Tools To Improve Vocal Performance
Gear to help you hit the high notes
It must be great to be a singer. No instruments to carry around, other than yourself. No lusting after 1950s custom shop reissues. No arguing over different brands of preamp valves. You just turn up, sing, and go home. Dead easy.
Except, of course, it’s not like that at all. As a singer, either in a band or on your own, you are the instrument. It’s you that carries the song, gives it the top layer of emotion. It’s you that brings a degree of accessibility, a conduit through which your fans can engage with your music. So it’s absolutely vital you treat a singing gig like those nerdy instrumentalists treat one, and that means a combination of the right equipment, technique and good old fashioned practice.
This isn’t the place to start offering tips on the correct nano-angle to hold your head, or how to go down the wacky world of circular breathing because we’re a gear shop. Thankfully, we do have a few tools which might help you not only improve your performance skills but maybe even take them in new directions. So without further ado, here are a few tools to improve vocal performance for anyone starting out.
Obviously, unless you’re Brian Blessed, you’re going to need a microphone. More often than not a venue will provide mics for live performances, often caked in the slobber from last night’s gore-metal act, but there’s a lot to be said for having your own that you can get used to. And, if you’re going to get one, you might as well get the industry standard. The Shure SM58S is the vocal mic. It’s well built, designed specifically for vocalists on account of its cardioid pickup pattern (which focuses on the sound coming in directly from the top and minimises background noise) and will ensure you sound exactly like you on a good day. After your voice, a decent microphone is the main tool of your trade, so it makes sense to invest in something you can rely on.
It’s not always feasible for full-band practices to get your technique right, so it’s always wise to have something lying around with which you can record yourself and listen back. A big part of learning is being able to hear yourself back – that stands for any instrument – as it enables you to iron out little mistakes or deficiencies before they become cold hard habit. The Boss BR80 is a small unit which can record 4 tracks of music, so you could record practice sessions, or you could make use of the in-built backing tracks to practise your parts. Everything records onto a standard SD card too, so you could load your recordings onto your smartphone to listen to when you’re on the bus.
For singer-songwriters – especially those who use a guitar as part of their performance, the BOSS VE-8 Acoustic Singer Vocal and Guitar Effects Processor is an invaluable tool that can really add that professional sheen you’re looking for. You can plug your guitar into this nifty piece of tech and take advantage of the looping capabilities and suite of dedicated guitar effects, but it’s the vocal capabilities that singers will really benefit from. The BOSS VE-8 features an array of vocal effects such as harmony, reverb and Pitch Correct to name a few, as well as an intuitive system that can make you feel like you’re working with your very own backing singers.
Although it has 80 seconds of looping time, it’s so much more than a looper, but an entire vocal processing unit that really adds a new dimension to your live performances and studio recordings.
Finally, you might want to consider ways you can branch out and use your voice for more than singing over the top of other people. A great place to start here is in live-looping, whereby you record a sound – say for example, a simple hummed melody – then begin to ‘layer’ other parts over the top. This is done to great effect by beatboxers and solo musicians, and can be great fun once you’ve learnt the basics. The Boss RC-505 is specifically built for vocalists, and can be rested on a studio surface or table and operated by hand, unlike dedicated guitar loopers. If you’ve never experienced the pleasure of looping, this is the perfect tool to start with.
Take a look at a full range of studio equipment and gear to help with your vocals over at the Dawsons website.