#17 Recording Vocals

by | May 19, 2023

The way that Scavone preferred to approach my vocals was to record four songs a day, maximum. We had an eight-song album, so this was going to require at least two more days in the studio. Most voices can only handle so much singing in a day; you can easily wear your vocal chords out and you’ll deteriorate fast. I once heard Chris Stapleton say that he only allows his team to book three shows a week for him because his voice simply can’t handle any more. I have also seen Sammy Hagar discuss being on tour for so long that he wasn’t singing near 100 percent for many shows. We singers simply only have a certain amount of time before our vocals go south in a bad way. What we settled on was a half-day of vocals and a half-day of guitar for each of my two days. 

For most of you, I’m sure you’re thinking “How DAMN LONG does it take you to sing four songs?” That’s a totally legit question. It obviously doesn’t take long to sing four songs, BUT it does take roughly four hours to sing four songs the best that you can in the studio. Remember, I wrote earlier about how making mistakes in the studio is not like making them in concert. You can get away with more flubs at a live show; however, if you FUCK UP in the studio—especially vocally—EVERYONE hears it immediately. 

Recording vocals is not just about cutting a good track and hitting every note correctly, which is difficult enough. Remember the whole “less is more” approach I wrote about earlier? The same applies to vocals, probably even more so than instruments. One of the things few people understand about writing vocals to a song is not only are we looking for a melody that fits to be sung over the chord progression, we are searching for a cadence, a rhythm. I believe that’s as important as the melody. 

Earlier in the blog we joked about Rob grabbing my lyrics, trying to sing, and falling on his face while I was playing his bass. That had NOTHING to do with the song’s melody; he is a fine musician with an ear trained enough to roll through that with no problem. What fucked him up was trying to read the lyrics and match my cadence having not heard the song too often. One of the things Jackie talks about while rehearsing with me is that she has to match my cadence. This is especially true if we are learning a cover song because we don’t always sing those like the original artists. In order to sing well together, you not only have to sing in key, you need to sing in rhythm. As an example, it’s difficult learning the rhythm and cadence Prince uses when singing “Purple Rain,” especially while playing guitar at the same time.

Though I am a guitar player and singer, I am still a drummer at heart. Because I’m very rhythmic, I also tend to sing that way. I fill in and round out places with ad-libbed words to keep the rhythm, and I tend to do it more often when I’m playing acoustic and don’t have a drummer and bass player behind me. But adding those nuances is not always suitable for a song; sometimes you need more space for the instruments to shine through (again, less is more). Another example of what I’d do is instead of singing “ALL alone on this dismal day,” I’d add a “growl” to my voice that made it sound more like “HALL alone on this dismal day.” Scavone and Mitschele both understood my reasoning for the emphasis, but they pointed out that I had blown through a good portion of my breath early, causing me to have to breathe in sooner or lose power by the end of the verse. When great producers like them hear this kind of shit happening, they will fight like hell to stop it. BUUTTT, when you’ve been singing a song that way for as long as I have, it isn’t easy to change, especially in ONE hour per song. Needless to say, there were many, many takes for more than a few of the songs before I corrected my shit and was able to record a final one. Not only is it frustrating (I had to leave the booth and go outside a few times to gather myself), it will wear your damn vocals out. 

Jackie (having not ever recorded in a studio like this) fucking KILLED it, of course, leading Scavone to look at me and say, as I mentioned earlier, “Not only can she sing her ass off, she is efficient.” This is a producer’s DREAM, and Scavone made it clear he would keep her number for future projects when he needs backup and harmony vocals. They didn’t let her ass off easily, either. At the end of “Friend,” for example, Scavone kept punching in on the mic and saying, “That was good, but I think you’ve got more in you.” He did this about five times until she belted out her part and blew the damn windows out of the joint. OK, maybe not actually blew them out, but she hit some BIG-ass notes and it was fucking badass. The worst part about this is NOW when we sing live together and she hits those big notes I will want to follow. Yeah, we ALL know I don’t have that kind of range, so I end up ALL fucking out of key and sounding like shit. It’s best when I stay at my octave (in my lane, so to speak) while she takes the liberties. The two of us have found that I don’t tend to try and follow her unless she is more than one octave above me. So, this calls for a lot of practice, guys, but it’s totally worth every moment. 

Though Jackie was efficient, we still needed to add even more time in the studio, as she became way more prominent than just singing harmonies on the bridges and choruses. Our voices worked so well together that Mitschele found more and more places to feature her. As I stated earlier, it was his idea to give her a verse of her own in “Cry for Me.” He and Scavone both had her sing with me on multiple verses on the album as well. I added a few parts that I kept hearing in my head every time she sang that also made the final cuts. All in all, the vocals really turned out better than anyone thought and have become a highlight on the album that everyone comments on. I can’t imagine where our chemistry will lead us as we continue to sing together, but for now it is more than good enough.