From the authors of 12 Steps For Preparing To Record Vocals and Breathing And The Voice - In Performance and Production Part 1 and Part 2; In this third instalment to their series, Producer Dan Cooper and Vocal Instructor Georgie Gillis will give their two-pronged approach to voice projection in the mix.
The Singer’s Perspective By Georgiana Gillis
Why Do I Need To Worry About Projecting My Voice In A Studio Environment?
One of my pet peeves as a vocal coach is to hear a singer not projecting into the microphone during a recording session. They mistakenly keep their voices ‘local’ as if the pop shield were their target audience. This false delivery then gets mixed and mastered into the final product with lack lustre results. The one thing your producer cannot fix with any post production tricks, is how you carried your voice into the recording microphone in the first place.
How Can Projecting Help With My Vocal Takes?
Projecting your voice not only gets it INTO the microphone, but helps with these three key elements which must come from you the singer and cannot be faked:
- VOLUME - If you were talking into a mic and your producer pushed the fader up you would still sound like you were only talking, only louder - not shouting. The same goes for big belting choruses - what’s the point if you are only singing them to yourself?
- ENERGY - Singing requires a certain amount of energy. Any listener can hear the difference when your voice sounds flat and lifeless. Aim for your vocals to always sound effortless and never strained.
- EMOTION - Passionate vocals convince the listener that you are singing from the heart. Believe your own hype and ham it up! If you are not recording original material, go for songs that you can relate to.
Ok. What Exactly Is Projecting Your Voice?
Technically it could be described as the action of extending your voice towards a desired target - in this case a microphone. Like breathing, projection is another one of those hear-say terms that can be interpreted in a number of different ways depending on who is teaching you. Learning how to project correctly and safely is often a case of making these small adjustments to your technique:
- Visualise singing live - In a performance situation you would sing TO your audience whereas in a studio we only have a microphone in an acoustically treated room. Visualise your perfect audience and then go for it!
- Use ‘Forward Placement’ - This describes where you ‘place’ your voice in order to achieve the best projectile results. Sing as if you were singing solely to the back of your top front teeth - this directs your air flow outwards where you need it most.
- Deep Breathing - (Breath = Power) Make sure you are using some form of diaphragmatic/deep breathing to enable your voice to ‘soar’. Combining correct breathing with Forward Placement has the desired ‘bow and arrow’ effect of projectile singing.
Can’t I Achieve The Same Results If I Just Make Myself Louder?
No. Getting louder does not mean you are necessarily extending your voice forwards. Simply forcing your voice without any precautionary action (shouting) is effectively ‘smacking’ your vocal folds together aggressively while at the same time forcing too much air through your larynx. Signs that you have been doing this already include; the feeling that you have ‘strained’ your voice, sore throats, hoarseness or regular bouts of acute or even chronic laryngitis. Over the long term, abusing your voice like this causes polyps and permanent laryngeal damage (listen to Rod Stewart for an example of vocal damage).
How Do We Place Our Voices Forwards?
In short, once we have taken a nice deep belly breath, that air then goes on a journey out of the airways, through your larynx, into your throat and hits the soft palate where the air can then either go up your nasal cavity or out of your mouth (or both).
- Put your tongue up on the roof of your mouth. This is called the hard palate.
- Run your tongue along the hard palate towards the back of your throat.
- Keep going until you reach the soft, pillowy soft palate.
- On the other side of the soft palate is the opening to the nasal cavity.
When singing we want our voices to go OUT of our mouths and not UP our noses as no singer wants to sound nasal. But because the nasal cavity is openly connected to our mouths like a chimney to a house, we need to MANUALLY direct the air flow to go where we want using Forward Placement - and so aiming the air outwards rather than upwards.
How Do We Achieve Forward Placement?
When coaching my students I tell them to sing to the back of their top front teeth (incisors). It is a simple yet effective image to visualise. To take this one step further, pay attention to how you use your lips when singing; In your normal ‘indoor’ voice, say the word ‘speak’. Say it again and notice what happens to the corners of your mouth. ‘Speak’. They pull up and back to make the required sound, thus losing some of your voice at the corners as well as sounding nasal and bright. Now try singing the word ‘speak’ with your lips pushed forwards. Hear the difference? To project effectively, everything should go forwards; voice AND lips.*
Difficulty with Accent - Irish or American?
One of the best accents for Forward Placement is Italian as their speech patterns naturally go forwards and up. Another good accent for singers is Welsh. It is perhaps no accident then that great singers such as Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, Katherine Jenkins and Tom Jones come from these countries, to name a few! Unfortunately there are some accents which are prone to sounding nasal - American and Irish accents are two examples of such and depending on the regional dialect can encounter more placement problems than others. However, using Forward Placement can remedy this considerably.
What If Your Chosen Method Of Singing Does Not Normally Require You To Project?
Obviously there are many different styles of singing and if yours is a style that relies heavily upon microphone amplification, for example; breathy vocals, stylised singing or using ‘hushed’ tones to create that modern ‘not bothered’ effect - then discuss this with your producer. He or she will adjust the sensitivity/proximity of the mic and volume in your ears accordingly. Even so, placing your voice forwards will enable the mic to pick up as much of your voice as possible with the minimum amount of loss.
True projection means to use a combination of deep breathing in conjunction with placing your voice in the foremost resonating chambers of your mouth. Taking this projectile action supports your voice in travelling a greater distance as well as gaining greater power and volume. It is also the key to unlocking a passionate, energetic performance. Second to breathing correctly, learning how to properly place your voice is integral to overcoming nasal tones, belting safely and riding your breaking point to name but a few.
*In this article I refer to ‘Forward Placement’. It is also known by other names such as voice or vocal placement. Their are many schools of thought on the correct way to do this as well as variance within genres. There is no exact science however and it mostly comes down to individual feel.