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7 Ways to Improve Your Music Recordings

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7 Ways to Improve Your Music Recordings

by Jessica Brandon

Today, I’d like to give you 7 ways to help you meet your music recordings and help you grow yourself as a music artist.

  1. Get focused on your target goals
Recording Guitar

Recording Guitar

A lot of musicians/music artists waste a ton of money on demos/recordings because they haven’t spent enough time choosing the right sound for their music act. Get clear about who you yourself as a music artist/band and who your audience is. Once you do this, you’ll cut your waste to zero and start getting maximum results from all your music.

 

  1. Fine tune your Unique Sound.

If you are still comparing and competing with other music artists, then your Sound needs work. We get comment from music artists describing themselves “I sound just like Ani DiFranco, but better”, or “I sound like the band “Kings of Leon, but more acoustic sounding”. Create a sound that makes your music the clear and only choice for your audience.

 

  1. Co-write your songs with another Songwriter, or Producer.

When you have run of ideas, you may want to co-writer with another songwriter or producer who may bring other ideas to the table to help you with your next song.

 

  1. Get into a Professional Studio to Record, Arrange or Remix.

Are you tired of your homemade recordings, sound and need fresh ideas? You may need to look for a professional recording studio and seek a music producer (with whom the recordings that the bands you recorded you respect).

 

  1. Test, Test and Test.

If you have a regular gig at a club (or try out at an Open Mic event), you may try performing your song and see what kind of reaction from the audience you get. If it doesn’t work, you can always tweek the lyrics and chord progressions when you get home.

 

  1. Get better at Songwriting.

Competition for attention of you and your songs are at an all time high. Too many music acts are sloppy and don’t give enough care to creating good, relevant, compelling songs —consistently. Learn the fundamentals of crafting compelling songs and resist the temptation to just whip something up and get it out. Poor songwriting will alienate your audience—sometimes permanently. While a consistent compelling songs will get them wanting you more.

 

  1. Record Your Music/Song Ideas As You Go Along.

You might be surprised how many of your great music and song ideas have “gone missing”.  Record your ideas on your smart phone or voice recorder as you go through your day. Just a one line change, a lyric change, a chord change may dramatically improve your song and go from good to great!

 

Doing one of these things will improve your recordings. Doing all of them could make a tremendous impact. Pick one or two to start and once you’ve implemented them; move on to another one (or two) on the list.

 

To enter the IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to:

http://www.inacoustic.com

 

 

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Size does NOT matter: The REAL secret of great musicianship with Meghan Trainor

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by Kate Beaudoin & Jessica Brandon

Meghan Trainor, singer-songwriter

Meghan Trainor, singer-songwriter

How did Meghan Trainor do it? It’s been a year since pop singer Meghan Trainor hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts with, “All About That Bass.” Within the year of the video’s release, it racked up an impressive 1 Billion views on YouTube. Before long, the single hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, where it stayed for nine weeks (also hit #1 in 58 different countries) and helped Trainor’s debut album, Title, debut No.1 on the Billboard 200 charts. The media has written that Trainor came from nowhere, but did you know she was discovered in IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards) in 2009 and won Best Female Artist with an acoustic song “Waterfalls”? And she became one of the most-talked-about artists of the year. And she did it all on the mantel of empowerment — at least, that’s what she’d have you believe.

 

“All About That Bass” was so successful in large part due to the idea that it was the new feminist anthem; after all, 2014 was the year of the booty and empowerment was in. But to those who read between the lines of Trainor’s clever marketing ploy, it’s clear as day that “All About That Bass” is as far from a feminist anthem as they come. Trainor’s problematic stance extends far beyond that single. By simultaneously claiming a feminist mantle and advocating an anti-feminist agenda, Trainor has become a threat to all the gains that pop music has made in feminism recently.

What the lyrics are really saying. The messages in Trainor’s songs are often ostensibly about encouraging healthy self-confidence. “I hope [‘All About That Bass’] helps girls love themselves more, because they’re adorable. Women too,” Trainor told Glamour. The issue, however, is that those supposedly empowering lyrics encourage impressionable girls to be happy with themselves only when men deem them acceptable. People criticized “All About That Bass” for its skinny-shaming, but even more concerning is that Trainor claims your worth comes from what men think of you.

“Boys like a little more booty to hold at night,” Trainor sings, explaining why it’s OK not to be a “skinny bitch.” It’s OK not to be a “skinny bitch,” but only because some boys prefer you that way.

The crown jewel of Trainor’s anti-feminism is easily “Dear Future Husband.” When the video for “Dear Future Husband” hit YouTube in March, many rightly claimed that her message was sexist. Trainor’s lyrics advocate outdated gender roles (“Cause if you’ll treat me right / I’ll be the perfect wife / Buying groceries”), seeking self-worth based on men’s opinions (“If you wanna get that special lovin’ / Tell me I’m beautiful each and every night”) and, of course, confirming the idea that all women are crazy, emotional creatures (“You gotta know how to treat me like a lady / Even when I’m acting crazy”). But those who defended Trainor claimed that it was just a song and shouldn’t be taken so seriously.

“I don’t believe I was [being sexist],” she told MTV. “I think I was just writing my song to my future husband out there, wherever he is. He’s chilling right now, taking a minute getting ready for me; it’s going to be great.”

He’s getting ready — doing crunches and 200 pound dead lifts so he’s ready to be strong enough to impress Trainor!

 

For more information on the 12th Annual IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to: http://www.inacoustic.com

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Top 7 Essentials For Setting Up a Home Recording Studio

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Top 7 Essentials For Setting Up a Home Recording Studio

by Jessica Brandon & Jake Weston

How to set up a Home Recording Studio on a budget

How to set up a Home Recording Studio on a budget

Are you a musician looking to record at home on a budget? You will need recording equipment. What type of music gear you will need to get started will vary based on the type of recording you plan to do from home. For example, if you only plan to record demos and rough tracks, you will need less equipment than if you were trying to record radio ready tracks. Another thought is how much you plan to record at one time, one or two tracks and adding vocals in layers requires less equipment than if you plan to do more than two tracks or recording a full band.

  1. Computer

The computer is the biggest expenditure by far and most important thing you will need. If you are a Mac user, and you are on a budget, go with a Mac Mini or Macbook Pro. If you are a PC user and you are on a budget, go with an HP computer.

  1. DAW/Audio Interface Combination

The DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is the software used to record, edit, and mix music on your computer. The Audio Interface is the hardware used to connect your computer with the rest of your music gear. Presonus Studio One is a entry-level budget recommended gear. Other budget conscious interface include: Avid Fast Track or Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (around $200).

Most computers nowadays come with some basic form of recording software, but that isn’t going to be quite enough for those wishing to make some money from recording. Rather than spending money on professional recording software many professionals use Audacity, which is available to download for free. Audacity has an amazing array of features and capabilities for the price, which, as I mentioned in case you missed it, is FREE. I would also suggest adding a program called Reaper for $60 (unless and until you start making 10-20 thousand clams a year using it. Then you are asked to spring for the commercial license for $220).

  1. Microphone (or microphones)
Lewitt Microphone

Lewitt Microphone

To start out – especially if you have a very small budget – I recommend the Shure SM57, which you may buy for just $99.00. I would recommend the Lewitt USB microphone if you have a higher budget. Again, if you’re planning to record a band, you’ll need more mics and a larger interface capable of recording several sources at once.

  1. Headphones

In the very beginning, all you really need is one. For beginners on a tight budget, there’s no safer bet than the AKG K240.

  1. Studio Monitors

For beginners on a tight budget, there’s no safer bet than the KRK Rokit 5 G3

If your mixing room is a bedroom, as it is for most home recordists, just know that what you hear is already mangled in several ways. You can improve that situation, if you have really good speakers, but it isn’t easy.

  1. XLR Cables

This is another thing you need for recording studio accessories – XLR Cable

One day, your studio will have a TONS of different cables…

But for now, you only need 3:

~1 long XLR cable for your mic, and…

~2 short ones for your monitors

  1. A Mic Stand

While many beginners assume that all mic stands are the same. The truth is that a solid mic stand is one of the most worthwhile investments a new home studio can make.

 

So, in order to outfit yourself with the basic home recording studio equipment, you’ll need the following:

~Computer

~Digital Work Station (DAW) Software/Audio Interface Combo

~Microphone

~Studio Monitors

~One Set of Headphones

~A Few Cables

~One Mic Stand

 

No matter what equipment you purchase the most important thing to remember is that knowledge of the key audio fundamentals is far more useful than expensive equipment. If you lack basic knowledge you will always end up with poor sounding audio, no matter how expensive the equipment is. Remember this mantra: knowledge trumps gear. There are many people making crappy recordings every day with really expensive gear. But if you have some basic knowledge, you can make great recordings with very modest equipment. Therefore, never let an employee talk you into the most expensive equipment in the store, in most cases the $50 USB microphone will provide you with the professional sounding results.

For more information on the 12th Annual IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to: http://www.inacoustic.com

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A Record Producer on the Importance of Pre-Production

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A Record Producer on the Importance of Pre-Production
By Michael Beinhorn

Pre-Production

Pre-Production

A few months ago I met with a band who were planning their next recording.

 We began discussing time frame and logistics in order to figure out how their time and money would be best spent. At some point in the conversation, I casually enquired about how many days they had allotted for pre-production. Slack-jawed and confused, to a man, the band and their management all stopped speaking and stared at me as if I’d just recited a sonnet in Ancient Greek.

“Pre-production? What’s that?”

Over the past 10 years, I’ve become increasingly surprised by how many artists are ready to waltz straight into a recording studio without doing pre-production or prep-work. Still more surprising is how often people who comprise the support teams of many artists––such as managers, A&R, publishers, even some record producers––completely ignore pre-production because they figure it’s unnecessary or a waste of time.

A Few Basic Premises
Actually, pre-production is one of the most essential stages of a recording project—perhaps the most essential. I see it as an insurance policy which guarantees that every aspect of every song I’m producing will be functioning properly (and the band/artist will be performing them as flawlessly as possible) by the time recording begins.

I can summarize the process of pre-production by breaking it down into four parts: analysis, discovery, revision and implementation/rehearsal. First, the music is analyzed; through that analysis, flaws are discovered; through discovery of these flaws, repairs are made and through rehearsal, the repairs are implemented and the music is improved.

As well as improving an artist’s music, pre-production helps direct him to work methodically and, thereby, smarter. By introducing organization into the creative process––which, by its very nature, can be highly disorganized––pre-production saves time on a recording project (which also means saving money, and that is especially beneficial for artists with small budgets).

It also provides an opportunity for the artist(s) and the producer to work together under “real world” conditions, instead of initializing their working relationship in a recording studio. This approach tends to set a better tone for the rest of the project.

Of course, the pre-production process can be difficult and even awkward at times. There’s nothing comfortable about having your babies––the fruit of your creative womb––rent asunder by someone you barely know and don’t yet fully trust.

However, the objective examination of your material prior to recording is also a necessity. In over three decades of producing records, nearly every artist I’ve worked with has acknowledged that the pre-production work we did played an essential role in taking their work to the next level. Most of the recordings I’ve produced––such as Soundgarden’sSuperunknown––wouldn’t even exist in their present forms without extensive pre-production. And that is the end result that always justifies the means.

 Analysis and Discovery
Since I’m producing the artist’s music, I need to know it intimately. By listening to the artist’s demos, I develop an impression of the material and of the artist as a creative individual. This means I have to be everything from a songwriter to an arranger, to a psychoanalyst.

I listen to all the music we will be recording, as well as previous work the artist has done (including material he may have that is in various states of completion). All of this gives me greater insight––as well as context––to the music—and the artist. By simply being aware of how the music is making me feel as I listen to it (whether that’s good, bad or indifferent) the impressions I form about it come naturally.

The listening process initiates an internal dialog in me. That internal dialog involves questions such as:

  • What do I feel is the artist’s intent?
  • What is he saying––or trying to say––through his songs?
  • How does he project himself into his songs?
  • Am I getting a complete sense of who he is, or is something missing/being hidden?
  • What is this artist’s strongest asset?
  • What is he best at?
  • What is his weakness?
  • Does he rely on his strongest or his weakest asset to express himself musically?

I also start keeping notes that include my thoughts about the material (and fixes for problems I’m encountering), as well as the internal dialog and any additional impressions I may have. I also keep notes about how the band play together and how they use instrumentation to facilitate (or impair) each song. All these notes become an initial jumping-off point for the work we will be doing in pre-production.

I also make a habit of checking in with the artist to share my ideas, so he can start applying some of them to his songs. Initially communicating one on one is sometimes more relaxed than doing this while surrounded by a group of people in a rehearsal room. This makes it easier for the artist to feel comfortable with me and thereby, more receptive to input.

After a few weeks of prep-work, we are ready to begin pre-production.

Working With the Material (Revision)
Pre-production is always most effective when the artist/band shows up with songs as finished and rehearsed as possible (regardless of any changes that will be made to them). This may seem obvious, but some artists avoid addressing loose ends in their material (occasionally, until well into the recording process).

As an example, when I began producing Untouchables for Korn, they had over 40 unfinished song ideas––nearly all of which were unusable. Inevitably, we scrapped everything, started over and the band wrote the entire record during a very lengthy pre-production that lasted seven months(!).

The revision process in pre-production is an extrapolation of the analysis and discovery I initiated while prepping the record. The artist/band and I start reviewing my notes regarding song fixes and ideas to be auditioned.

The artist/band also discuss their feelings about the songs. Every question and uncertainty about each song is addressed and we must all agree that we are satisfied with whatever solution we have arrived at before moving on.

As a group, we begin peeling back layers of the music to reveal what’s at the core, deconstructing everything in order to see how it all interacts and then, gradually replacing those layers while reintegrating the structure into a far better state than when we began. We examine everything; we see what works and we change—or eliminate—what doesn’t.

Songs are interesting creatures, as are song structures. You always know when a song structure is working, because you’re not paying attention to the structure—you’re listening to the song. However, when a song structure is problematic, you can’t focus as easily on the song because the structural issues affect the song flow.

You may have a song with great parts or sections, but if they are structured poorly your great parts will be rendered meaningless. My experience is, you ignore structural issues in your songs at your own peril. If you don’t address them prior to recording, you will revisit the same issues later when they have become systemic; your options are more limited and your solutions more time-consuming.

When I analyze a song structure, I always consider the following elements. These categories tend to overlap, but I like to keep them separate for the sake of clarity:

1) Song Flow/Arrangement: how the song progresses and how this progression unites the song as a unified, integrated piece of music.

2) Dynamics: how elements develop in the song to maintain a listener’s interest.

3) Orchestration: which instruments are being used in the song and how.

4) Rhythmic Elements: how rhythms in the song interact and reinforce the song.

5) Integration: how all the elements integrate/interact with one another—or don’t.

Digging into the DNA of a song always illuminates it in new and unexpected ways. Hearing a familiar song shift drastically by changing the way it builds dynamically, by altering a drumbeat so it’s more supportive of a vocal line, or by adding a melodic bass line to reinforce and interact with a vocal melody, often gives the artist a new appreciation for his material.

Often, my suggestions encourage the artist to arrive at his own solution to a creative issue. This demonstrates how symbiotic and flexible the artist/producer relationship can be when they work as collaborators. I had such a dynamic when I worked with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. They were competitive and enjoyed the challenge of finding their own solutions to issues in their songs.

As they are revised, the songs gradually become more focused and some of them begin to exhibit weaknesses that cannot be repaired. Generally, these weaker songs simply can’t be improved since their issues are more systemic than symptomatic. At that point, they are usually eliminated.

 Honing Musicianship (Implementation)
The analysis, discovery and revision phases of pre-production involve examining songs under a microscope. By comparison, the implementation/rehearsal phase involves examining performance aspects of the songs from more of an overview.

After a few days of doing revisions, the focus gradually shifts more to rehearsing. Depending on the style of music, I start pre-production with a full band. Sometimes, I start only with vocals and one instrument for accompaniment in order to focus exclusively on song structure (and gradually add the rest of the instrumentation to see how everything interacts).

No matter what instrument configuration we begin with, I focus on the rhythm section as early in the process as possible. I feel that quite often, bass and drums are treated as afterthoughts instead of essential parts of a band and I often work with them separate from the other instruments.

Why focus on bass and drums? 1) although often ignored, they are foundational, supportive and propel the other instruments; 2) they potentially provide great rhythmic and melodic counterpoint for the vocal; and 3) I feel they always sound better when played with feel and aggression, instead of being polite and stiff, but spot-on with a click.

People often make jokes about bassists and drummers, but a great rhythm section makes a song come alive. On the other hand, a great song can fall apart when the rhythm section isn’t doing their job. A cursory listen to any Beatles record will thoroughly prove this point.

As I mentioned earlier, when a band comes into pre-production well rehearsed, we are able to implement changes much faster because they are prepared. This also means that we can focus heavily on nuances in their performances, relationships between the instruments, how aggressively the songs are attacked, etc. The musicians are better able to play with more intensity and get the maximum impact from their material.

Sometimes, however, a band is relatively unrehearsed prior to pre-production. When this happens, pre-production becomes a chaotic overlapping of arranging, revising and rehearsing. Suffice it to say, this is never ideal.

Rehearsing consistently makes a performer better at what they do and a better performer guarantees a better performance. Experience has shown me that people always prefer listening to a great performance than a mediocre performance that has been heavily edited.

We who make recordings are quick to believe that average listeners can’t hear any difference; but, believe me—they can tell.

Building Morale
There is also an interpersonal aspect to pre-production (and record making in general). Since creative work often boils down to people working together in a room, it involves relationships. Because I forensically analyze an artist’s creative work (with the consideration that I may have to rip some of it to shreds), the dynamic of my relationship with the artist can be affected.

Generally speaking, people doing creative work in any environment are happy and productive. Conversely, an environment inhabited by a group of artists jointly working on the foundation of a creative project is fragile and potentially volatile.

Along with each individual’s ideas, his ego is also on the table. Depending on a variety of factors, anything can cause the mood in the room to go from cool to boiling hot in a split second. Perhaps one band member doesn’t like a particular song that another one wrote. One band member might become offended by another band member’s flippant comment, or someone had a bad morning prior to beginning work.

In this case, how do I––as the designated driver of this project––constructively handle ongoing interpersonal dynamics? How do I critique an artist without demolishing his confidence? How do I keep everyone in the room happy, working well together, with the same general goal in mind while navigating around any stray agendas that might be detrimental to the project?

Apart from helping hone the artist’s material, my job is to maintain stability. In this aspect, I have to be an office manager, a psychologist, a parent and a traffic cop.

To handle those roles well, I come into pre-production prepared. This starts by knowing all the music and having a comprehensive plan to make it better.

And, to reinforce that, I come in calm and relaxed. In a work situation involving multiple individuals, one person’s mood and state of mind can affect everyone else’s mood (as well as their ability to concentrate); hence, maintaining my calm helps everyone keep theirs.

For this reason, I always make sure to leave my personal issues outside the rehearsal studio door. I also try to meditate prior to starting work.

If there is a disagreement, my responsibility is to maintain a constant overview of the situation. Remaining calm facilitates a better sense of that overview.

I am also conscious of not getting sucked into anyone else’s personal drama. Drama is seductive, especially in a creative environment. However, it serves absolutely no purpose when it manifests in a group of people trying to work. Looking past the cause of drama enables one to maintain clarity.

When I see what is at the root of a specific problem, I parse out all the individual elements that make up the problem and present them to the artist as concrete facts with concrete solutions. I find that people often get frustrated because they are trying to address a multitude of stressful things at once, instead of separating them and dealing with them one at a time. Bringing clarity to a situation makes it easier to defuse.

Providing critique is an essential aspect of my role. When I critique or share ideas with an artist, I keep in mind that the artist may be extremely close and attached to his work; hence, I do it with care. Often, the way information is presented is as important as the information itself.

The most important thing of all is keeping the creative atmosphere positive and upbeat. The best way to do this is to make sure there is a constant sense of progress. Few experiences are better than hearing a familiar piece of music transform, reveal all its potential and recognizing your own contribution to this metamorphosis.

 Some Final Thoughts for the Artist
Producing an artist implies that there is a collaboration between the producer and the artist. Even if a producer has written songs for an artist’s project, the artist’s name is still the first thing people identify with that project.

The relationship is symbiotic, not hegemonic. An artist may consistently defer to a producer by choice; however, this is not appropriate if the artist disagrees with the producer or feels compelled to speak his mind.

What you create is based largely on your own creative instincts. Therefore, as an artist, while it is imperative to accept input, it is equally imperative to trust your instincts and to assert yourself when the situation calls for it.

You may find yourself working with a producer, perhaps someone with a lot of credits and success behind him. Things may be progressing smoothly when, suddenly, he drops an idea on you that you don’t like. In fact, it is an awful idea, one that has (at least, in your mind) absolutely nothing to do with the kind of record you want to make.

What do you do?

Obviously, being open-minded and tactful is a lot more valuable to you than being quick to reject the idea without giving it a chance. Since it might help you to understand why he made the suggestion, you can ask him to explain it.

Perhaps, after he has explained his idea, it still doesn’t make sense. In this case, the next step might be to tell him that although you are still unclear about what he’s going for, you are open to trying his idea, but with conditions. The first condition might be that you’ll try his idea, but you might also want to try your own idea in place of his and compare the two. The second condition might be that if his idea doesn’t work––even after living with it for a time—the song will be restored to the way it was.

This way, a potentially difficult situation becomes a reasonable compromise; one free of conflict where everyone stands to win.

One of my favorite quotes is from novelist William Faulkner and it reads, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” The killing of your darlings, which in this case might be losing a song part that you love but simply doesn’t work, is one of the most difficult—and transformational––things that you can do as an artist.

Change is difficult, but it is also the essence of pre-production. The less resistant you are to change and new ideas regarding your work, the more fruitful the creative process becomes.

And…

In spite of their misgivings, I managed to convince the band at the beginning of this article that they needed to budget a few days in their schedule for pre-production. They agreed to try it for two days. They were so surprised by how much better their songs became that, at the end of the second day, they insisted on three more days.

By Michel Beinhorn

Reprinted with permission of Music Connection magazine

For more 12th Annual IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), visit: http://www.inacoustic.com

 

 

 

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How a Vocal Producer Can Spark Your Next Recording

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By Jeannie Deva

Warren Hunt, Producer; Rena Lovelis, Singer; Jeannie Deva, Vocal Producer in a recording studio

Warren Hunt, Producer; Rena Lovelis, Singer; Jeannie Deva, Vocal Producer in a recording studio

When I mention “record producer” or “recording engineer” to just about anyone in the music business, I usually get an understanding nod. If, however, I say “vocal producer,” more often than not, I see looks of uncertainty about who that is and what they do.

What is it about the vocals that would necessitate a vocal producer? A guitarist doesn’t need a guitar producer, so what about the vocals is different? 

Starting in the mid 1980’s, my involvement with producing recorded vocals began as a response to singers coming to me complaining of difficulties in the studio. They were blowing-out and not giving the performance their producer was trying to get from them and recording sessions were arduously dragging on well beyond projected budgets. Over the years my involvement advanced into a more encompassing role––that of vocal producer. 

In this article I’ll share with you tips and advice from my own experience working with singers in the studio as well as those of several of my colleagues who are Multiplatinum, Grammy-winning engineers, producers and A&R reps. In the end I hope you will gain an understanding of how a vocal producer might help you record hit songs and when it would be appropriate to involve one in your project.  

Let’s start from the beginning. What’s so special about the vocals? What is it about studio singing that would require a specialist? 

Vocals Sell the Song
“It’s the singer, not the song,” sang Mick Jagger way back when. Well, okay––the song DOES matter, but I think you get the point: The singer is the focal point of any recording. No matter how great the rest of your band, the audience usually recognizes you by the sound of your singer.

On your recording, the sound, style, personality and performance of the vocal must be of utmost quality. If so, it will capture attention and interest, building your audience and making hit songs possible for you. In fact, if the singer really knows his/her craft and the recording captures it properly, it’s even possible to transform a “ho-hum” song into something fresh and memorable: such is the potential of an expressive, musical and passionate singer

Studio Singing
Singing in the studio is an art unto itself. As anyone who has both live stage performance and recording experience knows, studio vocal recording is vastly different. To start with, the voice is an acoustic instrument. It is “played” based on how the singer hears herself. There’s a sonic loop between ears and mind that is intuitively used by the singer to monitor the muscle actions of their voice. The many components involved in studio recording can and will influence not only how you sing––affecting your vocal performance—but how you end up sounding on playback. In addition, the choices of gear and various “tricks of the trade,” can greatly influence the sound quality of the vocal recording.

Singer or Setup?
Sometimes the singer is just not ready to go into the studio and lay down an amazing vocal performance; they need more pre-production on the songs and possibly more vocal technique and exercise to develop their voice and sing more freely. But just as often, during my years of coaching and producing singers in studios around the world, I’ve witnessed many producers and engineers who thought the singer was subpar when the actual source of the difficulty was poor choice of gear and inappropriate studio set-up.

In one of the first recording sessions I was brought into, the vocalist was having a great deal of difficulty singing the high notes on pitch and without strain. The producer kept whispering to me that the singer had a big pitch problem. After a few takes that were pretty bad, I went into the vocal booth, put on the headphones and asked for the track to begin playing. As I tried singing into the mic, I found that the EQ cut off the treble part of the sound spectrum. This made singing the higher notes impossible! I directed a change in the headphone EQ so as to “open” the treble and instantly the singer had no pitch problems.

The Two Sides of Vocal Recording
There are two sides to vocal recording: the singer’s performance and the technical production. The choice of recording gear and technical set-up joins the two sides together. If you add musical arrangement, instrumentation and post-production that are all conceived to support the singer and the song message––voilà! You have a final result that can be truly exciting.

To help the singer capture the most outstanding vocal performance possible, each element of the vocal signal chain or pathway must be uniquely chosen and matched to the specific attributes of the singer. This signal path typically includes: type of mic and headphones, type of preamp and setting, make and model of compressor (some are smoother and less obtrusive than others), the EQ, the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation, a type of recording software such as Logic or Pro Tools). Even the type of cables, such as those made by Blue or Monster, can make a difference in the sound.

Prior to entering the studio, singers have enough to deal with just practicing and developing their song performances without also having to get trained in the technology of vocal recording and studio gear. And once in the studio, the undistracted focus should be on their singular role and achievement of vocal performance. So, who ya gonna call?

Enter the Vocal Producer–The Recording Artist’s Secret Weapon
A good vocal producer knows the difference between a great vocal performance—one that truly sells the song—versus one that could be better and specifically how it could be better so as to help the singer make it great. Understanding rhythm, phrasing, harmony, note choice and music structure would be part of this skill. By the time the session is over, the vocal producer makes sure there is enough selection of performance takes to create the perfect vocal compilation in the editing and mixing. Toward the end, while the session is underway, every second of each vocal pass is accounted for by the vocal producer ensuring everything will add up to a stunning vocal performance.

To achieve trust and maintain teamwork with the singer, a vocal producer needs good communication skills and has to know how to give constructive criticism and positive reinforcement that is honest. As the multi-Grammy-winning vocal producer Kuk Harrell says, “It’s never, ‘Man you screwed up.’ I can tell Jennifer [Lopez] she’s not singing it the right way without telling her that she’s not singing it the right way.”

In speaking with my colleagues, I’ve found that the description of the vocal producer’s role has variations. Some vocal producers also wear the hat of engineer concurrent with giving directions and guidance to the singer. But a vocal producer does not need to be an engineer.

Some producers simultaneously wear three hats: producer, engineer and vocal producer. However, especially with less experienced engineers/producers who don’t have training as a singer or vocal coach, I’ve observed that trying to do those jobs at the same time can compromise the production of the final vocal. And there are many vocal producers who, like me, prefer to focus all of our attention on the singer and so work in tandem with an engineer and the producer of the overall recording project.

Regardless of our differences, on one thing we all agree: A vocal producer is there to elicit the emotion, style, believability and best performance from the singer during studio recording.

The Importance of a Second Set of Ears
AGT finalist of 2013, singer and award-winning songwriter Deanna DellaCioppa knows both sides of studio vocal production. She has been the vocal producer for sessions with such notables as Sophia Grace (60 million YouTube views) and Paula Abdul. Deanna has extensive studio experience singing background vocals for artists such as Celine Dion and, most recently, multiple backing vocals for Justin Bieber’s song “Prayer.”

We can be our own worst critic,” she told me. “I do not enjoy vocal producing [my own performance] while I’m in the booth for this reason; having a second set of ears outside the booth helps tremendously. As the singer I only want to focus on giving a solid, emotion-filled vocal. I do not want to focus on keeping track of which takes were best, what harmony I should use or the overall vocal arrangement.”

Khaliq Glover (aka Khaliq-O-Vision), producer, Grammy-winning engineer (Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Prince) and mixing specialist shared this with me: “Making a record that communicates and connects with an audience that can’t see you face-to-face is a skill that takes time to develop and it usually needs external guidance. You have to nail a combination of feeling, being on pitch, being on rhythm, having dynamics, having great tone and breathing in the right place. That’s a lot, and it can mess with your head unless you have somebody who can help you keep your eye on the prize and not let you get down on yourself.

The vocal producer,” he continues, “is there to guide and extract the performance from the singer, which also includes the quality of their voice during various sections of the song. Understanding the difference can go a long way towards capturing an awesome performance. Connection to the lyrics is probably the biggest key to a great performance and a great vocal producer will always make sure that the singer is actually feeling what they are singing so that the emotion comes through.”

The Session Vocal Coach
If the producer is not also an experienced session singer or trained voice teacher, as I am, involving a vocal coach in your recording sessions could be a wise move. I’ve heard any number of faulty directions given to singers by producers that include what to do physically to get a certain vocal sound. As the producer was not a trained voice teacher or coach, many of these directions were in fact making singing more difficult.

A vocal coach who knows how the voice works and is armed with techniques to help the singer use their voice freely without blow-out can make a huge difference in the studio. While a vocal producer will give directions pertaining to performance and style, the vocal coach helps the singer know how to do that. I recently worked on a project at Capitol Records with Warren Huart (Multiplatinum producer/vocal producer, mixer, engineer and A&R consultant for Capitol Records) and this is what he had to say: “The best vocal coaches I have worked with have helped to put the artist at ease and warm up their voice without straining them. If an artist has already established a long-term successful relationship with a vocal coach, it can be a great benefit to have them present, especially at the start of a vocal session.”

A session vocal coach or a vocal producer who is additionally a vocal technique expert will be able to help the singer nail the performance while assisting the singer to troubleshoot any vocal or equipment problems that would hinder a free and expressive vocal performance.

Here’s a story to illustrate: Recently a singer studying voice technique with me arrived complaining about a recording session she’d had the previous night. The producer was trying to get her to sing the pre-choruses in a breathy voice but kept telling her that in doing so, her volume was too low. To remedy the lower volume, he told her to “push” her voice out while singing breathy.

The result was that her voice soon blew out, they didn’t get what he wanted for the pre-chorus and in her lesson the next day I had to rehabilitate her voice. Breathy singing is a subdued sound and it cannot be done loudly without straining the voice. If I had been present in the studio, I would have tracked the breathy pre-choruses separately from the rest of the song so that the recording levels could be raised. In the lesson I showed her how to cup her mouth with her hands so that her breathy sound would be amplified by the microphone. Using that technique in the next day’s session, she gave her producer the sound and feel he was looking for without having to “push” and blow out her voice.

In the Studio
• Set-up: The first thing your vocal producer will do together with the engineer is set up the session. Determining the correct match of mic for you can take about 20 minutes of trying out several to determine the one that brings out the best in your voice. When multiple songs are part of the project, the same mic will normally be used for continuity of sound throughout the album or EP. Once the mic has been matched and the headphone mix is comfortable for you to sing easily, the actual session starts.

Coordinate with the Producer: It is important that everyone is on the same page. “You must all have the same vision for the song,” says Deanna DellaCioppa. “If you (producer, vocal producer and singer/rapper) do not share the same vision for the end result, this is a huge problem. The producer generally has final say over the final product, so it is the vocal producer’s job to be sure that is captured from the singer.”

Go for Performance: The entire focus of the singer should be on the performance, not on technique. Any vocal “glitches” can always be fixed in one of three ways: 1. Digital editing such as using auto tuner software. 2. A compilation track for the lead vocal created later (selecting the best sections of different “takes”) 3. ”Punching” (to re-record that phrase or section).

Full Takes or Sections?: As many of us do, Warren Huart decides on his session approach based on the singer and the song: “Some singers can perform songs best in single, full takes. Some songs and/or singers require recording the song in sections. You have to be open to trying different things to find the best approach for the situation and not just using one methodology.”  As I mentioned earlier, when a song has big contrasts in volume, I prefer to record them separately. This allows the engineer to set the input volume correctly for each section so that the singer can use the appropriately contrasting vocal approaches

The Final Track: Once the vocal producer is certain that several choices of great performances have been tracked for each part of the song, the singer’s job is done and the editing and compilation begins. The ears and objectivity of a good vocal producer are invaluable in searching through all the vocal takes just recorded, fixing notes as needed and piecing together sections to make up the final track.

Last Steps: With the vocal compilation track completed, mixing and then mastering are the important final steps. As long as the tracking has been done right, you’ll have all the ingredients needed for your mixing engineer and producer to create the magic. But that’s a subject for another day.

Who Uses Vocal Producers?
Kuk Harrell is the vocal producer for artists such as Justin Bieber, Rihanna and Jennifer Lopez. Warren Huart has vocal produced artists such as: Isaac Slade (the Fray), James Blunt, Marc Broussard, Tori Kelly and Ace Frehley (formerly of Kiss). But you don’t have to be an artist signed to a record label to use a vocal producer. It depends upon whether you want to achieve a level of quality that a record label would consider good enough to represent, distribute and broadcast.

Aubrey Whitfield, a British producer, mix engineer and founder of London-based indie label 2ube Records, explains something I’ve heard echoed by other labels: “If you approach me and you have a release-ready record that doesn’t need re-recording, then that’s going to catch my attention. Why? …. We won’t have to re-record you. So think smartly and produce something that competes with current Top 40 releases and you’ll be halfway there.”

For lesser budget projects still striving to have the edge of radio-ready songs, you might consider tracking your instruments in your home or project studio. Then track your vocals with a vocal producer in a pro-studio and complete the recording with a mixing/mastering specialist.

The Business of Hiring
Vocal producers and session vocal coaches are hired in any number of different ways. They are hired by artists, labels, managers and even publishers to work by the hour, at a flat rate per song or for the entire project. “Every project is different; there is no [standard] cost,” Warren Huart shared with me. “Also, I generally receive points on album sales. Points fluctuate depending on whether you are working on just the vocal or the whole track plus the vocals.”

Producer points are a percentage of royalties received for working on a commercially sold album. A point would be equal to one percent of the retail or wholesale price of an album. One or two points would be typical, but superstar producers such as Kuk Harrell can demand higher percentages. Indeed, a 2012 New York Times article included: “Having the certainty of Mr. Harrell’s ear comes with a price: several thousand dollars per song and, more significant, a cut of the royalties.”

Since production can also get into co-writing, arranging, etc. and this goes beyond points and enters into publishing rights, anything can be negotiated into a contract. Just make sure you enlist a qualified entertainment attorney if contracts are involved.

(Article reprinted by permission of Music Connection Magazine)

About the Author

JEANNIE DEVA is a Grammy member, the originator of The Deva Method®, Complete Voice Technique for Stage and Studio™, a published author, a graduate in composition and arranging from Berklee College of Music and a recording studio vocal producer/vocal coach endorsed by engineers and producers of, among others, Aerosmith, Elton John, Bette Midler, Fleetwood Mac and the Rolling Stones. Based in Los Angeles, she also coaches online worldwide and travels on location. For info: JeannieDeva.com, @JeannieDeva

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