I've been spending a lot of time in the studio lately. Ironically not as the singer, but as the vocal producer! It's definitely a fun role to be in--because usually I am the singer and someone else is tweaking everything I sing--but this time, I get to do the tweaking!
Before I launch into what vocal producing is, I feel that I should shatter all your expectations about the vocals you hear on the radio. They do not sound like that in the first take. They do not sound like that in the second take. They performed their "flawless" vocals over a two-hour session where different takes were cut and pasted to make everything seem effortless. On top of cutting and pasting, the engineer of the session can put a filter on your voice to make it sound however he or she wants, as well as correct every pitch in the song! I know, I know, your dreams are shattered and this whole time you thought your favorite singer just rolled out of bed sounding amazing--and maybe they do--but even the best singers take multiple takes to get just the right emotion on every line of the song.
Every vocal producer has a different approach, but my main focus as the vocal producer is to make sure the emotion is coming across from the singer. To me, singing is not about how you sound, but how you make the listener feel. If the listener doesn't feel anything, than what is the point? Hopefully the artist I'm working with is already feeling something while singing, but I can also coach them to draw more emotion by how words are pronounced, dynamics are used, voice inflection is nuanced, etc. Additionally, I am there for standard technique purposes, such as intonation (staying on pitch!) and advice for hitting those scary high notes!
The past few weeks I've been in the studio with Erin, an artist who wanted to make a demo. We tracked three cover songs and recorded the band first. Then, we recorded her vocals separately. We did each song on a different day, because one song of vocals alone can leave you mentally, emotionally, and vocally drained. In typical studio fashion, we started off with Erin singing through the whole song twice. Then, we worked on just the verse. Erin would sing the verse over and over until we had all the right takes to cut and paste, and then we did the same thing with the chorus, second verse, etc. When you're singing a verse or chorus over and over, you not only have to sing, but also have to play out that emotion over and over--on top of thinking about your rhythm, pitch, volume, etc.--it is a multitasking nightmare! (hence why it is so draining!) But, Erin was a champ and she took every note I gave her with ease and we ended up with a "flawless" vocal!
Sometimes I think I'm crazy. But sometimes, I think I know exactly what I'm doing.