Vocal Production

Authors: Prince Charles Alexander, Mitch Benoff   •   Course Code: OMPRD-365

In almost every recording, the lead vocal is the most important element to engage the listener. It is the emotional driver of the record, and what draws us in. If you are an aspiring or established producer, engineer, mixer, or even a recording artist, songwriter, or otherwise connected to recorded music, Vocal Production will be a primary foundation for your art and craft. It will guide you through the essential concepts and methods to master the craft of vocal production.

This course will first give you background about the importance of the vocal since the earliest days of recording, the technologies that enhanced vocal recording, and why listeners focus first on the voice as the most communicative instrument. You will then delve into the often overlooked yet absolutely essential phases of “preproduction,” which can help ensure the easiest, quickest, and ultimately most successful recordings once your vocal session begins. The course then explores the recording session, including guiding your vocalist to the most fluid and convincing performance through the use of often-invisible yet very complex methods, such as singing for the comp, vocal doubling, stacking and thickening, harmonies, and backing vocals. The course then focuses on post-production elements: advanced comping, subtle tuning, and timbre enhancement to create the most compelling final vocal tracks. The course culminates with more advanced vocal mixing, where creative use of technology can enhance the vocal and its focus to even further heights.

By the end of this course, you will have perfected a producer’s perception of what makes a vocal reach through to a listener, bring them into that recording, and hold them there. You will have enhanced your “producer’s ear” to successfully guide a vocalist to their best and truest performance. You will also have gained the engineer’s knowledge and basic skills to ensure the quickest, most fluid, and creative recording of those vocals, and the skills to enhance them and mix them to the full satisfaction of the producer, the artist, and the audience. These combined skills will allow you to apply your abilities to many roles, from producer to engineer to vocal producer/engineer to artist to avid fan of recorded music.

By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  • Prepare for a vocal recording session, both as an engineer, focusing on the technical aspects, and as a producer, focusing on the personal, creative and artistic aspects of the vocalist
  • Run a recording session with technical fluidity and an interpersonal mastery to bring forth the best and truest performances
  • Compile a final vocal track that has both a consistency and maximum impact of emotional and dynamic growth, staying true to the artist and the song
  • Enhance that vocal with additional tracking, harmony, etc., as well as technical processes, in order to increase the impact of that compiled vocal performance
  • Mix a vocal track so that is has the proper size, placement, and focus within a total mix

Lesson 1: The Vocal in Recorded Music

  • Why the Vocal Is the Focal Point of Most Records
  • "Scoring" a Dialogue
  • Your Favorite Recorded Vocals & What Makes It So Special
  • A Brief History of the Vocal in Recording
  • Imagining Recording in an Earlier Era
  • The Magic Triangle: Vocalist, Producer, Engineer
  • Level Panning and EQ of Recorded Vocal
  • Assignment: Testing Your Emotional and Technical Ear; Describing What You Hear

Lesson 2: Knowing Your Singer; Knowing Your Song

  • The Vocal in Different Musical Styles
  • Mixed Genres
  • Vocal Ranges
  • Identifying Vocalists Ranges
  • Getting to Know Your Singer
  • Describing a Singer
  • Getting to Know Your Song
  • Mark-Up Lyric Sheet to Highlight Punctuation/Interpretation
  • Identifying Key, Mode, and Pitch & Range
  • Assignment: Choose from Four Choices and Identify the Requested Elements and High Points

Lesson 3: Pre-Production: Initial Steps for the Producer, Engineer, and Artist

  • How a Producer Prepares a Singer for the Session
  • Producer Considerations for Pre-production
  • Preparation for Working with Various Personality Types and Ability
  • How an Engineer Prepares for Working with a Vocalist
  • The Full Recording Signal Path
  • Microphone “Shoot-Out”
  • Assignment: Handling Pre-production Scenarios

Lesson 4: Vocal Session Preparation - It’s All About the Singer

  • Essential Vocal Recording Approaches and Concepts
  • Note Taking and Purpose-Based Lyrics Sheets
  • How the DAW Can Be Used to Speed up Workflow
  • Three Approaches: Playlist, Drag and Drop, Loop
  • Preparing and Rehearsing Your Vocalist
  • Establishing Communication Hierarchies
  • Assignment: Four Vocal Preparation Scenarios

Lesson 5: The Scratch Vocal

  • The Session Begins Long Before We Hit Record
  • Takes that Got Away, Being Prepared, Saving the Day
  • Recording the Vocalist—Adjusting the Signal Chain & Monitoring to the Singer
  • Set-up: Adjusting with Scratch Takes
  • Producers Have the Overview, Engineers Have the Micro View
  • Production Stories
  • Assignment: First-Time Recording Experience and Lessons Learned

Lesson 6: Producing the Vocal - Creating a “Keeper” Take

  • Facilitating the Best Pacing for Your Singer
  • The Complete Vocal Take: The Pluses the Minuses, and the Purpose of Momentum
  • Points to Stop, Continue, Punch In, and Take a Break
  • Listening in the Moment - Don’t Miss the Magic
  • Expert Interviews
  • Comping on the Fly - Momentum Choice of Methods
  • Magic Triangle Interaction to Sustain Momentum
  • Setting Up Effects to Use in the Session
  • Assignment: Full Vocal Session

Lesson 7: Advanced Vocal Performance: Enhanced Conviction & Singing to the Comp

  • The Powerful Impact of Phrasing - Telling the Emotional Story
  • Vowels - Their Purposes for the Song and for the Artist
  • Consonants are the Clearest Communicators - The Real Source of Clarity & Conviction
  • Momentum: Keeping the Technical Process Fast and invisible
  • Prep and Execution
  • Revisiting Phrasing and Singing for the Comp
  • Assignment: Using Your Producer’s Lyric sheet and Comping

Lesson 8: Advanced Vocal Editing: Final Comp, Tuning, Timbre Changing, Stretching

  • Final Comp Techniques to Create a Powerful, Consistent, and Sustaining Vocal Track
  • Comp Comparison
  • What Comping Teaches Us for Active and Future Singing for the Comp
  • Advanced Tuning and Pitch Editing
  • Expert Interviews on Pros and Cons of Time Editing Tools
  • Advanced Time Editing
  • Assignment: Tuning, Thickening, Stereo in the Chorus

Lesson 9: Making the Vocal Bigger: Doubling & Stacking; Harmonies; Background Vocals

  • Bigger Vocals
  • Guidelines for Doubling and Stacking
  • Adjust levels, Time Alignment, Timbre Choices
  • Harmonies. How, Why, and Where
  • Background Vocals: From Pads to Featured Parts
  • Stretching the Vocal in Size and Length: An Introduction to Delay and Time Based Techniques
  • Assignment: Critical Listening and Description

Lesson 10: Vocal Mixing

  • Why We Premix a Vocal?
  • Planning the Mix: Review the Arc of the Song; Note Problems or Enhancement Points
  • Listening to Recording and Making Your Own Notes
  • Comp Adjustments and Fixes
  • Compressing, Limiting, & De-essing: Powerful Tools That Are Often Misused and Misunderstood
  • EQing the Vocal: The Many Reasons Why and Why Not, and the Subtlety of How
  • Automation to Maintain Consistent Level
  • Advanced Use of Time Based Effects: Delay, Phasing/Flanging, Chorusing, and Reverb
  • Assignment: Mixed Vocal

Lesson 11: Creating a Vocal-Focused Final Mix

  • The Mix Exists in Three Dimensions
  • Diagram Supplied Mixes
  • Adjusting the Arrangement, Sounds, and Setting to Support the Vocal
  • Stems in General and Vocal Stems in Particular
  • Delivery of Vocal Assets to an Outside Mixer/Remixer
  • Assignment: Adjusting Mix Stems

Lesson 12: The Producer/Engineer, The Self-Producing Artist, and the New Vocal Production

  • Summarizing Production Approaches
  • Using Collaborators When Possible, and Why
  • Techniques to Use When Playing Two Roles of the Magic Triangle
  • Remembering Who Your Client Is and What Matters Most to the Listener
  • Assignment: Revisit Your Favorite Vocal Recording

Prince Charles Alexander

Author & Instructor

Prince Charles Alexander is a professor in the Music Production and Engineering department at Berklee College of Music, where he teaches advanced production and mixing. From the early to mid 80s, he produced, wrote, and recorded on Virgin Records with his group "Prince Charles and the City Beat Band." Alexander was an early innovator of wind synthesis and a part of the "punk-funk" generation that incorporated many of the devices that would propel rap music to the forefront of the American music scene.

He is a sought after recording and mixing engineer, whose clients include Mary J. Blige, Destiny's Child, Faith Evans, P. Diddy, the Notorious B.I.G., Usher, Boyz II Men, Brandy, Babyface, Sting, Aretha Franklin, Usher, Brian McKnight, and others. Alexander has garnered more than 40 Platinum and Gold certifications from the RIAA and has three Grammies and seven Grammy nominations from NARAS. He holds an adjunct instructor position at New York University's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, has taught audio technology at the Institute of Audio Research, and is a frequent lecturer at the City College of New York in Manhattan. Alexander is a member of the Producers and Engineers Wing of the Grammy Committee Board of Governors, the Audio Engineering Society (AES), and the Musician's Union Local 802 in New York City. He holds a bachelor's degree in political science and music technology from Brandeis University.


Mitch Benoff

Author & Instructor

Mitch Benoff is a professor in the Music Production & Engineering department at Berklee College of Music. His focus on vocal production began in the days of analogue, developing for himself many of the comping techniques that have now become the norm in the digital world. Vocal Production is based on a similar course Benoff created on campus.

For decades, Benoff has split his time among various fields in the art. As producer, songwriter, and musician, he has written short film scores, musicals, music for off-Broadway, and lots of songs. He is the former owner of Downtown Recorders, home to much of Boston’s New Wave and Reggae scene in the 80’s. His 3-D sound company had clients like Pink Floyd and Michael Jackson.

Benoff has also consulted on special effects concert lighting for national tours, and at M.I.T.’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies, he created large-scale art installations like his 400 ft. long Athens Olympic Meteor for the 2004 Olympics.

Prerequisites

Completion of Audio Basics for Recording, or equivalent knowledge and/or experience. Basic experience recording and working in your Digital Audio Workstation is required. To meet the DAW proficiency requirements, you may benefit from taking any of the following courses: Pro Tools 101, Pro Tools 110, Producing Music with Logic, Producing Music with Reason, Producing Music with Cubase, Producing Music with Ableton Live.




Required Textbooks

None required


Software Requirements

  • You should own, or have access to, a recording system with the capacity to record an individual vocalist multiple times to at least 4 distinct tracks, and allow easy editing and transfer of waveform sections between tracks for comping
  • Acceptable Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) include Pro Tools, Logic Pro, Ableton Live, Cubase, Nuendo, FL Studio, Reaper, Audacity, Digital Performer, SONAR, GarageBand, or any multi-track DAW. There must also be a capability for internal or plug-in equalizers, compressors, limiters, reverbs, delays, and multi effects including tuning

Mac Users

  • OS X 10.9 Mavericks or higher (click here for system requirements)
  • Latest version of Google Chrome

Windows Users

  • Windows 7 or higher (click here for system requirements)
  • Latest version of Google Chrome

Hardware Requirements

  • An audio interface with 1/4" or XLR inputs
  • One condenser or dynamic microphone
  • A basic keyboard that can reproduce a 3-octave range - the range of the human voice. An F2-C6, A2-A5, or C3-C6 keyboard is fine. It can be virtual, or with fewer octaves, as long as it is tunable to achieve that 3-octave range
  • 2 pairs of headphones for tracking (3 is better), these cannot be ear-buds, and should provide adequate sound quality and sound isolation. A headphone amplifier or system that can accommodate at least 2 headphones for at least singer and producer/engineer, if they are in the same room) will be required. A third headphone capability is advised for situations with a separate producer and engineer
  • A monitoring setup, with speakers, that can accommodate at least 2 listeners at the same time is required
  • 2 GB RAM (4 GB recommended)
  • 500 MB hard drive space
  • Webcam
  • Internet connection with at least 4 Mbps download speed (http://www.speedtest.net to verify or download the Speedtest by Ookla app from your mobile app store)

*Your system must meet the minimum hardware and software requirements for your chosen DAW.


Comments

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  • Level
  • Duration
    12 weeks
  • 3-Credit Tuition
    $1,479
  • or
  • Non-Credit Tuition
    $1,229

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