vocal producer

Stage and studio advice from a vocal producer

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A vocal producer is a specialist who concentrates on getting the best vocal performance possible. These eight tips come from a seasoned pro and will help you focus on how to bring your best vocal performance to the stage and studio.

Vocalists and music producers will always benefit by preparing for their time in the studio. For a vocalist, it takes time to become comfortable in the studio setting, and you need to understand what the producer wants from you so you can easily respond and adjust during the recording session. Pre-production with a vocal producer saves time and money and can improve the feel of a recording exponentially and help provide the “Emotional X Factor” which is the key to selling music. Don’t go into a studio setting unprepared and waste precious time. Any record project is a major investment. Do everything you can beforehand to help your project succeed. Here are eight things you can do to help make that happen.

1. Personalized warm-up exercises

Learn how to warm up your voice with exercises specifically for you. Canned warm ups or YouTube videos likely won’t work well, and they could even be detrimental. Your warms up should be specifically tailored for you.

Singing songs is also an ineffective way to warm up, as you could be tiring out your voice rather than warming it up. Being warmed up and in your best vocal condition will keep you from being distracted by your voice and keep your mind on the story line and emotions whenever you perform.

My phrase for this is “sing from feel.” Feel the emotion first and then sing them out. If you do cardio or a steam room, do these before your warm ups, especially if you have an early morning performance.

2. Constantly train and be prepared

Start pre-production now – today –  and never stop. You must always be preparing for the right moment. As Grammy-winner Jeff Bhasker says: “If you’re not completely ready for me, I won’t produce you.” This is something I hear more and more from seasoned producers. They don’t want to train and develop you. It’s up to the vocal artist to be trained and prepared.

One area of focus should be in developing a strong head voice. This will keep the producer from having to fight levels when recording your vocals due to your overloading the pre-amp. In other words, don’t yell on your high notes. If a producer has to limit the sound going to record, this results in less color in your voice. Also, intimate passages are difficult to record unless you can control the volume dynamics through a belted head voice.

3. Work with someone during vocal tracking

When you’re recording, there will always be someone running your sound system or tracking your vocal tracking (at least there should be.) I know the stories of artists like Prince and Todd Rundgren self-producing, but I doubt they were alone during the vocal tracking. The reason you want to work with someone during your vocal tracking is that it is quite complicated to record, engineer, and focus on your emotional delivery.

Any totally self-produced vocals I’ve ever heard lack feel – and that’s what the vocal needs the most! Always remember that singing is your mode of communication with your fans. Having a producer in the studio helps make sure you are communicating to someone: otherwise you’re singing to yourself. Your producer should listen as an audience would and give you feedback. Your vocal expression is far more important than the sonics of the recording.

4. Know what you want in your monitors

Buy a small mixer, a microphone, headphones, and floor monitors, use them every day (even while doing vocal exercises). and learn how the equipment works. Then you can talk intelligently to your producer and make sure your audience – whether live or through your recordings – will hear you at your best. When you put headphones on in a studio, you must communicate with the engineer/producer so they can give you exactly what you need in your mix so that you are comfortable and able to sound your best. At the same time, you need to familiarize yourself with how to sound great when conditions aren’t perfect. If there’s a bad monitor mix or feedback on a live stage and it affects your performance, the audience won’t blame the sound engineer, they’ll be looking at you.

5. Feel your song’s story

90 percent of your singing must have feel. Make sure that any vocal or monitor problems do not distract your conscious mind from the feel of the song. Your mind should be at least 90% on the story and how you feel about it. Producers call this “feel.” They will always ask you for more and more feel, and emotional expression. They know that is the only way that they can produce a performance that means something to your fans.

6. Ignore mistakes during the performance

If you make a mistake, learn to ignore it and continue singing the song’s story with emotion. Always stay in the feel of the music and the story.

7. Train until the song’s technique and emotions are second nature

How is this done? Through repetition and practice. You will develop the ability to “stay in the story” from beginning to end; never being distracted. At the same time, make the story’s emotions the only place you want to live in. Feel them, express them, and communicate them to your audience.

8. Enjoy your performance, enjoy the music

Do this, along with tips 1-7, and you will have a great time performing live and in the studio – and you’ll sound great doing it!

Brad Chapman is an award-winning, Los Angeles-based vocal pre-producer, celebrated for his signature technique of working with singers to bring the elusive component of “feel” to their performances in the recording studio. Chapman has worked with world renown record producers including Quincy Jones, David Kahne and over 100 other Grammy winners. Clients include music legends Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, Stevie Wonder, Annie Lennox, Natalie Cole, James Ingram, Al Jarreau, Nina Simone, Anita Baker, Peter Cetera, REO Speedwagon, Kiss, Motley Crue, and many more. Reach Brad Chapman at bradchapmanvocals@gmail.com.

Image via ShutterStock.com.

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