Know When to Rely on Tech for Your Recording

Close up of hand on audio mixing desk
Today’s technology gives singers more options than ever before — but be careful not to make it a crutch -says David Frangioni

This excerpt from the break-out book The Ultimate Guide to Singing, features David Frangioni: technical consultant, engineer for with Ozzy Osbourne, Aerosmith, Shakira, Bryan Adams and many more

The game has changed for vocalists in the recording studio.

Even up to ten years ago, one of our main quests was to capture performances with higher fidelity. Now we’ve moved on to a vast array of possibilities for actually altering those performances. What can now be done in terms of timing and tuning is just incredible. There are almost unlimited editing opportunities.

In the past, great singers that I’ve worked with like Steven Tyler and Ozzy Osbourne entered the studio without expecting to fix things “later,” meaning that they sang it until they got it right, punching into the track where necessary.

This is to their credit. They knew what they wanted before they entered the studio — and they would do as many takes at they needed to get their vocals sounding great, perfect.

Now, one can take more liberties in the studio and fix it later.

How Much Tech Should You Use on Your Voice?

But should vocalists avail themselves of these technological opportunities? Is it right to think that one can “fix” things in postproduction?

That’s actually a complex question and I want to make a complex argument.

Let’s step back for a minute and look at the relationship between technology and art. There has never been a time when technology hasn’t influenced art — even before any electronics existed. It may have been a more sophisticated paintbrush or a new kind of canvas that opened up new artistic possibilities.

Now, we are living in an era where technology is interacting with the creation of art more than it ever has. We can accept and celebrate this.

Singers today will want to know what is possible in terms of timing, tuning, layering vocals and all kinds of other effects — not to lower their standards, but to increase their options.

Every singer who has been in the studio knows that time is money; time can also be the enemy of the creative process. If it takes you three hours to nail a single phrase of your song, you could be sacrificing parts of your album. However, if you know that you can get the “feel” of that line down perfectly but have a hard time reaching the note, fixing that single note will take a minute in postproduction.

You can draw upon this knowledge for picking and choosing how you will approach your creative process in the studio. In other words, if your time is limited, but you know the technical possibilities, you have more resources to reach your goals.

The Two Extremes of Vocal Effects

Here’s an extreme example. There was a famous female pop singer whose name I cannot mention who said to me, “You have these two takes and then I have to be on a private jet.

Two passes in real-time, that’s it.” Now, I am not suggesting that you choose this method for your recording! But that was the situation I had to work with and technology ended up being the deciding factor in producing a quality vocal track.

At the other extreme you have vocalists who want no Auto-Tune on their vocals and the engineering work is largely limited to punching and crossfading, because they are singing it all without auto-tuning.

I come away from all of these experiences with this piece of wisdom: understand the technological options AND push yourself for the best performance.

Don’t use the options as a crutch; expand your range, develop your sense of pitch and timing — give the song your best performance. Then, consider how technology can help you reach your goals.

Aim for an organically satisfying vocal performance. Then realize that technology can enhance it — as well as shorten the time it takes to achieve it.

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