I’m in the process of creating a YouTube series on my style of vocal production. Part 1 was shot with my iPhone from inside the Pie and Tart Shop vocal booth. Part 2 is in process, and it would be done if I had more video tutorial making skills, but alas. Luckily I’m pretty sure that I’m better at producing vocals than I am at making tutorials about it.
Here’s my take on the technical side:
1. Understanding the instrument :: Although I no longer consider myself a singer, I did study voice with Mark Baxter, Elizabeth Sabine, Rosemary Butler, and eccentric Boston legend Dante Pavone. I have a solid understanding of the mechanics of the voice. The human voice is a complex and mysterious ‘musical instrument’ and in the studio a vocalist needs someone who understands the care and nurturing of that instrument. Higher budget projects may employ a dedicated vocal therapist or specialist, but every lead singer needs informed feedback in the studio regardless of budget.
2. Having an ear :: A producer must have perfect pitch, or relative perfect pitch. With a talented vocalist, real time accurate feedback from an engaged producer can lessen the need for tuning in the mix.
3. Flow :: There are times to push for that additional take, and there are times to stop. There are also times when the performance just isn’t going to happen, and the best plan is to come back tomorrow. When a project has a set budget, it’s important to have a plan B, just in case the vocal session is not going to happen. Physical issues, emotional issues all play into the vocal performance. Capturing a compelling performance is the elephant in the room. If we can’t capture a magical performance at today’s session, we will tomorrow.
4. Support :: I know that the worst thing a vocalist can hear on her headphones at the end of a challenging take is nothing! Feedback is key.
And there I go… I started out talking about the technical and quickly veered off into the more esoteric. Which reminds me of a job I once had.
Quite a few years ago, I played Texas Hold Em poker for a living. It was long before the poker TV shows. Let me categorically state that it was not a very fulfilling job.
That said, I learned a lot about life at the poker table. I learned that thinking is the enemy. If I could get out of my head, and step back from the hand I was betting on, I could intuit exactly what my opponent had. Then, if I continued to stay in the flow, I could act accordingly: Raise, check, bet, fold. It was all pretty straight forward, because the goal was to get the chips (like the one above).
Recording and Producing Vocals is not quite as straight forward as a Texas HoldEm game, but the principal is the same. The goal is to shut off all internal conversations. Immerse yourself in the music, and let the river flow. Stand at the bank, close your eyes, and let the water take you away.