Whenever you see film of a singer recording vocals in a studio, they are usually standing up. Does this mean that a singer should always stand up to record their singing, or can you get good results recording a singer while they are sitting down?
Standing is the best position to record vocals in, allowing full opening of the throat and full movement of the diaphragm. However, the singer should sit or stand according to which position they feel most comfortable in. The position that gives the best performance is best.
Singing can be one of the most challenging things to record in terms of getting the best performance, whether the singer is you or someone else. There are so many physical and mental factors involved when it comes to singing, that spending time finding the optimum position for the singer is usually a worthwhile exercise.
If you are interested in checking out the best recording gear such as audio interfaces, studio monitor speakers, microphones, etc., you can find them at Amazon by clicking here.
Positioning the singer
Physically, there are benefits to being in a standing position while singing. Standing with good posture, with the back straight, lets air flow freely into the lungs out back out again. Contrast this with a sitting position where often you can be cramped up, especially when sitting on a backless stool or chair.
What is the diaphragm?
The diaphragm is a muscle located just below the lungs. It is responsible for inhaling air into and exhaling air out of the lungs, as it contracts and relaxes.
The standing position also assists in good singing technique. Breathing from your diaphragm rather than from your chest will maximize the amount of air you can get into your lungs. This in turn will let you get the maximum amount of power and strength from your voice, and to control it with minimum effort. Standing allows for full movement of the diaphragm, whereas sitting can squash it and restrict its movement.
So if all you take into account are the physical benefits, then standing wins over sitting every time. However, there is much more to getting a good singing performance than just the physical considerations.
The psychology and mental side of singing is arguably just as important as the physical side when trying to capture a good performance, maybe even more so.
If a singer is uncomfortable or anxious, they are unlikely to give their best performance. They may be used to sitting down while singing, and feel very self-conscious if made to stand up. This is very common in singer-songwriters who play acoustic guitar, where they are usually very accustomed to sitting on a stool playing the guitar while singing. You could even try getting them to hold a guitar if it makes them feel more relaxed, even if they don’t play it.
Nervousness and anxiety when recording is so common it even has its own name – “red light fever”. For more details and how to help reduce nerves when recording vocals in particular, check out my article on reducing red-light fever for vocalists. It’s essential reading if you are going to be recording a singer, whether that is yourself or someone else.
Ultimately, the only thing that matters is capturing the best take you possibly can. A singer will generally sing their best when they are relaxed, and what they are used to and how they feel play a huge part in that. Some singers genuinely do seem to sing better in a sitting position, despite the apparent physical benefits of standing.
If a singer has a preference for sitting, you can try one or two takes standing up. They may surprise themselves and discover they sing great standing up, so this is always worth a try. But I wouldn’t ever force it. It will usually become pretty clear quite quickly whether a singer is going to be able to give as good a performance. If it appears that they won’t I recommend going back to them sitting, and concentrating on obtaining the very best take you can from there.
There are other factors in capturing a great singing performance…
Creating some atmosphere
The recording studio can be quite a sterile, lifeless environment, whether that’s a professional studio or a small setup at home. It’s not like being on stage with stage lighting and a crowd of people to inspire you!
So anything you can do to create an atmosphere can help immensely with getting the best out of a singer. This can range from mood lighting or candles, to playing loud energetic music to get them pumped up before a take. Obviously, this will depend on the style of music and singing you are recording. Try and get creative with how you set up your studio before a vocal recording session with this in mind.
Positioning the microphone
Not everyone has a dedicated vocal booth! So the position of the microphone can make a big difference in the vocal sound you record, especially in a home studio.
These tips can help place the microphone in the optimum position in the room…
- Try to avoid placing the mic anywhere near corners, as this can result in overemphasis of bass frequencies giving a muddy recording.
- Angle the microphone away from pointing directly at a wall, to minimize reflections coming straight back
- Try putting cushions, blankets, duvets, soft furnishings on a wall or shelf behind the singer’s head to try to absorb sound to minimize reflections
There is a lot to positioning a microphone for the best sound, particularly if you are in a small room not designed for recording like most of us are. That’s why I wrote my article on recording vocals in a small room. I highly recommend you check it out for tips and tricks on getting a great recorded vocal sound even if your room is not ideal for recording.
Different positions for different styles
If you are recording a slow, wistful, reflective ballad, it may be that sitting is the best position for recording that style of vocal. In contrast, if you are recording a lively heavy rock anthemic track, you are much more likely to want the singer standing.
It’s always worth bearing in mind the type of track and style of singing performance you want to capture. Consider the mood and feel of the song, and the tone of the lyrics.
Another aspect to the style of music and singing is how many takes to record. If you want a raw, unpolished, spontaneous vocal on your song, you may choose to record just one take. For a more clinical, polished sound you may record many takes, and edit together one “master” take from the best bits of each one. Check out this article – “Should you record vocals in one take?” for more details.
There are many articles on the internet about microphone choice, types of microphone, which one you should use for which type of voice and style of music, etc. You can get excellent results even from low-cost microphones – check out this article on why the Shure SM58 is a great recording mic for one example.
But one potentially neglected aspect of choosing a microphone is the psychology of it.
A singer may have a preferred microphone, or an idea of what they think is a microphone that a singer should use to record in a studio. This may not be the same as the microphone you think is the one to use! It’s surprising how much of a difference using a mic that a singer is comfortable or familiar with can make to their performance.
It’s always worth trying sacrificing your preferred choice of microphone for the singer’s. In my opinion, the small sonic benefit of using the ideal mic is insignificant when compared to the potential improvement in a singer’s performance.
If you want to learn more about different microphone options, check out this article comparing dynamic and condenser mics for a home studio. It explains the pros and cons of each, and helps you decide which one to go for in different recording scenarios including vocal recording.
Other positions to try
Standing and sitting are not the only positions a singer can try.
A nice compromise between sitting and standing is perching on a high stool if you have one, such as a bar stool. This gives some of the physical benefits of standing, but may help a singer relax as they have something to lean on.
It may sound crazy, but lying down is another position you could try! It is likely to depend on the style of music, but it could be worth a try if it just isn’t happening for you in more conventional positions.
These are not the first positions I would try, but they can be worth a shot if you are having trouble getting a good vocal performance. Experimentation and patience are the key here.
And don’t forget – you almost always want to use a pop filter in front of the microphone when recording vocals. I recommend reading my article on if a pop filter is really necessary for details on the different recording situations where you do and don’t need to use a pop filter.
Singing is an incredibly personal thing, more so than any other instrument. As such, it is very easy for a singer to become frustrated when things are not going their way.
So coaching them through that frustration is very important, and I include if you are the singer yourself! Remember that even the very best singers have gone through this, and you will get a good performance – it may just take some time. Talk yourself or your vocalist through it, trying to remain positive throughout.
Harsh criticism, or even worse – humiliation, are tactics that some music producers have used to try to get the best out of performers. In my opinion, they rarely work. You are much better off encouraging and praising the positive, and making gentle suggestions for changes where you think they could improve.
There is of course the option to make improvements after the vocal has been recorded. One of the most common tools used to do this is AutoTune. Take a look at these articles for more information on auto-tuning and pitch correction, including how to use them well without destroying all the emotion in a performance…
- Why does AutoTune sound robotic? How to beat the robots!
- Why is AutoTune considered bad? Is it really ok to use?
There is a lot to capturing a great vocal performance, and whether to stand or sit is just one factor, although it is an important one.
Ultimately, the position that allows the singer to give the best performance is the correct one, along with several other factors under your control in the studio. Don’t be afraid to experiment until you find the position, setup and atmosphere that relaxes the singer and lets them express themselves to the best of their ability.
Here is some of my favorite home studio gear…
Thanks for reading this article. I hope you found it helpful in your home music-making activities. Here are a few of the tools that I personally use in my home studio. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to use any of them I’ll earn a small commission.
Audio interface: My personal choice for audio interfaces are the Focusrite Scarlett series. I have been using these for years, and they have always given me great-sounding recordings. For a very reasonable price from Amazon you can buy the excellent Focusrite Scarlett 4i4, or if you don’t need MIDI capability the Focusrite Solo is a great choice.
Amp sim: Guitar amplifier simulator software has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, such that I record all my electric guitar parts using amp sims these days. One of the very best is the incredible Amplitube from IK Multimedia, which I have used on many of my songs.
Headphones for recording: My favorite headphones for recording are the Sony MDR-7506s, which I use for monitoring during all my recording sessions. They can also be found in many pro recording studios. Get the Sony MDR-7506 headphones from Amazon here.
General-purpose microphone: You can’t go wrong with a good ol’ Shure SM-57, one of the most versatile and ubiquitous microphones around. I’ve been using one in my home studio for as long as I can remember. Amazon offers the Shure SM-57 for a very competitive price.
To see all of my most up-to-date recommendations, check out this resource I made for you!