A recent discussion on The Modern Vocalist community started about vocal production. Judy Rodman, (founder of the vocal method “Power, Path and Performance”) provided some great insights to how a producer can work with vocalists to get the optimum results.
Great vocal production is like midwifing a child being born. You must know when to coax, when to praise, when to correct, when to let go and let the vocalist breathe. You must know what to say to help the artist NOT PUSH excess air pressure when greater volume or strength of tone is needed, but to increase resonance instead. Unless the person producing vocals is a master singer as well, it is my opinion that vocal production will be lacking. And… the vocal producer must direct in such a way as to 1. instill confidence and not the lack thereof, and 2. not settle til the vocal is right, but not legislate the life out of the song looking for perfection.
I produce vocals in different scenerios; sometimes I am also overall producer and have done pre-production with my client, sometimes I’m brought in by other producers and meet the client at the session. When producing vocals, this is my general set up before they sing:
I usually start out with some basic warm up exercises which besides warming the instrument also gives them practice in how to “Pull” notes instead of “Push” them for power.
Then I give some instructions to quickly get them up to speed on the best studio technique. And I’m not talking about just beginners… sometimes veteran artists find amazing increases in studio vocal quality by changing what they always have done before.
I instruct them to use their hands in performance like live work- sometimes on the hardest places, I tell them to press fingertips into each other, which again braces the chest open for great vocal control. The best studio vocalists are uninhibited physically, I believe.
If they are great live performers who find “balance” difficult and strange without holding a mic (or an instrument), I have gotten great results by actually giving them a dead mic to hold right next to the live mic. I tell them to squeeze and use the dead mic like they do live, but of course to sing into the live mic.
I tell artists it is extremely important to use their eyes as if communicating the song with them. I find eyes the key to the “ceiling” and active involvement there actually increases range and beauty of tone.
Then I make sure the artist is positioned in such a way that they don’t have to “think” too much to keep breath support/control and open throat easy to maintain. To do this, I make sure the artist’s feet are close to the mic so as to balance the weight of the head back to open the throat and chest. I move any music stand either way back or to the side so it doesn’t get in the way of the feet.
I suggest to them to keep one headphone half-off one ear so they can hear their voices acousically as well as through the phones. I suggest that they do NOT put their hands on their headphones like you see so many do. I find that when people do that, they generally squeeze the bottom of the ribcage, destroying control.
Then I darken the room and we turn it on. I like to comp after about three or four tracks, then punch the comp track for anything we didn’t nail, but sometimes a pass is so good, we just punch on it. I don’t wear the singer out by pre-ordained numbers of tracks.