Record with Tam: 7 Steps to Record Live Background Vocals


#STORYTIME

In January 2019, I booked my first tour with Sofar Sounds. I performed in Atlanta, NYC & DC! As an independent artist and working musician, my budget was limited, but I had a vision for capturing a LIVE BAND feel. TIME TO GET TO WORK! 💪💪


At the time, my computer was on its way out, the audio interface had a short in it, and I had no stand for my mic, but that’s all I needed! It didn’t take much! At each performance site, I brought nothing but a keyboard, my fellow musician (STEVO) and my prepared tracks. That was enough to put on one hell of a show! Here’s one of my favorite performances from the show!

To my musicians -- before you do that low-key open mic or even your next virtual show, boost your performance with prerecorded background vocals by following these 7 simple steps below. Check out the video tutorial here!

Things You Need:

  1. Audio Programming Software

  2. Audio Interface

  3. Condenser Microphone (POP Filter recommended)

  4. Laptop/Computer

STEP #1. THE PREPARATION

For this show, I did a mashup of Janelle Monáe’s “Make Me Feel” & Prince’s “Kiss.” There were two things I had to do before I plugged any of my devices in.

  1. PREPARE. I made sure I had my harmonies down before I began recording to use my time efficiently. Also, I assessed where my voice was after a light warm up, so I could cater to my vocal strengths, which I will tell you about a bit more!

  2. BUILD/ORGANIZE ARRANGEMENT. My map went as so: I sang the verse, pre-chorus (B-section) and Chorus of “Make Me Feel” and then superimposed a verse and chorus from "Kiss" after that portion. Then, I created a tag to end this song.

STEP #2. ORGANIZE THE TRACKS

In an effort to be time-efficient, I typically build out all my tracks in the audio recording program first, so, I don’t have to deal with technical matters when in recording mode. Also, I name each track by voice part and function (i.e. LEAD, SOPRANO, ALTO, TENOR, etc.) This saves me confusion if I don’t

have my tracks in order.


STEP #3. RECORD THE MELODY FIRST

Typically, I always start with the melody first because I consider it homebase and it’s where my ear gravitates toward. So, whichever background vocal line that holds the melody will be my starting point. Not to mention, it’s much easier to build my harmonies around a melody instead of a soprano line.

PRO-TIP:

DON’T LET YOUR SOUND PEAK. You can monitor this by watching the amplitude of the sound waves and assuring that the volume meter doesn’t get overloaded.

STEP #4. RECORD UNISON LINES AND THEN ADD PARTS

The background vocals behind the B-section and chorus of “Make Me Feel” are unison. So, I get them out of the way with octave unison tracks as well.

PRO-TIP #1 for Recording Vocals:

Lest we forget, I am still a WHOLE Soprano, so these low lines in this mashup were giving Toni Braxton/Anita Baker while I’m a whole Aretha/Patti! So, it took some invention to make it come across well! I record the lowest lines on all three vocal tracks to pad the sound.


PRO-TIP #2 for Singing Background Live:

If you’re a higher voice, ask the lower voices to give more sound in their lower phrases and to lighten up at the top of their voices. Therefore, the ending product is balanced to the audience’s ear.


On the opposite end, if you’re a lower voice, ask the higher voices to give more sound in their high phrases and to lighten up down low so you don’t have to push.

STEP #5. DO SCRATCH LEAD VOCALS

Impermanent lead vocals are a great help to the recording process. It helps me keep my place in the song and to recognize what’s missing. Especially when doing mashups.

PRO-TIP:

Record your Background Vocals ALL THE WAY THROUGH. You ask me WHYYYY? I got THREE reasons:

  1. The intensity varies in each part of the song, so it makes for a more authentic progression.

  2. Also, I aspire to be like the old-fashioned singers who had to sing a song from start to finish back in the MOTOWN days!

  3. It’s a testament on whether you can do it live, stamina-wise. If you can’t do it in the studio, 9 times out of 10, you can’t do it live, so, the proof is always in the pudding!

STEP #6. EDIT

This is when you trim out those loud breaths or excess sounds when you’re not singing. Also, for a more polished sound without mixing/mastering, put on some light compression and pitch correction on your vocals.


STEP #7. SEND IT OUT


If you’re working with an audio engineer who will be able to play and further edit your supporting tracks as you perform, send it to them in two ways.

  1. Send out the BGV stems separately, 1 by 1, in case, the sound engineer can mix it.

  2. Send it as one single file with an appropriate file name (Title of song, Your Name).




Hope that helped! If I could do it in 2019 with defective technology, I know my Good Luck Charms can do it too!


Peace,






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