You are not alone, my friend. Ithink most of us who see live music often have the same experience. Butwhy is this so common? Can’t peoplesing the same in the studio as theydo on stage?
Well, it is true that singing in thestudio and performing live are horsesof a very different color. The liveexperience is primarily about energy,vibe, and becoming one with the audience. The recording world tendsto be more about expertise, pitch,and control. And yet, a great studiovocal should encompass both worlds.
The most important aspect of any lead vocal—irrespective of studio orstage—is feeling. I’ve had theextreme pleasure of working with some of my favorite vocalists of alltime,and there is a commonality tothe way we work in the studio: Wego for the feeling first, and knowthat the rest will follow. Without the feeling, there is no reason to book the session.
The singer is a story teller, andthe vocal approach has to breathe life into the lyrics and the music. The song also has to be believable,and to cut a believable vocal, thesinger has to be the first believer.He or she must know the meaningof the song—and even the subtextof the lyrics—to really get inside itand deliver an ultimate performance. So we will run thesong down, talk about what we aregoing for, get to know the arrangement,and when it all feels right, wego for it. As a result, the “keeper”vocal tends to be the first, second,or third take, or a combination ofthem all. If the singer isn’t feeling itafter some coaching and trial-anderror,we will likely come back to it another time, and make it freshagain. I am not a fan of beating upvocals in the studio, as they alwaystend to sound beaten up when youhear them back.
While some artists may still wish towrangle a vocal performance to death, I can say without hesitationthat the projects I’ve done that haveachieved gold or platinum successand/or a Grammy win, were practically all done live with minimal takes.For example, Bonnie Raitt and JohnLee Hooker’s “I’m in the Mood forLove” was cut live with just the three of us, and we only did it once! Wewanted the feeling that multipletakes sometimes just won’t provide—spontaneity.
I also did two projects with ToddRundgren this way. The object was tocreate the pressure and adrenalinrush of getting it right live, so weheard the song for the first time theday we recorded it. The band was cutlive, as well, and many of the songshad complex vocal arrangements. Itwas an intense experience to perform this way, but the music had anurgency that normal studio recordingsoften lack.
Van Morrison will only use firsttakes. When he feels the spirit of thesong has been captured, he can’t bebothered if something falls slightlyout-of-tune or out-of-time. FrankSinatra worked the same way. Nobodytold The Chairman he had to doanother take.
Elvis Costello is another big believerin the “one and done” approach. ForPainted By Memory, his album withBurt Bacharach, I sat at the board atOceanway with Elvis...