Vocals We Love – Autumn 2016

We wanted to take the opportunity to share some toplines, vocal performances and vocal production/edits we have been loving recently. In no particular order, the below list have all been on the AR Vocal Agency office stereo on rotation in recent weeks and we hope they provide some inspiration whether you are a topline writer, vocalist or producer.

Robyn – Main Thing (Mr. Tophat Remix)

Emelí Sandé – Hurts

Becky Hill – Warm

Sasha – Track 10

Nao – Happy (Live)

Lady Gaga & Florence Welch – Hey Girl

Fono – Feet On The Ground

Kaytranada featuring Craig David – Got It Good

Disclosure featuring Kwabs – Willing & Able (Live)

The Golden Boy – Good To You (vocalist Jasmine Knight – one of our own!)

Which vocals have you been listening to recently? Let us know over at our Facebook page now.

What Makes a Good Vocal? Here are some tips

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.


Vocal Quality

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.


Vocal Production

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?


Learn More

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.


Vocalists: What’s in it for them?

Easing the process by which music producers acquire vocal toplines means recognising the obstacles which can slow (or even prevent) them receiving their desired outcome – a vocal that meets what they have envisaged in their minds.

One of these obstacles is in getting the vocalist/topline writer to take on or, more frustratingly, see a project through.

Producers often report vocalists they have engaged on a project going AWOL somewhere between agreeing to take it on and actually delivering. This usually seems to happen at the final hurdle, once the producer has already heard and approved the vocalists idea for the track. Or, even more last minute, once the track is finished but before agreed contracts have been put in place.

I’m sure most of you have experienced the disappointment and inconvenience this causes. But have you asked yourself, during the creative transaction, what’s in it for the vocalist?

Ensuring that those you are working with are incentivised, to the best of your ability, can only help deliver better results for you.

So with each approach you make to potential vocalists, here’s a short list of the incentives you may want to consider offering. Which of these are right for your circumstances will be dictated somewhat by the type of artist you choose to work with.



You may be happy to offer a reasonable share of both performing and mechanical royalties, but can you guarantee that the record will be exposed enough (either through performances, plays or sales) to make this worth their while? Vocalists (especially those who are not predominantly songwriters) often find it hard to see the benefits of this intangible and delayed form of commission.


Payment /Advances

Are you making an upfront payment to the vocalist/topline writer for their time in writing or recording a demo? For their time arranging the full topline for you? For their time rehearsing vocals? For their time recording the vocals? For their studio or engineer costs (if working remotely)? Travel to the studio?
There are many ‘hidden’ costs involved in the writing and recording process for vocalists. Payment for all/any of these are often reserved for the few, elite writers and artists only. However, just because your chosen vocalist isn’t known by name to you, don’t assume they don’t have better paid or higher profile work elsewhere – most established session singers worth their salt will.


Feature Credit

Will you credit the featured artist by name on the project? For full toplines and distinctive hooks in particular, make no mistake that the vocalist/topline writer’s contribution to the track is as great as the producers.


Personal Appearances

Is there the possibility you will use the vocalist for your future live performances and DJ sets? What about if a music promo video is made for the record? Will they be paid for these appearances? Or will you be employing a different artist for these engagements?


Aligned Styles/Positioning

Is the vocalist/topline writer already active in the genre in which you are working? Is this collaboration going to help them advance their standing in this scene? Gain them relevant exposure? Are they passionate about your genre/style? If the answers to the above are no, they may see this project as simply a commissionable gig for them (perhaps one of many).



Have you heard much of the topline writer’s previous work? Are they familiar with the style of writing required of this genre? Have you briefed them and provided guidance on structure, requirements, lyrics, arrangement etc? You don’t want your collaborator to end up feeling out of their depth or disheartened.



Have you liaised clearly and regularly throughout the collaborative (and administrative) process? Have you gotten to know, and built a trusting working relationship, with the vocalist? Feeling included and valued, with visibility over how the project is progressing, is key to your collaborator remaining invested.


The vocalist/topline writer you wish to work with may already have a busy schedule of paid work, plus their own creative passion projects – don’t just assume that they’re going to appreciate the ‘exposure’ you are providing them.

And don’t devalue their art. If they’re good enough for you to collaborate with, they’re good enough to be remunerated, even if you can’t yet do that in cash.

OUT NOW – Soulful Vocals 3

Producers – our latest vocal sample pack, produced in partnership with Sample Magic, is out now! We’re proud to present the third instalment of our Soulful Vocals series.

Drawing on R&B, soul and predominantly house influences, the pack contains a collection of full-song royalty-free vocal construction kits packed with verses, choruses, bridges, ad-libs and double-tracked stems ideal for use in house, nu-disco or pop productions.

In total, there are 310 files across 10 full-song kits packed with verses, chorus, harmonies, bridges, double-tracked stems and ad libs. Each kit is key-labeled (a variety of keys are included across the pack) and tempo-sycned at 120bpm for total production ease.

As always all kit stems are presented free from additional FX processing  – beyond subtle EQ and compression – in order to give you total creative freedom in your own tracks.

Served at 120bpm, these vocal tracks are prefect for use in almost any electronic music genre, from deep house and nu-disco through to pop, electronica and beyond.

You can purchase this pack here.

To see our full range of vocal sample packs please visit the ‘Sample Pack’ section of the AR Vocal Agency page.

Searching for singers? We have over 1000

In the last blog post, we talked about the one crucial asset you need – time – in order to get the right vocal for your track. Time to carefully consider what type of vocal is best suited to your track, time to source the right songwriter and vocalist, time for the writer to do their best work, time for demos to be submitted and considered, time for re-writing of the draft topline, time for final amendments to be made, time for the vocals to be professionally recorded, time for mixing and mastering, time for liaising with the vocalist, time for negotiating agreements, etc. Of each step in this process, our clients state that sourcing and securing the right vocalist is the most time-consuming part.

Since first having the idea to start the AR Vocal Agency in 2012, I have consistently scouted for singing/songwriting talent and built relationships with those artists. As of today, I am pleased to say that this network of singers and songwriters tallies at over 1000. However the agency remains committed to sourcing new vocal talent and developing our working relationships on a weekly basis – it is the key part of what we do. The vocalists cover a wide range of genres, as well as all levels of experience. This gives us a very large base of talent to work with, from established session singers and hit songwriters, to emerging artists whom we are proud to introduce to the commercial music industry. As a result, in our Topline Consultancy work for producers we are often able to identify the vocalists they should be working with right away. Where we don’t feel we have the right vocalist for their track we go out and find them, and hence our vocalist network grows even further.

There are many ways in which this expanding vocalist network allows us to deliver such a wide variety of projects for our clients. But we would be remiss if we didn’t try to provide a solution specifically for the producers who do not have the time to get the right vocal.

The most common request we get from producers contacting us is for (acapella) topline vocals which they can personally select and then produce around. They want immediate access to these; a place they can listen through them at their leisure; all of the necessary logistics and contractual agreements already taken care of. The agency has been working on a service that provides exactly this – a Topline Library – and for many months now our vocalist network has been writing and recording original topline vocals for the library.

Subscribers to our mailing list will be the first to gain exclusive access to the Topline Library in just a few weeks time. If you are Producer/DJ, or work for a record label or publisher, and feel you would benefit from access to the library all you need to do is subscribe to The Topline Library at our website before its launch.

Sincere thanks and looking forward to sending you the library!


AR’s Favourite Vocals: Roger Sanchez – ‘Another Chance’

After hearing him play last night, and to mark his new release coming soon on Strictly Rhythm, this week’s vocal track had to be Another Chance by Roger Sanchez.

Built around a vocal sample from Toto‘s ‘I Won’t Hold You Back’, we love this house classic. It was number 1 in the Official UK Charts back in July 2001 and has lasted the test of time.

Listen here.

Our latest release: Pandaboyz & Nano Bites – ‘Live As Me’

Proud to have produced the vocal for Pandaboyz & Nano Bites new track ‘Live As Me’ which features on Protocol Recordings Miami 2016 compilation – out now.

You can hear a snippet of the track here:https://soundcloud.com/prot…/pandaboyz-nano-bites-live-as-me
Download here: http://prot.cl/Miami2016

This vocal was achieved using the AR Vocal Agency‘s topline consultancy service – contact us for more details.

AR’s Favourite Vocals: Armand Van Helden feat. Duane Harden

Today sees the start of a new regular feature on the AR Vocal Agency, where we post a favourite vocal track of performance of ours!

It wouldn’t be right to begin this series with any track other than Armand Van Helden’s ‘You Don’t Know Me’, featuring a brilliant vocal topline by Duane Harden. Released at a pivotal time, when we were still new to clubbing, this remains perhaps our favourite dance vocal record of all time. It reached number 1 in the UK official charts in February 1999.

We will be adding all our favourite vocals to a playlist on the AR Youtube channel so you can follow the series – listen & subscribe here!

Our latest sample pack ‘Soulful Vocals 2’ out now

Producers: the latest in our line of vocal sample packs, produced in collaboration with Sample Magic, is out now and already sitting at #1 in Sample Magic’s Top Ten vocals chart!

To get this and view our other available vocal sample packs please see the ‘Our Work‘ section of the site.

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