The terror of the microphone

My story of our 2nd studio session wouldn’t be complete without a brief story about my experience recording lead vocals.

Carrie is our main singer and band leader, and for the most part, I stick to harmonies and guitar, with a little rhythm (egg shaker + tambourine) thrown in here and there. But there are a few songs–currently Denali, Green Wheat, and Pierced Through–that I take the lead vocals on.

After having an easy time getting clean guitar tracks during our first session and having a blast singing my heart out doing scratch vocals, I wasn’t really nervous about session #2. At all.

The situation: it was 1pm. Eric, Carrie and I were loaded in, tuned up, and warmed up, and our engineer Rick was ready at the mixing board. We had a couple hours before our friends Jon, Graham and Peter arrived to lay down their instrument tracks, so we needed to get lead vocals done for all the songs they were contributing to.

Which, for the purposes of this story, included Denali and Green Wheat.

Carrie started off strong with great takes on Scarecrow, Eloise, and a handful of other songs.

Eric continued, nailing his lead vocals on Dinosaur and Lucien.

 And then . . . it was my turn.

I stepped into the recording room and approached the microphone.

It had a funny little gold screen in front of it, which I’m sure serves some very important purpose.

And suddenly it was time to sing . . . for real.

As soon as I put the headphones on and faced that microphone, the nerves hit me like a punch in the gut. I felt that sinking/whooshing feeling, and all my breath support checked out of my body and went to hang out on another planet. Far, far away from my lungs where I really needed it to be.

“Rolling,” said Rick. The guitar track started playing in my ears. I stepped closer to the mic and opened my mouth.


Somebody let me outta here!

Yes, I had a sense of humor about my own terror and hammed it up for the camera, but sadly that didn’t mean that the real terror went away.

I recorded a first take of Green Wheat–disastrous. Breathy, erratic, and the more erratic I heard myself getting, the more erratic my vocals became. But I pushed through the whole song even though I knew it was destined for deletion, just to give myself time to calm down and get into a groove.

After the first take, I turned to my bandmates and our engineer, who could hear everything from their perches on the other side of the glass. I couldn’t help but pity them all–nothing is more painful than sitting through an erratic performance by a nervous performer. I know from experience–it makes your soul kind of crinkle up and your cheek twitch.

“Um, wow,” I said. “Uf! Okay. I’m pretty freaked out right now guys.”

Oh, you guys. I psych myself out over lead vocals, purely because I know my part is the center of attention. Put me in front of the same mic to do harmonies, and I’m fairly calm and collected. But as soon as my brain registers “YOU ARE IN THE SPOTLIGHT, BABY,” something inside me clenches up and tries to wrestle my confidence into oblivion and beyond.

But that said, it didn’t make sense to be freaked out, dangit. It was totally irrational:

a) All three of these individuals had heard me sing lots in the past, so I had nothing to prove to them.

b) I’d been singing fine up until this point in this exact same studio, with this exact same group of people.

c) If I recorded a bad take, it could be deleted forever, so no horrible consequences were hanging over my head. In fact, I could record 100 million takes, and only the one I liked would ever be heard by the Peoples.

So why? WHY???

I just had to try and rationalize what was happening, or at least isolate some factors that I could perhaps control. The factors that came to mind were:

-I usually sing these particular 3 songs while playing the guitar–seated, and kind of hunched over my instrument. So standing up to sing them felt very different.

-When I stand and sing into a mic at our live performances (or at church), I usually hold the mic in what my husband calls my ‘death grip’ and kind of brace myself with the stand. Having something to grab that anchors me physically helps me feel more secure emotionally. I even rest my lips on the actual mic sometimes, especially if my eyes are closed, to maintain my sense of place and balance. So: standing next to this gold-screened mic with nothing to grab or touch, just my tall and lanky body hovering near it, made me feel unmoored. Unstable. A leaf in the wind.

With this quick (out-loud) psychological self-analysis complete, our engineer Rick (bless his heart) gave me a mic to hold that wasn’t even connected to anything–it was just something to grab.

Then he turned off the overhead lights, leaving only the red glow of the twinkle lights.

I sang in the dark for my next take, gripping the mic with all my strength, and alternately gripping my own arms and torso (and possibly collarbone? hard to say what I gripped during that frightening time).

The results: much better, but still quite wavery. By the third take, I was feeling waaaay better. So when we moved on to the next song, Denali, I was able to get it in one take–woohoo!

As of right now, Denali and Pierced Through are done, and I am pleased with the results. But sadly, after those 3 takes of Green Wheat, I decided to jump ship and leave it for another day. What’s that saying? “He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day”? Right-o.

So the lead vocals for Green Wheat will be attacked during our last session. I can do this . . . right?

Any recommendations for beating this frightful monster of nerves? Because it’s highly annoying.

9 thoughts on “The terror of the microphone

  1. Jesse

    Ooh, I know the feeling. I moved to a new school in 11th grade and thought I’d be smart and accomplish my dream of singing in a talent show in front of a bunch of people who had no idea who I was (the show was within 2 weeks of me starting at that school). I got up there in front of that microphone, heard the first piano notes, opened my mouth to sing “Summertime” … and nothing. Nothing came out! She pretended to play an intro, started again, and once I pushed that first note out, I was able to sing the rest, but man were my eyes closed tight!

    1. Jenna Post author

      Oh man! I feel your pain. I’m glad you were able to push out that first note the second time around!

  2. Suzie

    At least you got two done, that’s good! I can only imagine I’d be a ball of nerves too. You’ll probably be more at ease next time :)

  3. Veronica

    I love your descriptions and that you were able to figure out the cause of your nerves. I don’t think that would work for me b/c my nerves are usually irrational-lol. I wish I could help but I don’t know if it’s safe to take beta blockers or valium while prego. lol 😉

  4. Julie M.

    Gosh, I got nothing for you. Just standing up in front of someone to perform makes my palms sweat and my hair stand on end. I think you have a good strategy to figure out what calms you down in similar situations. Maybe just close your eyes and pretend you’re singing somewhere a bit less scary? On a side note, will you be selling this cd? I can’t wait to hear what you guys have put together!

    1. Jenna Post author

      Yes–closing the eyes = essential. That’s great advice. And YES, we will be selling the CD and we hope to have it available on itunes. I’ll definitely be updating you guys as soon as that happens!


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