Mary J. Blige, Destiny’s Child, and the Notorious B.I.G. are just a few artists who Prince Charles Alexander has worked with in the studio. From the early to mid 1980s, he produced, wrote, and recorded on Virgin Records with his group, Prince Charles and the City Beat Band. He was an early innovator of wind synthesis and a part of the “punk-funk” generation that incorporated many of the ideas and sounds that would propel rap music to the forefront of the American music scene. He is the author of the undergraduate course, Vocal Production and the graduate course, Commercial Vocal Productionat Berklee Online and has tips to share for vocalists and producers who are new to the studio.
What advice would you offer to a singer who hasn’t recorded in a professional studio before?
Record some voice memos of yourself singing against an instrumental track of a favorite song (those should be easy enough to find for free on YouTube). The more you do this, and the more you adjust your level and the music level, you will be mimicking the actual process of recording in a studio. It is the same thing with much better equipment.
Do you have a favorite vocal production effect to use in the studio, either on your own vocals or someone else’s?
My favorite vocal effect is reverb. It helps bring singers and the music into a space that is interesting to listen to when done well. Reverb is like salt and pepper, not enough and there is no flavor, too much and the meal is ruined, but when seasoned properly, the meal (song) is exquisite.
Who is a singer whose vocal qualities you most admire?
There are so many. Marvin Gaye is my all-time favorite because he had multiple vocal textures and timbres; and, as a vocal producer, more or less invented a multi-track vocal style that most record producers draw from to this day. The list of modern singers that I like is too long but Jennifer Hudson is usually stunning. Both Marvin in his time and Jennifer Hudson in her time have beautiful vocal instruments and can do anything with them. My current pop crushes are Beyoncé and Bruno Mars, with a dose of Halsey and Shawn Mendes.
Is there a song that made you want to become a singer?
Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly” from the 1972 film of the same name was the song that most inspired my debut as a singer. His flexibility, control, and raw passion in his falsetto were remarkable and, as I found out, pretty difficult to do. Once I started in vocal production, I felt more comfortable pulling greatness out of vocalists with superior vocal instruments to mine. I love being a coach to the stars. I’m also a huge fan of when people can do more with their voices than should be possible, like the work of Drew Taggart from the Chainsmokers or Drake. They both make singing sound so comfortable and easy.
What is one song passage that you think has the most stand-out vocal moment?
Prince’s “The Beautiful Ones” when he sings “Do you want him, or do you want me? ‘Cause I want you,” breaks me up every time I hear it. Also, Prince’s primal scream in “Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)” is otherworldly. I mean, James Brown could do that kind of thing also, but in this song, Prince literally sounds like he is possessed. Listen to it and focus on his vocal performance; it’s amazing. The closest voice we have to that now is Bruno Mars, but I would never use him as an initial target for vocalists that I produce, because he is freakishly gifted.
What is your top vocal health tip?
One must have, and use all the time, a prescribed warm-up routine before one sings. Period. There are no pushbacks on that.
What is your favorite vocal decoration to use?
It is the groan. I am such a fan of pop music divas (and divos) like Halsey, Shawn Mendes, Camila Cabello, and Ed Sheeran. Deconstructing their vocal performances reveals so much detail for me to teach. I could literally spend a few hours teaching someone how to sing the first verse of any song they sing. And, of course this is true of Beyoncé and Bruno Mars also, who I feel are the pinnacle for modern vocal artists.
What advice do you have for overcoming performance anxiety?
Avoid eye contact until you have performed enough that there is no longer anxiety. For some artists, performance anxiety is part of the experience that brings forth the art. I’m more anxious in front of 10 people than I am in front of 10,000 because creativity is so revealing and soul-baring. But looking at that center point in the room, and performing to that center point, has helped me immensely.