You’re in the booth, your nerves are fluttering and you’re excited to record. You’ve warmed up and you know your songs, but pressure’s on. You only have so long in the recording studio to get all the tracks down and time is money. You listen back and hear you’re off pitch, it’s really embarrassing. You’re thinking, ‘what kind of musician am I if I can’t record on pitch?’.
Your sound recording engineer tries to reassure you they can fix it with autotune, and if they’re really good, it won’t sound too bad once it’s fixed, but it’s going to cost more and makes you feel like an idiot.
Does this sound familiar? You’re not alone.
It can be so frustrating and embarrassing, especially when we’re doing our best to sing a little higher or lower and we’re under the pressures of recording time, money and the rest of the band.
- Why is it with singing that we can get pitch so wrong when it doesn’t even sound that bad when we’re singing it?
- How can we even tell when we’re off pitch?
- What can we do to fix it?
First of all, let’s address why it sounds ok to us and can still be off pitch – what’s going on? Have you ever noticed that when you hear your voice on a recording, it sounds kind of weird and not like you at all? I can still randomly catch a recording of myself and wonder who the singer is. It doesn’t sound like me. It’s because we hear about 80% of our own voices from the inside of our bodies and not from the outside, which is exactly what everyone else hears.
If you’ve ever seen someone holding a hand up to their cheek and wondered why, well, they’re trying to increase the external sound of their voice by channeling some of the soundwaves back up to their ears with their hands. Sound monitors, amps and in-ear monitors do the same thing but better. It can also be really intense directly hearing your external sound and at first it can be really bizarre and take some getting used to. In fact, when you think about it, any space you sing in can have a real effect on the way your voice sounds to you when you sing.
So, while we can’t always sing in the shower (this really boosts the external sound) we do have to get used to different singing environments. Try singing with a mic and amp at home so you get used to hearing your sound and detecting pitch issues. When you’re in the studio, your engineer may be able to provide you with some of your sound through your headphones.
Sometimes even hearing ourselves more from the outside rather than through our heads doesn’t fix the pitch problem. In that case, you’re going to have to get really curious about when the pitching is getting problematic because it’s likely to be something wrong with your vocal technique.
- certain notes in your range can be harder to pitch accurately (usually the ones that bridge our different registers)
- a leap between notes can be challenging
- certain vowel sounds or consonants can get in the way
Quite often pitch problems are related to jaw tension and/or breath support issues. Most likely you’ll need some help from a singing coach to identify and fix what’s going on. Once you’ve got awareness, you can put this to use to correct your technique and not only will your recordings no longer rely on autotune, your live performances will be ace too.