Have you ever been watching Youtube and you see some clips of a singer in the studio wearing massive headphones that they clutch to when they are trying to hit a particular note? Or when you’ve been watching an artist perform live and they suddenly yank out their earpiece?
Did you ever wonder why they wear these- surely they aren’t the most comfortable things to wear!
Well, here’s a list of reasons why:
- Because of modern recording techniques
- So they can hear themselves over the loud music
- They give everyone the click track
- They look cool
They don’t want the bleed
Modern recording techniques require each instrument, including the voice, to be recorded separately so that they can be mixed and edited later. If all the musicians were playing together when they were recording the microphones would pick up the different instruments in the background and when overlaying the tracks the voice, for example, might sound like it has an echo. Therefore artists wear earphones so they can hear the music without it being picked up by their mic.
It’s so loud I can’t hear myself think
You know when you hear a recording of yourself and you think, “What? is that really what I sound like?” The same is true for singers and when they are recording it is really helpful for them to know how they sound so they can adjust as they go. While listening to the backing track through the headphones it is easy for them to misjudge their volume and so the headphones also help to avoid shouty singing.
This is particularly the case when singing with drums as they can be so loud that the singer can’t even hear themselves sing, which makes it difficult to stay in tune.
Although studio recording is almost always done in the way described above- one musician at a time, when making a live recording it is important that the singer(s) and musician stay in time. In these cases, everyone will have earpieces feeding them a click track. This is basically a beat like a metronome, which helps everyone keep in time.
They look cool
Lets face it, musicians never get the opportunity to be fashion icons or to wear awesome costumes (I kid) so wearing big chunky headphones gives them this opportunity…
I don’t know about you but until I saw the studio clips of my favourite singers wearing these huge bug like headphones I felt a bit silly walking down the street with what looked like giant ear muffs on so I would opt for the little ones with poor sound quality. Now, though I’m happy to walk around sporting ludicrously big and heavy sound apparatus- with noise canceling the sounds is so much better and I look cool!
Some other interesting things about headphones and recording
Bjork doesn’t like wearing headphones at all so she listens to the mix over the studio monitors.
The dreaded ‘bleed’ can be heard on Christina Aguilera’s song, “Beautiful”. Some sound can be heard from her headphones onto her vocal track but since the song is about beauty and honesty it seems fitting that it was not corrected.
Another good example of ‘bleed’ is on the Beatles “Can’t Buy Me Love”. They recorded their early music in stages with the band recording all together and then adding extra tracks to it with the individual vocals and instruments- this is called overdubbing. But, during the guitar solo you can hear the original guitar solo from the all together recording as it was picked up by a different mic. It’s so interesting to hear things like this on such iconic tracks.
So there you have it 5 practical reasons why singers wear headpnones.