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5+ tips for singers on how to improve the intelligibility of vocals


In most cases, a singer wants to be heard and understood.

Both on a record or live.

The message of the lyrics is important.

That's what the song is about, right?

Sometimes, a singer wants to just express and transfer emotions to the listeners

and the message of the lyrics is not that important.

It's also a matter of musical genre.

But today I want to write about the first case - when lyrics do matter.

Here are some tips on how to improve the intelligibility and clarity

when recording vocals, right at the source.


Well, this is obvious, right?


Obviously NOT!

The not good enough pronouncing is one of the most typical problems when it comes to recording vocals.

And when it comes to live shows, it's twice as important.

Singers often think that they are pronouncing enough.

I usually make the singers over-enunciate so much that it even feels unnatural.

But it feels usually just right in the context of the musical instruments.

So singers should slightly over-do the pronunciation.

Some singers even have some kind of pronunciation disorder.

That's usually very hard to get the proper pronounciation when singing.


This can probably be obvious too.

The better breath capacity a singer has, the longer He can sing without breathing.

And if a singer has enough breath headroom, then He has more breath and energy to pronounce all the words properly.

Ballads can be difficult because the notes can be quite long.

Up-tempo songs can be difficult because the words can go quite fast and there is no space for breathing.

When the singer runs out of oxygen during the phrase, it doesn't sound very good.

And it's definitely not intelligible enough.

For example if the singer doesn't have oxygen, He needs to cut the ending of the words.

And that definitely leads to worse intelligibility of the vocals.


This can be a little tricky.

Singers often do not care about the right accents and phrasing.

They are sometimes even creating melodies that don't fit the lyrics accents and phrasing.

These little bad things can negatively affect the vocals intelligibility.

And if the singer splits the words bad way in the song, it can lead to even misunderstanding the lyrics.

Sometimes it's really funny.

No matter which language you are singing in, always try to honor the correct accents of that language.

Even you need to change some words.

Even you need to change the melody.

It's worth it!


Some singers tend to make some kind of fade-outs when singing.

It definitely doesn't help the intelligibility nor clarity of the lyrics.

Some vocals are swallowed then.

Others make the last note of a vocal phrase way too long and they say that it's more expressive.

No, It's not!

Expressiveness mostly doesn't have anything to do with the length of the sung note.

Yeah, they argue that if the note is longer, then they can work more on it.

That usually means that they are over-doing the melody on that one last note.

I usually tell singers to be more strict and precise acording to the melodies.

No Fade-outs, no over-doing.

Cut the words quite short (if it makes sense linguistically).

Have exact place in a bar where the sung note ends.

Especially when the song is higher-energy.

It doesn't mean to sing like a robot nor to sing sterile.

It means to write the melody the way it has all the expression from the scratch.

It means to write the melody that doesn't need to unnecessary stretching of the last note to make it longer and get the space for expression.

It means to write the melody so it doesn't need any special melodic over-doing on the last long note.

Write the melody that can be sung strictly and precisely while still very emotional.


When recording vocals in the studio, I like to record the voice as detailed as possible.

I want to catch every little nuance.

Yeah, even mouth smacking - I cut them out during the editing stage.

But the benefit of recording very detailed voice is better clarity and inteligibility.

This means to record the voice as close to the mic as possible.

Usually the nose of the singer is touching the pop-killer in front of the mic.

So every breath is clearly recorded, even the heavy expressive breathing...


That's one of the expressive parts of the singing that can bring emotions to life on the record.


This can be very obvious, but from my experience, singers tend to not face the mic directly all the time when recording.

Singers watch the written lyrics which forces them to not sing directly into the mic.

Some singers (like Bryan Adams) are trained to compensate some unwanted vocals dynamics by singing off-axis when a loud or problematic part of their singing range comes in.

This is great when singing live at the venues because the singer helps FOH audio engineer to get as consistent vocals dynamic as possible.

Yeah, we have compressors, sure.

But the reality is that the more compression is applied on main vocals the more noisy and messy the vocals and the overal band sound is.


The singer usually stands in front of the drums, right?

So when the main vocals are heavily compressed, it means that the more (bad sounding) cymbals are present in the main vocal mic.

But in the studio, the singer should face the mic as directly as possible.

  • What is your experience with bad vocals intelligibility?

  • How do you deal with intelligibility problems?

  • Are you willing to change the lyrics or even melodies to get better intelligibility?

May the muse be with You!


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