continued from 5 Steps to Tight Vocals – Part 1
4. Smooth Out Your Blend
One of the signatures of great vocals is a tight, smooth blend. Of the five steps, this will likely take the most work. Achieving a great blend takes skill and effort, but it’s worth it in the end. Most of the time, when I first listen to a vocal team, I am able to pick out every individual voice. The team members have simply chosen to sing together without any real regard to actually blending with each other to make one sound. This aspect is often a completely “new” idea for most singers.
Blend actually starts with humility. When we choose to blend with another singer, we make a decision to consciously put aside some of our own sound/style for the purpose of creating a new sound with another singer or singers. Obviously, our individual voices will help to color the sound, but our voice, in and of itself, should not be distinguishable. Each singer needs to keep this goal in mind. By striving for this, we recognize that our voice may need to be changed or altered in the process. This can be difficult for people on a number of levels, but first and foremost one must be willing to approach the situation with the attitude of, “I’m willing to make any necessary changes to my own sound for the good of the team.”
Some important aspects of finding a good blend are these:
- Vowels – Uniform vowel shapes are key to getting a good blend. We sing vowels and articulate consonants, so make sure everyone is shaping their vowels in the same way. This is best achieved by first practicing in front of a large mirror where everyone can see themselves and each other at the same time.
- Volume – Work on getting everyone’s volume levels the same BEFORE you get in front of the microphones. Getting the right blend is YOUR job as singers, not your sound tech’s job.
- Vibrato – Make sure that the only vibrato going on is NATURAL. A natural vibrato is created by good breath support and does not change pitch. It should only change volume. A natural vibrato can be a part of a good and healthy blend. NO vibrato is typically the result of a stressed or immature voice.
- Tone Quality – This is the aspect of blending that will likely take the most skill. A singer, in order to affect their own tone, will need to learn how to access various areas of resonance in order to make their voice sound more like someone else’s, along with the other things I’ve mentioned. This is a skill that takes concerted effort and practice, but is a great one for any vocalist to have.
5. Use Technology Correctly
Today’s technology has so much to offer us as musicians. With proper use, we now have the ability to not only amplify our voices and instruments, but also the ability to personally monitor our sound with the use of in-ear monitors. Used correctly, IEMs can help to save your voice and save your hearing. However, in order to use this technology to its fullest, there are things to keep in mind.
- Blend is Our Responsibility. Generally speaking, I find that most vocal teams today tend to sing as they wish and look to the sound techs to fix any blend issues they can through technology. This is a mistake on many levels. First of all, your sound tech may not be a musician. Secondly, his job is primarily to take the sound you give him and amplify it so the intended audience can hear it. It is not his job to make sure you’re in tune or have a pleasant tone quality. Nor is it his job to see that you are blending well, with the proper volume in relation to the rest of the singers. That’s YOUR job. Thirdly, most of the techs serving in our churches are volunteers with little or no training. They simply aren’t qualified to do all that we often ask of them. The simpler we can make their job, the better.
- Use the Mic Correctly. Using a microphone properly is not difficult, and yet many singers do not. It helps to understand what type of microphone you are using because different mics respond differently, but a good rule of thumb is to plant your mouth 1 inch away from the center of the microphone and keep it there. Probably the most important thing you can do is to be consistent with your microphone usage. Do not overly work the mic. Even moving an additional inch away will cut your perceived sound by half most times, so take note of your position and stay consistent so your sound tech isn’t spending all his energy trying to track YOU.
- Treat Vocals as ONE Instrument in Your IEM Mix. There is a difference between how we mix monitors with external speakers versus the way we mix with IEMs. It’s important to understand that vocals should all be on one track in your IEM so that you can hear and respond to the actual volume levels of each singer. If you have each singer separated, you will have no idea what the vocals actually sound like in real time. When they are mixed together you can respond appropriately and your sound tech has less to deal with.
God bless you as you sing for Him!