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A scratch vocal is a vocal performance recorded by a singer in order to provide reference to a producer when crafting other pieces of the recorded song. It is used primarily for timing purposes, but may also be used to get an idea of how the vocalist will ultimately perform the vocal, in order to add musical embellishments that compliment the singer's vocal inflection/mood.
A scratch vocal is often recorded quickly and the singer may mark the song rather than hit more difficult notes. The singer will ultimately come back and re-record the vocal performance .