The "Us" – Keys To A Good Vocal Blend
How many times have you heard this in a rehearsal or soundcheck before the service? One of the vocalists will ask,
“Excuse me, Mr. Soundman, but could I get more of me in the monitors?”
More often than not, this is a telltale sign that the vocal team has handed over, by default, the whole concept of vocal blend to an often-frazzled, overworked soundperson who just feels lucky if the equipment doesn’t blow up that week.
I don’t believe that the vocal blend is the job of the soundperson—he or she already has way too much to worry about. A pleasant vocal blend is the job of the vocalists, and if a good blend is there from the start, the soundperson can add the polish to make it spectacular.
Begin At the Beginning
What should be the role of the worship vocal team? In my experience, the objective of the vocal team, whether they’re a mass choir or a small ensemble, is to add depth, texture and power to the lead worship vocalist.
In other words, the worship leader’s vocal forms the dominant sound, and the worship vocal team supports the lead vocal. But without a clear objective or strategy, vocal teams typically sound like a bunch of people singing more or less together (usually less).
A true vocal blend is developed far away from microphones and sound checks. It starts by establishing a clear objective and then with a mutual commitment from everyone to listen and contribute to a unified sound.
How does a team start to develop a unified sound? First, sit down together and honestly analyze the unique attributes that each vocalist brings to the mix. Who is the loudest singer? Who is the softest singer? Are there stylistic differences? Do some of your vocalists sing with a broad, classical vibrato? Do some sing with an alternative edge?
There are two things to keep in mind at this point: 1) subtle differences can create a pleasing dynamic to an overall blend; and 2) not-so-subtle differences can be huge obstacles to a good blend, so everyone must be willing to modify their originality for the sake of the unified sound.
Listen For the “Us”
It’s a simple, yet inescapable truth: if you want to blend with each other, you have to listen to each other. More specifically, you have to stop listening only for your individual sound; and start listening for the group’s unified sound. If you like acronyms, it’s a natural…listen for the “Us.”
Here’s how you start. At a vocal rehearsal, step away from the mics, monitors, and stage; and gather around the piano or guitar, or simply huddle in close and sing a capella. Choose a simple, familiar worship song and start to sing. Have everyone close their eyes if it helps the group focus…and really listen. Ask yourself, “Am I singing too loud so I’m sticking out?” Then pull back. Or, “Am I singing too soft?” Then sing louder. Also ask yourself, “How does my vocal style fit with the group as a whole?” If necessary, modify it to fit the group. If your team is ready to commit to the “Us,” you’ll be amazed how quickly your signature blend will begin to emerge. It’s fun. It’s exhilarating. And that’s just the starting point.
Now Step Up To the Mics
Once your group has developed your blend away from the microphones, getting a good vocal mix through the sound system becomes much easier. Everyone already knows the adjustments they have to make to achieve the “Us,” so the soundman can start with everything level and then tweak as necessary.
There are many other vocal details to cover (phrasing, ending consonants, timing, dynamics, harmony structure) but knowing how to develop your group’s signature blend is foundational.
It all starts by listening for the “Us.”