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How To Record Vocals For Music And Spoken Word

When talking about recording the human voice, it's all too easy to make the assumption that we mean singing or vocals, but with the emergence of multimedia, and with more sound engineers working on sound for picture, recording the spoken word is an area of great importance in its own right. Even if you spend most of your time recording music, the chances are that at some time or another, you'll be approached to record an advertising jingle, or maybe a radio play, so it's important to know how to tackle voice recording when the need arises.

How to record vocals for music and spoken word

Working with the spoken word doesn't need elaborate or expensive equipment, and you can achieve quite acceptable results using a dynamic mic if you don't have a capacitor model (though a capacitor model will be noticeably better). It's true that you need a quiet environment, and you may have to drape a few blankets around the place, but you should be able to achieve professional results with only a little experimentation.

"For me, it was an exciting opportunity because we were also hearing a lot from the spoken word community," Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr. said about the addition of the new Best Spoken Word Poetry Album GRAMMY category. "All of our changes and reactions to what's happening are always going to be fluid; we're always going to evolve our categories. We're going to continue to make sure we're representing music in the way that it's being created," he added.

In this exclusive roundtable interview, Recording Academy leaders, including Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr., as well as poetry and spoken word luminaries discuss the founding of the inaugural Best Spoken Word Poetry Album GRAMMY category, why it matters to represent this artistic community, and how the Academy plans to continue celebrating and uplifting the spoken word poetry community.

We started putting spoken word, audio books and some other things, all in one category [Best Spoken Word Album]. And as we started hearing from the spoken word community, they became more and more active.

J. Ivy, CEO, Word & Soul, LLC; GRAMMY-nominated spoken word poet: It's important because the Recording Academy's mission is to honor the best in music. It's important because poetry is, in fact, a big part of music. It's important because spoken word poets and spoken word artists have been pushing the culture forward with their words, their ideas and their performances since the beginning of time.

Poetry has always uplifted the people, it has always inspired the people. It has motivated the masses to push through their struggles and fight to be more. Poetry has always left the world in a better place. Poetry has not only changed lives, but it has saved lives. The poet has always been and will always be a very vital part of our culture and our music, and it's only right that the Recording Academy and the music community as a whole acknowledge and honor the tremendous work poets put into the world with their spoken word poetry albums. I couldn't be prouder to be a part of this moment.

J. Ivy: It's important for poets and spoken word artists to submit because we want to make sure the category stands the test of time. We need this category to stay, so we need the poets to submit their albums year after year. We need poets bringing home GRAMMYs year after year.

Sekou Andrews, CEO, Poetic Voice; GRAMMY-nominated spoken word poet: We have opened the door and told the Academy that poets will come through it. So now it's time for poets to show up. We need to prove that spoken word poets can sustain a healthy category rich with submissions year after year.

Ryan Butler, Vice President of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, the Recording Academy: It's of utmost importance that poets, artists and creators submit their recordings in this new Best Spoken Word Poetry Album category because getting it on the ballot was just the first step. We now need the spoken word community to come together and submit their work. Representation across the music community matters, and while we heard the community and the category is officially on the ballot, it's now in the hands of the creators to submit for consideration and keep the category healthy for years to come.

The Best Spoken Word Poetry Album GRAMMY category will be voted on by Recording Academy Voting Members who are peers in the wider Spoken Word Field. Why is it important for poets and spoken word creators to join the Recording Academy as voting members to vote in these specific categories and fields?

This past June, we extended membership invitations to more than 2,700 highly qualified music professionals from wide-ranging backgrounds, genres and disciplines. Every corner of the industry was represented in this new class, from jazz to reggae, classical to spoken word, songwriters to instrumentalists, and beyond.

J. Ivy: On my last album, Catching Dreams, I have a poem called "The World Needs More Poets." Within that poem, there's a phrase that says, "Poetry is the seed of every song ever written." Poetry has always been the deepest root of our creativity. Every day, we find ourselves listening to music where poetry is sung, we listen to music where poetry is rapped, and we listen to music where poetry is spoken. This beautiful art form has been an important part of our history, our ideology, our creativity, our education, our legacy, and our music.

Oftentimes, you'll see the genre of spoken word poetry cross paths with other genres. You'll see beautiful collaborations where poets work with hip-hop artists, gospel artists and R&B artists. You'll hear poets on blues, gospel, country, and house music albums because everyone has always had a deep appreciation for the unique perspective and flow that only a poet can bring. What artist isn't a poet at heart? This is why there will always be a strong bond between poetry and the music community. They're one and the same, which is why the demand for poetry and poetry & music has grown over the years.

Butler: Poetry and music have intersected for centuries. The two art forms coexist harmoniously, and much of what we hear in modern-day music is derived from poetry and spoken word. We at the Recording Academy know the significance of spoken word and listened to the community, and the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) department hosted a series of listening sessions, with one spearheaded by poet and recording artist J. Ivy. What resulted from this listening session was the need for spoken word to be properly represented as a GRAMMY category. The Awards and DEI teams worked with J. Ivy on creating a proposal for the Awards & Nominations Committee to review.

J. Ivy: In the past 20 years, Sekou Andrews, Amir Sulaiman, and I have been [some of the] only spoken word poets nominated in the Best Spoken Word Album category, because audio books, which are also included in the Spoken Word field, dominated the category. As the Recording Academy, I understood wanting to award audio books, but I also knew that we could no longer compare apples and oranges.

I'm a huge fan of audio books, but as a poet who has been performing for almost 30 years, I can tell you with confidence that the two are not the same thing. Not wanting to see this continue, not wanting the frustration to keep piling on to the poetry community, with the help of some of the brightest minds in music, I wrote a proposal asking that the Recording Academy split the category and redefine the definition of spoken word poetry so that the poets could finally have our own place at the GRAMMYs.

Andrews: My reaction to the announcement of this category was more than just excitement: It was the feeling of both pride and triumph. Pride, because my purpose in my career has been to help pioneer a mainstream industry for spoken word poetry. Having our art form properly recognized by the Recording Academy is a huge step toward that goal. Triumph, because fulfilling that purpose is a constant battle for a poet. Since we don't have a mainstream industry, poets are endlessly fighting for our place at every table.

Nelson: Our hope is that this new category will create excitement and ultimately encourage and strengthen the poetry and spoken word communities. To know that they have their own GRAMMY category where they can be recognized, celebrated, and awarded a GRAMMY for the work they so passionately create will hopefully encourage the community to create even more, and in the long run, inspire others in this generation and the next to do the same.

Andrews: A GRAMMY nomination or GRAMMY Award is one of the most respected metrics for identifying recording artists who have achieved a high level of success and respect from peers. For most musicians, that metric can translate into record deals, sales, and the ability to sustain a successful career. That is what I want for spoken word poets, and this new category is an unprecedented step toward that.

Nelson: The creation of this GRAMMY category reflects how much the Recording Academy truly respects and recognizes the importance of this art form. Poets and spoken word creators have always been around making albums; their impact historically and culturally as activists and thought leaders is immeasurable. We are very excited to continue to support and celebrate these communities and their creative efforts.

Andrews: I believe in the power of words. So my version of the future sees more spoken word artists collaborating with the Academy on major entertainment and advocacy projects. I see poets giving a powerful voice to Academy initiatives in the way that only we can. I see us becoming increasingly involved in the Academy as members, Chapter leaders, Trustees, and hell, even Academy President one day.

But my greatest vision for the future of spoken word poetry in the Academy came to me a few years ago when I wrote the poem "The Music Movement," from my album that got the GRAMMY nomination. I sought to be the first poet to perform that poem at the GRAMMYs, with major recording artists from multiple genres celebrating the power of music and the ways it makes our world better. It didn't happen for me then, but it will for one of us poets one day. And a win for any of us is a win for the art form.

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