This might sound like a cliché, but rings truer for me with every day I spend recording vocals: The first take is almost always the best one, and the one that I end up using.
Although I do play and program a few instruments, my voice is my prime instrument, and have always been. I think I can say, also, that I really put my heart and soul into a song. I am an emotional type of person, so I tend to use those emotions to the fullest when I sing. Those emotions are always rawest, truest, most honest and revealing during the first vocal take. So why is that?
For me, I think it has to do with the following:
i. Before singing a song the whole way through while recording, I am usually pretty excited. Mostly I don’t exercise the songs before going onto recording. I like my vocal recordings to be unprepared, so as to leave room for some improvisation or perhaps a “mistake” that ends up being very cool. A rehearsed vocal performance, I think, would more often give me a lifeless, over perfected vocal. I don’t want that.
ii. I record my vocals without warming up. I do this because I like the way my voice sometimes will crack singing a high pitched note, or shiver holding a middle pitched note. I also think that the aforementioned emotions do come out more naturally that way. After all, if you belch your heart out, doesn’t it sound more true if your voice cracks? If it sounds true, and it’s not hideous, why shouldn’t it stay?
I just finished recording vocals for the opening track on my next album. The track is aptly called “First”, and has some of the most personal and emotional lyrics I’ve written. It is also, I’m proud to say now, one of my very best vocal performances. And all of it is from the first take (actually it’s the only take, as this is becoming a sort of time saving habit for me). Not to say that it doesn’t have any flaws, because it has quite a few, but the groove and the nerve and the intensity of that one vocal performance is so awesome, I can’t wait to let people hear it. And the flaws? I kinda love them.
This is probably not a way to record vocals that works for everyone, but it was sort of a revelation for me today, that I just had to share.