In electronic music what is it that makes a ‘good’ vocal? This is something we think about a lot in trying to ensure that our Topline Consultancy services and The Topline Library are as valuable to music producers as possible.
Yet there is not necessarily an industry, or musical, set of standards that make a vocal work. Our subjective views on the sounds we hear also mean that for every person who loves a particular vocal, there will undoubtedly be another who doesn’t.
So what is it that makes a ‘good’ vocal?
Vocals sell records
There are the tangible qualities of a vocal – the singers range and technical ability, how it is recorded and where, type of microphone used, for example – which we can measure. However, the intangible features of a vocal – a far longer list which would include everything from the tone and timbre of a singers’ voice, the lyrics and phrasing they use, how emotive their performance is, the song arrangement, and the creativity and innovation of the producer/studio engineer – are entirely variable and non-formulaic.
These cannot be measured, and it is often hard to describe why a certain vocal track speaks to us above others. What we can universally agree on is that the vocal in a track is what resonates most with listeners – fundamentally, the vocal is most often what sells a record.
When it comes to vocal toplines, our focus at the AR Vocal Agency is on quality.
First and foremost, that means the quality of a singer’s voice (though not necessarily how ‘good’ a singer they are).
Our ears are piqued by interesting voices – unique tones, original deliveries, and natural ability. Such voices may not be trained, technically perfect or on-trend at that time, but if they are able to capture the right ‘feel’ we don’t think it matters.
Conversely, we are also rightly impressed by wide vocal ranges, unmatchable technique and vocal control; there will always be room for these in commercial music. Our role in supplying vocals for such a wide range of sub-genres means embracing an equally broad variety of vocal styles.
Second, and just as important, is the quality of the vocal production, using the most suitable recording technique for the vocal. This can mean a different approach is taken to the recording of each individual topline.
The producer must ensure the singers’ best performances are captured, showcasing their unique sound and the atmosphere they create accordingly.
We are concerned with the recording studios used and their equipment but, most crucially, with how experienced the producer is in vocal production – a skill that requires patience and keen attention to detail.
Some things to consider for your tracks:
- How ‘good’ (whether that’s interesting, unique, emotive, suited, soft, strong etc) is the vocalist?
- Using a vocal producer – a producer who specialises in vocal recording
- If this isn’t possible, ensure you are always honing your vocal production skills – vocals should never be an afterthought in the production process
- Focus on the vocalists’ performance as well as their technical ability – capturing emotion is key
- Do offer the vocalist guidance & reassurance when recording – studio singing is often more challenging than live performance
- Allow the vocalist to perform/record vocals in the way that makes them feel most confident
- Record as many takes as possible – you may need to comp extensively
- Have the vocalist do a great amount of ad libs – often these ‘finish’ a track and add feeling
- Ensure the microphone used, and the set-up, is the best fit for the vocalist
- How are you processing the vocal takes? Is this best suited to the feel you are trying to create?
For more information on vocal production, read tips from Kuk Harrell, vocal producer to Rihanna, Pentatonix, & Mary J Blige; Music Tech’s 20 Vocal Production Techniques; and The Little Known Recording Trick That Makes Singers Sound Perfect.