Between the Vocal Folds S1.E6: Singers Working with an Engineer in the Studio

Image of Kaitie Sly and Charlie Waymire
Join Kaitie and audio engineer, Charlie Waymire, as they discuss singers working with an engineer in the studio.

Welcome to the sixth Episode of the Between the Vocal Folds podcast. Every episode features a new guest from the music industry to discuss any and all topics related to singing and the voice. This week’s guest is Charlie Waymire, who is a producer, drummer recording and mixing engineer and owner of LA recording studio, Ultimate Studios Inc. We are really excited to have Charlie on the podcast and look forward to hearing his expertise on recording vocals in the studio.

Getting the Most Out of Your Studio Time

Charlie, you’re working with singers all the time in your studio. So you know all about how singing is about portraying emotion in a song. And so, my question is, how can a good engineer helped bring this out? And what sort of things do you do to get the most out of your singers when they’re in your studio?

Charlie Waymire:
The first step in getting that is being comfortable with someone. You have to have some sort of rapport because especially if you’re a new singer, obviously there’s varying degrees of all of this, but let’s say you’re newer to this and you haven’t been doing it for your entire career. It’s a two way street. You have to have an engineer that understands you and what you’re looking for but you as the singer also have to be comfortable with the engineer. And I think getting to that point of being comfortable starts a little bit before the record button hits. For me, if I’m working with someone that I haven’t worked with before or I know they’re newer, I always like to do some sort of, I call them pre-pro meetings.

It could be a phone call. It could be coming by the studio, a week or two before the session and just have a half hour to 45 minutes of talking and getting to know each other, feeling things out a little bit that way because then it’s not so foreign when you go to hit record.

Because unlike other instruments, if you’re nervous as the vocalist, it affects everything. A drummer, guitar player or bass player, you can kind of push through that and you might not show in the instrument but you are the instrument as a vocalist. So, you have to be able to get a little past that. And I think that having a little bit of a comfort zone with whoever you’re working with, prior to the session, can go a long way into making you feel a lot more comfortable and also help whoever the engineer or producer or both understand what they need to do to help you out to be comfortable to get that best performance.

Getting Comfortable in the Studio

You’re talking about making singers feel comfortable in the studio. So, that’s one of the things that you would do is have a meeting with them beforehand to try to break the ice. What advice do you have for singers in this area? Like something that maybe they could do to help themselves feel more comfortable before coming to the studio?

Charlie Waymire:
I think one thing you can do is be over-prepared with what you’re going to record going in. So, you can take the variable of knowing the material out, because that way you can really just focus on being in the moment without having to worry about what you’re recording as well. Whether it’s memorizing lyrics, whether it’s knowing the form really well. And I know that sounds like it’s an obvious thing but it’s not. There are so many times I’ve had someone come in and they’ve got the lyrics memorized and they don’t have them printed out and they get in and they start singing. All of a sudden they forget a line or they forget a few words and then they forget another one and then they start getting in their head and they start getting a little nervous. And then, it’s the domino effect at that point.

So, if you can be over-prepared with your material, you know that you know it. Go the extra step of having it printed out, one for you and one for the engineer, because that way you always have a backup if you forget a word or forget a line or something, it’s no big deal. It’s right in front of you. You don’t have to get nervous about that. Then you can really just focus on trying to get in the head space of getting a good take with the emotion that you need for the song. Whether it’s happy, sad, angry or whatever it may be. And then for the engineering side, it’s all about setting up an environment in a way that is comfortable for the singer. And everyone’s a little bit different with what space they want to be in. Some don’t mind the booth, some like to be in open space and some like to be in the control room. All those variables. But I say it comes down to preparation that can go a long way into not feeling nervous about what you’re doing.

So, now the singers at your studio, you guys are recording. What do you do to get the most out of your singers when they’re actually in your studio?

Charlie Waymire:
I like to do a couple things. From the moment they walk in the door, I always have at least a 20 minute period of just chill and hang, so everybody’s comfortable and relaxed. A lot of the times I’ll have at least a mic or two set up. If we already know what we’re going to use, gear wise, that’s already set up. You get to that point, you talk for a few minutes, you’re comfortable and everyone’s relaxed. “All right. Let’s do this thing.” And then you can start the process of actual singing. I like to do full takes for the first few takes, for a couple of reasons. One, it’s your music, you know that. So, it puts you in the head space of the whole song. It lets you just be you and it also lets you warm up.

That’s another big one. A lot of singers tend not to warm up too much beforehand. And I think that’s a huge mistake. So, I can use a couple full takes of you getting warmed up, you get in the head space of the song, you make sure the environment’s right. You get someone comfortable, especially if it’s someone I haven’t worked with a lot. It lets them get comfortable with just singing in front of me or maybe they have someone else with them and you get the environment comfortable and maybe you give a little bit of feedback then. “Hey, I noticed this here or this here.” Nothing too in depth, but you just get that ball rolling of, “Hey, there’s someone on the other side of the glass that’s going to be giving you some feedback or constructive criticism on your performance,” Without loading someone up with a list of things that you need them to try to watch out for. And then it also allows me to learn how you see the song, so to speak, you know what I mean?


Charlie Waymire:
And that helps me inform what my feedback on parts or suggestions to try will be. Sometimes there’s a lot and you go, “Okay, now we’re going to go take things a piece at a time.” And sometimes you realize that a lot of it may be there and it just needs a little massaging here and a little massaging there. And if the vocalist is prepared, we can do that easier because you can start experimenting with the parts that you need to. And if you do that in steps like that and it may take a little time but it usually sets everybody at ease because it’s not a barrage of, “Okay, the mic is on. Get a good take,” or, “You just did a take. Here is 18 things I want you to look out.” Neither one of those things are good.

Singers Working with an Engineer for the First Time

What advice do you have for a singer working with an engineer for the first time?

Charlie Waymire:
First off, ask a lot of questions before you actually hit record. Find out if the engineer that you’re going into work with is the right one because you need to work with someone that you can trust and has your best interest at heart. So, I think that’s huge, actually, but when you’re picking that person to work with, it’s really easy to Google people now or get on Instagram or Facebook and learn about who they are. Not just the gear they have or the studio but who they are and who they’ve worked with. But also, find recommendations wherever you are. If you know some people that have worked with certain engineers, say, “Hey, I need to go do this. Do you have someone that you’ve worked with that you really like and trust?” So, you can try to put yourself in the best position to start with but don’t be afraid to ask a bunch of questions beforehand.

2nd: What is the process or what have they done. As a singer, ask the engineer, “How do you like to work?” And even if you don’t understand the question you’re asking, I think you can learn a lot by the answers from the engineer. Are they set it and forget it types where they are just hitting record? Do they like to try to help you out? Do they like to try to know things upfront? All of that information will go a long way for you knowing if it’s someone that you can trust. Because when you walk in that door as the singer, you need to be able to let go. And if you know that the person on the other side of the glass is there that understands your music, what you’re going for and you can trust them to do their job on that, I think you can be a lot more comfortable and get a much better performance.

And trust me, I know you’ve probably worked with some through your career. I know I’ve been in sessions where the people on the other side of the glass couldn’t care less. They were hitting record and they were collecting a paycheck and we got subpar product or we got things that we couldn’t use just because of that. For me, I don’t care… Once I say yes to a gig, I’m a hundred percent in. I’m there. What do we have to get done to make sure you get what you want?

And not be afraid to try something that’s different. That can be in the moment, especially when the record buttons hit. That can be a bit of a scary thing, especially to someone that’s newer at it. But sometimes you take that leap, you just got to close your eyes and jump in with both feet and go for it because you could come out the other end of it with something really, really magical.

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