. Not to fear, my friends – we have your back! Here are four tips to avoid burning out in the recording studio.

1. Be well rested

Tiredness will most certainly keep you from being as prepared as possible for a solid vocal performance on recording day. Making time to rest before a session is crucial. It makes no sense at all to spend serious studio dollars and not plan accordingly to give it your all. Make responsible decisions in the days leading up to your session: lots of relaxing at home, being on vocal rest, and making sure to get enough sleep. Avoid parties, nightclubs, and any generally louder-than-usual environments so you're mentally and physically in the best shape before the big day!

2. Hydrate and eat consciously

Obviously water (and lots of it!) is essential to vocal health, but it's especially imperative when you’re required to keep your vocal endurance high. It's important that your vocal cords stay lubricated and your body is not dehydrated in order for you to sing properly. I advise all of my students and clients to consume six to eight full glasses of water prior to arriving to their recording sessions. I also remind them of some important dietary concerns, such as avoiding dairy, spicy foods, caffeine, and anything with high citrus content. All of these have a seriously negative effect on vocal health and will inevitably cause you trouble later on once you're at the mic.

3. Take periodic breaks

I've seen many artists who are workhorses in the studio and truly feel it's best to keep going for hours without a break when they're "in the zone." Others have their eye on the clock and need to work as fast as possible in order to stay on budget. But in either case, this is a very bad habit to get into – the voice is a muscle, and it needs rest! Work in spurts, and calculate needed breaks into your recording time. Typically 45 minutes of vocal tracking followed by 10 minutes of rest while the producer gets some comping done is a good rule of thumb to ensure high productivity and quality vocal endurance for the duration of your session.

4. Don't overdo it

Lastly, take it easy in there! Depending on the kind of music you're recording, this is easier said than done. However, you've got to remember that you're not playing a show that's a couple of hours and then you're off. You've got to be at your best 100 percent of the time and will be accountable for every single thing that comes out of your mouth. If you know you want to go off on certain parts, be smart and plan ahead to save that stuff for the very end of the session. Keep in mind that the energy in vocal delivery, of course, needs to ebb and flow naturally so the producer will be able to edit your best vocal cuts together nicely, but you should definitely save the vocal gymnastics until later on.

My theory with clients during the recording process is that it's always best to lay the framework for the entire song with a lot of solid lead vocal cuts first, then go back to punch in any parts requiring another take to get them up to par with the rest of the track, then move on to adding background vocals, doubles, and harmonies while the voice is still in tip-top shape, and finally, have at it with all of the ad libs and embellishments your heart desires! This way, if your voice is going to inevitably tap out on you, you've got all the groundwork you need for the "bones" of the song and can always come back another day to add the bells and whistles, but you won't need to start from scratch and worry about matching tone and delivery from a previous session.

Make sure to also do a proper vocal warm-up and cool-down, hydrate regularly throughout the session, and be on vocal rest between takes as much as possible. You'll certainly be glad you did once that first mix drops in your lap!


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Christine Occhino is the founder and artistic director of The Pop Music Academy and has experience working at Columbia Records/Sony Music Entertainment, in addition to working as a performing artist for over a decade. She has a bachelor's degree in music business & management with a concentration in entrepreneurship and vocal performance from Berklee College of Music, where she was a vocal scholarship recipient and former editor-in-chief of The Berklee Groove. She is also the proud founder and CEO of Hope In Harmony, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that brings music to those in need.

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