During vocal overdubs the control room monitor mix should contain only track elements that will be in the final mixed version of the song. Apart from possible loud headphone spill (Of these tracks) on the lead vocal track, logically the singer should not have to sing around music parts that may not be used.
Depending on where the vocals are added, the monitor mix could be just a simple rhythm track to a fully sweetened production. Some artist perform better hearing everything around them and others not.
There are two considerations: a simple backing track gives more freedom to the singer for adlibs, improvisational vocal parts and customized “excursions” from the song’s written melody. Changes in the song’s arrangement and future production are often built stemming from these moments.
On the other hand, a properly pre-arranged, fully realized track production (brass, strings, solo section, backing vocals) affords the lead vocal to be produced and recorded emotionally and dynamically to “fit” the track perfectly.
As with all other critical overdubs, it’s important to hear both the track and vocal more or less in the context of a final mix. I do prefer the overdub vocal(s) to ride above the track while working on it so that I can clearly hear the actual beginnings and endings of sung notes. In a lot of cases this mix works well for the singer’s cue mix.
While the control room’s monitor mix might fly for the singer’s headphone mix as is, it is wise to be able to turn up the singer’s vocal track even more in the phones. Call the “more me” control; if I’m running the cue post fader from the monitor mixer, I just turn up the vocal track more.
I’m also careful about vocal effects like reverb and delays too. I prefer none but that’s not always the case with the artist—whatever minimal amount you can get away with, the better.
The concern is loss of a pitch reference when there is too much “me.” This is the first place to check if the singer starts to get pitchy.
Playing to many “pitch ambiguous” instruments and noises is also counter-productive. Sure the mix sounds cool with all that stuff flying around but for the business at hand; I think your singer will stay in tune better hearing only sonorous, in tune tracking instruments such as pianos and well-intonated guitars.
Tracks with wide chorus or flanger effects and loud atonal sound effects tend to disturb the ear’s pitch recognition abilities.
Happy Vocal Recording!
This is the third in a series of articles on recording vocals. View part 1 and part 2.
Barry Rudolph is a veteran L.A.-based recording engineer as well as a noted writer on recording topics.