Vocalist's Guide/Checklist For Improvement


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hi there, i'm Ron (BluePrintStudios) most ppl know me from the Computer/Sound section especially the DIY Recording FAQ. I am not a vocal coach, infact I was born with flat vocals as flat as my feet (Pes C medical status during NS) and not musically trained. But I'd like to share my tried'n'tested experience with Softies here who I'm sure will find this helpful for your vocal performance in one way or another. This thing is not finalized yet but when I recall and discover more stuff I will add on to the 1st 2 posts. Anyone feel free to post and addon.

This "checklist" is not in anyway to replace vocal teachers/coaches or will make a diva out of you but to help you have a higher awareness of your current state and limitations AND practise slowly to go beyond.In short run, this checklist should help prepare before any vocals recording in the studio or before a big gig. In long run, no guarantees, but so far I see permanent effect on myself (after 8 years) as a guinea pig.

make sure the words make sense, keep with the flow and relevance.Once I recorded this female vocalist who was singing the love-breakup song by the male guitarist written for his ex. If it's necessary, change the lyric's "gender". cos I thought she was a lesbian when I heard the lyrics. Can you imagine if you were a guy and you sang "Always Be My Baby" which is a Mariah Carey cover with the words "BOY,don't you know you can't escape me"... anyway I always felt that the great love songs are written by gay people. George Michael.. Darren Hayes (Savage Garden).. Elton John... unless you wanna go that direction.

to combine "lyrics" with "tempo" also includes "syllables" , ever felt that you were trying to squeeze too many darn words into a short melody ? sometimes little/simpler, is better. Take note and know when to breathe cos that helps with the "Pitch". A sub-topic about breathing, try to balance breathing between nose/mouth or both. Because nose don't have a "vocal box" , it's got a nice "clean breath-in" , cos I know some people do this unwanted pitch "HURRGGHH" when they breath in using their mouth.

some people have trouble hitting right notes. i see some sing the tune together with the piano key to help practise. but to combine "tempo" / "pitch" together with the situation, sometimes fast songs are damn hard to sing cos the pitch goes low then mid then high then low high low high you can't tune your vocals fast enough to keep up, then my suggestion is sing the song 2 to 5 times slower like some celine dion titanic song. then slowly learn to speed up.

e.g Can't
american - k-air-nt.
british - k-ah-nt.
e.g Take.Make.Don't Know.
good english - T-ay-ke.M-ay-ke.Doh-un't(silent h,u,t) nou.
goot engrish - tek.meg.DONCHno.

Accent : engrish assent? singlish? japanglish? american english? jamaican reggae? aussie? indian? malay?
Don't mumble.if you wear braces or born with lisp or short tongue, exaggerate your pronunciation. you'll feel dumb but you'll sound good.
another one is, keep that smile on your face when you sing. It reduces the "P-F-T-H" i believe it's called sibilance. I read about an experiment that a guy tried to sing infront of a burning candle and no matter how he sang the candle blew out. when I smiled as he sings, the candle flame stays. one very good example is, observe Jon Chan (hope i got the name right) of Plainsunset when he sings. he looks a little cramped with his face at times but who cares if you sound great?

most importantly, be yourself. because pronunciation is presentation of your spoken words of your teeth and lips. If you try to fake an accent and you do a bad job, you sound worse than if you sang it singlish. at least it's sincere.

songs are musical stories, so portraying the emotions of the story
there're times. there's a fine line drawn between "corn" "cheese" and "cool". (as in corny / cheesy lame) , but sometimes corny lyrics or tunes may fit just into the song simply because the song is chirpy or funny , comedic or just simply feels like rainbows and sunflowers are coming out of your pants. remember if it sounds right, if feels right, it wouldn't be wrong right? SO SING IT LIKE YOU F*kin MEAN IT!

somewhat related to feel, but this is more vocal tone than emotions
combine with "feel" : falsettos/vibrato/spunkypunkyhusky/sexy/sounds emo like you're singing with a penknife on your wrist.
mysterious like muse? grunge like kurt cobain ? cannot-take-u-serious-voice like poppunk tom delonge of blink182 ? Beegees? some people possess the voice that's a double edged sword, as much as 100 people love it, 100 people hate it. e.g I hate suede's vocals.
check if your vocals have a distinct feel and study how you can use it to your advantage.
Another trick is, if you have alot of ppl saying that you "sound like this vocalist in this famous band", try to figure out what style compliments his/her voice, and not necessarily "imitate/replicate" his/her vocals but to embrace the plus points and then make your own unique/distinct trade mark as you mature.

As I always say recording vocals is like recording a shapeshifting tube amp.

a) Digestables
avoid spicy/dairy food especially before recording.
drink luke warm water with honey.
don't whisper when you're having a cough it makes it worse.
dont drink cold water before recording, shrinks your wind pipe
semen. kidding.

b) Health
auto abit ,if you know it's the flu season, wear the flu mask or gf's bra over your face I don't care just take care of yourself. If you're asthmatic or had your testicles removed and you're on medication, bring it along cos you don't want to go all dying during recording vocals.

c) Observation Case-To-Case Basis
Study on what foods you eat/what you do that may compliment or totally screw over your vocals. some people sound great/crap when :
sing when you just woke up..
after they drink alcohol.
after they drink alcohol, knocked out, woke up and hang over.
when they actually have flu. (if i'm not wrong Blink 182 - Dammit, Mark Hoppus had flu or something but song became a hit anyway)
personally for me, tabasco sauce clears up and opens up my voice cos I read somewhere contains some kinda content found in COUGH syrup.

for smokers, if you had to record the best take of your life. try this , first 1 cig. sing, after that another cig. sing, when you feel like your vocals giving way and out of breath, one shot 2 to 3 cigs. this is highly hazardous (but hey, i'm sure you've read the warning labels before you started to pick up) , and go for it! them cigs act as some kinda steroids or painkillers like how some cancer patients smoke weed to numb the pain. but as I already said, you know the warnings, very bad for your health. music is your life right?

d) character-pattern
every vocalist like tube amps have their own character, some perform under moods/momentum, like 11pm last bus a phone call comes and say "Ron I got the mood, i'm heading over to record" or some vocals are sadomasochistic , it needs to be abused for the 1st 3 hours , then it'll peak performance for the 4th, and 5th hour it starts to melt and rot. hahah. some need to record blindfolded, or with aircon off, or with aircon or with pegs on nipples. Some genres run on "energy" , they need a "dummy chair" to put a leg on (as if monitor speaker), they need to hold a fake mic in their hands but sing it facing the real vocal mic, they need to do 100 pushups and crunches, they need someone to preach them that Singapore government is the best in the world before they feel a need to protest and get the word across (if you're recording a punk band. i guess.)

"How come I sing so good in KBox and when I go singing competition the judges say I'm totally crap?"
1) the judges is tone deaf and their musical background is accountant, property sales agent and a car mechanic in Ubi Industrial area..
2) Echo effect on the Kbox machine.
3) Minus one (music without singing) has background vocalists + traces of the original vocals in perfect pitch backing you up.
4) you got "good friends" who don't want tell you the bad news to your face : YOU SUCK!
5) your friends can't sing any better than you do : THEY SUCK!
6) That's why you pay to sing. Ppl don't pay you to sing. If ppl paid you to stop singing, you must suck really bad.

If you're singing for work (in a pub) , if you're singing for fun (in a karaoke), or if you're singing while you're taking a big dump (in the toilet), it's not the same as singing with your heart on stage or in studio.

[Final Say]
In the final studio production, unless you're just doing singing (without any background music) , being a part of a band, or even an orchestra or background music, you have to compliment with the music and the rest of the band members have to compliment your vocals.

P.S : I just realised this is for SINGING vocalists.Growlers/Screamo/Rappers not included haha. I haven't gained enough experience to guide on other genres.
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you're welcome, feel free to forward it to anyone who likes to sing! and feel free to contribute any tips which I may have missed out or haven't included!
Yesyes. I have something to add. Strepsils doesn't give instant relief. In fact, for a while, the voice will get worse.

Eating dry bread on a cold day can also attribute to loss of voice.
strepsils... hmm this one really depends when it comes to foods different people's vocals have different reactions.

but dry bread + cold day definitely is a no go lol. hydration is key.
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Just always remember to drink water lots and lots of water cause it hydrates the voice box
if u go to a concert like normal fans u would scream after scream drink a sip of water =)
This one is good. My vocalist uses this before a set.
Good post. Now, I wish i could print this and shove it in the faces of people who are persistent in their strong belief they have a good voice to start with.
Thanks but actually I wrote this post for people who mainly believe their voices are not born "talented" and are doomed to failure.but some people really ARE born with it however it's not up to them to self proclaim it's for us listeners to tell them.