Gear Review: Empirical Labs Distressor
Welcome back to Signature Sound’s weekly music production blog! As always, I am your host, Jambot, and today I would like to present you with a short list of tips that will help you improve your vocal production whenever you are working with an artist. We will be taking a look at selecting the right microphone for the artist, knowing how to work with your artist, and capturing the best performance. Let’s get started!
Selecting the Right Microphone for your Artist
The first thing you need to consider when you are recording vocals is what type of sound you are going for in a particular song. Do you want your vocal to be full of texture and color, or do you want a clean vocal that is incredibly transparent? You need to take the time to consider what you hope to accomplish with the vocal, whether it’s a feeling of vulnerability and singularity that comes across as relatable, or a powerful, overwhelming presence that commands your attention and delivers a larger-than-life message.
One of my all-time favorite producers is Rick Rubin because he approaches each project with such a unique vision for the artist, and he makes ultra-specific choices to create the project accordingly. He approached projects with Johnny Cash and the Beastie Boys in completely different ways, because he took the time to understand what each particular vocal needed in order to accomplish the task at hand.
I’m not going to try to sell you on a particular microphone here; I am simply stressing the need for active consideration in the process of what you are hoping to accomplish with your vocal. If you do not actively make a choice before you begin, one will be made passively in the process, and it may not be the sound you were going for.
Working with your Artist
The next skill you need to have in your tool belt is the ability to take the temperature of the room or the ability to quickly gauge how your artist is feeling and figure out what you need to say (or not say) in order to keep the session going smoothly. If your singer isn’t in a good mood, you will not get a good take, the creative energy will start to leave, and before long, the session will end quickly because nothing will be getting done. It is ESSENTIAL that you know how to work with different types of artists in order to help them when they need it and say the right things at the right time in order to ensure success. An approach that works for one personality type may not work at all when you’re dealing with a different personality, and it is important for you to be able to read your artist and facilitate accordingly.
One example of this is an artist who needs to be told, “that was a great take; let’s get another one,” and another who needs to hear, “come on, I know you’ve got a better take in you than that!” Clearly, what may work for one person will absolutely not work for the other, and it is imperative that you know what your artist needs to hear at the right time.
Capturing the Best Performance
Finally, you need to take enough time in the session to make sure you get the best take out of your artist possible. Good takes make good songs, but GREAT takes make hit records. With this in mind, your job as a producer is to have developed your critical listening skills enough to know exactly what to listen for and the coaching ability to get your artist to that comfortable, creative space where they can truly let go and give you the best performance. When a singer is laying down a vocal, they aren’t necessarily listening to their take in a critical manner because they have to be outside that analytical space and focus on the creative realm of the music. Because of this, you, as a producer, need to be focusing and give them constructive notes on areas they may need to hit better in order to capture the best take. This is why Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson worked so well together; they had an open, trusting environment where they both were solely focused on capturing the perfect take no matter what they had to do to get it.
I hope this helps you in your vocal production sessions and shows you the importance of the artist-producer relationship in the studio environment. You will be amazed at how much psychology plays a big role as a producer, and it is your job to make sure your artist is both comfortable and happy in order to ensure success.
As always, be sure to follow us on Twitter @iamjambot and @_signaturesound to keep up with everything we are doing here at the studio. Have an idea for a future article? Let us know, and you can see it as our next post!