Learning singing technique by recording an EP

Planning singing techniques saves a lot of studio time…

In past blogs, I have encouraged singers to use recording as a learning tool. The iPhone, for example, is extremely handy and easy to use. Both audio and video can be used daily. The phone, together with reflection, can save on a lot of singing lessons! Today’s blog looks at recording from another angle by reflecting on the benefit of thinking through singing techniques that save editing time and the role of improvisation in songwriting and recording.

My new EP, ‘Recycle’, consists of four songs written, performed, and recorded over the Southern Hemisphere Summer of 2023. Producing this EP develops my interest further in the interaction between vocal technique, the mic, and the Logic Pro software. An example of this was that I utilized vocal techniques which minimize editing at a later stage; techniques such as the Bel Canto inaudible breath. To elaborate, the inaudible breath means the audio engineer does not need to remove breaths – they are inaudible!

Another Bel Canto technique that is useful is using the suspension of the rib cage to enable the singer to take fewer breaths; Dame Nellie Melba’s singing book ‘Melba Method’ contains some useful exercises. To explain, where there are fewer breaths, there is less work for the editor. In saying this, some will listen and hear that I have left many audible breaths in; breaths can be left in for emotion. Sometimes, I like to hear breaths which is why I prefer these Bel Canto techniques, combined with deliberate emotive breaths, over and above too much editing.

The EP ‘Recycle’ focusses on using singing techniques over and above applying a filter or EQ. To put it simply, the human voice has its own EQ and endless array of weird sounds. There is no need to use hours and hours of Logic Pro effects if a singer knows how to sing.

The EP also developed my songwriting by allowing me to revisit old songs and revise them. Initially, I chose ten songs and then narrowed the EP down to four songs that worked together as a whole. The album is very dark, albeit with some light at the end; the EP holds together by the darkness it contains. (I will include some of my happier songs in my next EP which I plan to release in the latter half of 2023). It was important to download the songs on my phone and go for a walk in order to decide which order to put the songs in before uploading them to the mastering website (LANDR in my case). I went for a walk and continually played with the order while walking around and around the park. Once the songs are uploaded on LANDR, that is the order!

Technically, Audio Engineering is like playing an instrument – practice, practice, practice! I discovered some cool tricks like adding a bar of silence at the beginning of the recording. To that end, always try to include bars of silence before the recording. However, should you need to include a bar, it is easy; just use the loop tool and then insert the silence by using the insert bar silence tool. Moreover, the practice allowed me to become more and more efficient with things like the use of the buses, knowing which acoustic space I required, and stacking.

My priority for this EP was to express myself. Some may ask: isn’t that the point of songwriting? Well yes, and no. For many, the priority is to sell or to prove their skills, whereas, for me, my sole objective was that the EP expresses my innermost feelings rather than conform to any genre. Hence, the EP is in the ‘Alternative Genre’ and, at times, is very alternative! The Alternative Genre allowed my music-making to be controlled by the subconscious – I just pushed the record and ‘went with it’.

The EP opens with a song called ‘Sage in the Tree’ which I wrote two decades ago about the end of a relationship; I updated this song by adding an outro. The song was conjured up in the Aotearoa New Zealand bush; the ‘sage’ is a native pigeon called the kererū. Importantly, I improvised the outro and allowed myself to ‘say what I wanted to say at that moment’. In other words, I only recorded the outro once and did not know what I was about to improvise. My favorite line is about discarding things that have not worked in the past; easier said than done when it comes to deeply engrained behaviors.

The second song, ‘Snowslide’, is about a confusing, dysfunctional relationship that is like being tumbled down a mountain by an avalanche. I have used the word ‘snowslide’ rather than ‘avalanche’. I express anger by ending the song with layers of ‘hiss’; the type of hiss that someone would do if they truly despised a person. Naturally, today we don’t hiss very much, if at all. This is a pity as it is probably less harmful than some of the other behaviors that people engage in. This hissing sound was then further distorted by a plug-in within the Logic Pro software.

The third song is called ‘Numb’ and is about the hurt of losing a person mentally rather than physically. In particular, the song is about people that have been conditioned by others such as in Parental Alienation or people that suffer from a mental illness. I took a lot of time to include a lot of ‘almost silence’. This ‘almost silence’, which is the faint sound of taonga pūoro, is there to say ‘just sit in the pain’. I feel that our modern world is always trying to avoid or numb pain. However, surely it is ok, for some, to just dive into the hurt until it has been explored and exhausted. In that aspect, creativity is such a gift to us as it allows us to explore and exhaust emotional pain. For me, ‘Numb’ is one of the most sorrowful and yet hopeful songs I have ever written.

The fourth song, ‘Run’ is about a toxic relationship. I used a restrained approach to the instrumentation at the beginning to show this. However, the song gravitates to, and, ends in the major key with a celebratory explosion of synthesizers. It was virtually all improvised. The positivity at the end of the EP proves to me that, in the end, in my subconscious, the beginning of 2023, for me, is all about hope and faith.

Technically, one of the things I could have done things better was with the balance in the first song, especially in the beginning. I was hindered by the fact I use Artificial Intelligence to master my music. The AI didn’t allow me as much control as I would have liked over the individual songs. (I mastered the music as an album on LANDR. Hopefully, they improve that functionality). However, I could have helped things by balancing the voice better in the beginning, it would have been an easy fix by using the volume automation tool.

Another issue I ran into was that I should have relaxed up on the sibilants. In the future, I will lighten the sibilants so that they do not become an issue when adding compression. Another easy fix for the future.

Singing-wise, I was determined to stay true to my kiwi accent which has some Australian influences; words like ‘water’ and ‘beauty’ were more Aussie. To reiterate, this EP was about expressing myself through the vehicle of songwriting, singing/playing, and audio engineering. I wanted something that I could listen back to and remember certain events and emotions. I hope you enjoy the EP or, at the very least, you can listen to it with an idea of the thought processes I had at the time I created it!

Recycle is available on most streaming platforms including YouTube, Spotify and Apple.

Published by Deborah Wai Kapohe

I am a classical singer and guitarist. I have created a project called 'The Lilli Lehmann Project'. The project, lasting from 2020 until 2023, aims to refresh my voice and prepare me to be a singing teacher. The scope of the project is that I am studying Lilli Lehmann's singing book, bibliography, recordings and her reviews, as well as other historical vocal pedagogy. I have chosen this platform in order to blog about my discoveries, demonstrate techniques and exercises, and perform pieces of music. I have done so because I wish to be transparent. I think that if a student is prepared to learn from me then I should stand up to public scrutiny.

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