Singer-songwriter Emma King has recorded in some of America’s top studios, including the legendary Sun Studios in Memphis, and has just released her second solo album Electric Soul Therapy. Here are her four top tips for getting the best out of studio sessions.
1 Preparation is key
It’s important to feel calm walking into a session – you don’t want to start the day feeling under-prepared, rushed or flustered – so take time to prepare your vocal space. Everyone has their own personal preferences and quirks in the studio; I like to be barefoot in a semi-lit room, with plenty of scarves to hand to keep my body, especially my neck, warm.
I find recording a personal and emotional experience, so I prefer not to have lots of people around during studio sessions. A few years ago, I had the unusual experience of recording in front of a group of students from Curb College of Music in Daytona Beach, Florida. I was standing behind the glass ready to record while 30 plus fresh-faced students made notes from the other side. It was daunting, to say the least! I had to lay bare everything, not just to myself and an engineer, but to pupils wanting to understand what it means to “feel it”. These days I often record from my home studio to eliminate time pressures and distractions.
2 Stay healthy
I burn a lot of energy in the studio, mainly because I never stand still. It’s important to get enough of the “good stuff” (leafy greens, water and protein) to keep you going through those long sessions. I also try to avoid dairy, cold drinks (especially carbonated ones), chewing gum and anything spicy; alcohol is a no, too!
I don’t eat when I sing and never sing on a full stomach as it makes me feel lethargic and “heavy”. Finding the right time to eat can be a balancing act. During long sessions I have Savannah Bee Honey Straws in between vocal takes and I always have hot water and honey on standby. Hydration for your vocal folds is a must. During my recent album vocal sessions, I did plenty of backing vocals that entailed a lot of “vocal stacking” (doubling the same part multiple times). The time you have between takes is usually minimal and so steaming and staying hydrated was essential in these situations.
3 Rest, rest, rest
Lack of sleep affects everything that is important for a studio session or live performance: your mood, brain, muscle memory and energy levels. If you’re tired nothing is going to work as it should. If I’m exhausted, I can hear it in my voice, my diaphragm becomes lazy and I have a lack of breath.
4 Speak up
If you feel tired or strained don’t be afraid to speak up. In studio environments there are always time pressures, but it’s important to know when to say: “I’ve had enough… let’s come back tomorrow.” Powering through can be ineffective – decreasing creativity, and causing vocal strain, ear-fatigue, and loss of breath and diaphragm action. It’s important to know your limits as well as your strengths and to listen to your body. A good producer or engineer can normally see and hear the tell-tale-signs of tiredness and will ask whether you want to continue or come back tomorrow.
Check out King’s single War Paint, off her new album Electric Soul Therapy, here. The album features Steely Dan’s Keith Carlock on drums and film/tv composer Michael Whittaker on keyboards. It was recorded in the UK and US and mastered at Abbey Road.