We discuss all things vocals with music producer D.Ramirez

This week we caught up with music producer Dean Marriott, better known as D.Ramirez, talking all things vocals.

Ivor Novello nominee D.Ramirez is responsible for a multitude of ground breaking releases. These include 2009’s #1 underground anthem ‘Downpipe‘ with Underworld & Mark Knight, plus ‘that’ genre defining remix of Bodyrox’s ‘Yeah Yeah‘ Top 40 #1 in the mid-noughties. You may even remember him as The Lisa Marie Experience.

One not to be missed.

We discussed his experience of working with vocalists & topline writers (as well as vocal samples) in the studio, plus his comprehensive approach to vocal production.

This inspiring interview is brought to you straight from his London studio and is jam packed with useful tips and information whether you are a vocalist, topline writer or music producer!

Watch the interview back here now.

Not giving up on music: How to stay motivated

In this week’s blog I am going to be talking about not giving up on your music and how to stay motivated when times get tough. And by tough I mean those times (which can last hours, days, weeks, months, and beyond) where you feel stuck in your music career, you may have faced a rejection (or, let’s face it, several rejections), the actions you’ve been taking haven’t had the results you’d hoped for and you’re left feeling demotivated, disheartened and uninspired.

When that happens, it can be easy to temporarily lose your faith in the career path you’ve chosen, and worse, your love of music.

I don’t think there is anyone who has embarked on a career in music and not felt like this.

With that in mind, here are some tips on how to stay motivated.

 

  1. Recognise that every music artist feels like this (even super-successful ones).

Recognise as fact that no one following a career in music escapes the feelings of rejection, demotivation or lack of inspiration you experience from time to time.

I can tell you from experience of working with new artists, right through to globally successful acts, that even artists who have achieved recognition and sold millions of records still face rejection, still have to carve out opportunities for themselves, and certainly still suffer periods of demotivation. I have had more than one conversation with very ‘successful’ artists who have been on the verge of quitting.

It’s simply not possible to avoid when you are doing something that requires courage and tenacity, and you’re doing it in an industry which can feel very uncertain. However, there are some ways you can lessen the impact of these – which brings me on to the remainder of my tips…

 

  1. Expect rejection

By the very nature of life, never mind the music industry, you are not going to get every opportunity you go for. Not every song you write will be released, not every song you release will be a hit, not every performance you give will be your very best.

Unfortunately, just because you’ve put lots of work in, you’ve spent the time, or you’ve done the research, doesn’t always mean something is going to go your way. There are other factors and variables of which you have far less control – timing, market trends, other artists and organisations, the music industry at large, world events, luck if you believe in that – which all play a part to some extent.

If you learn to expect that and become comfortable with the idea, the rejections have far less impact and the successes become that much sweeter.

However, what you can control – you should. The reason for this is that if you are rejected, or a performance or a release doesn’t have the impact you hoped for, at least you can walk away from it knowing that you did your very best. That you worked your hardest, or produced your best work. Because that’s all that any of us can do.

This brings me neatly on to my next tip:

 

  1. Have an objective for every action you take

For each action or activity you take, set a specific objective that you would like to achieve from it. Know why you are taking a certain action, and what return on investment you are hoping for from it.

Try to make this objective achievable (whilst still making it something you may need to stretch to reach) and find a way of being able to measure it. In other words, make sure there is a return on investment from every single thing you do.

For example, if you are playing a gig, your objective might be to test out a new song you’ve been working on in front of a live audience. Or to convert five members of the audience into subscribers to your mailing list.

If you reach your objective, you can be satisfied that you got what you needed from the exercise and it was a ‘success’, regardless of whether it then leads onto something further or not. If you feel you have achieved your objective and that it was worthwhile doing, then it was worthwhile doing.

In last week’s blog ‘How to prioritise tasks as a developing artist’ I talked more about having an objective for every action you take, and why you should only undertake tasks which have a return on investment. You can read this here.

 

  1. Take a practical approach

I am not one for telling and reminding people that the music industry is tough, or that there are no guarantees, or that you should have a back-up plan. To me, those are negative messages and falling back on them when things don’t seem to be going right doesn’t help you.

Instead, try taking a more practical approach and assess why something hasn’t had the response you wanted. Look for gaps in your knowledge, or mistakes that may have occurred, or shortfalls in your offering.

Because once you know these you can fix them! This should make you feel better immediately, because this means that most challenges do also have a solution. A solution which you can find, research and become better at.

Assess and then adjust for the next time. This is how you learn and grow.

 

  1. Be clear on why you are doing it

If you are a regular to this blog or the AR Seminars, you will have often heard me compare being a music artist to running a small business, and it’s true. You have to believe in your offering, you need to be entrepreneurial, you need create a great brand, implement a strategy and build an audience for your ‘product’ (your music).

You will also no doubt have heard the whopping statistic that 90% of all small businesses fail. In fact, I checked and according to 2016 statistics, 93% of all small businesses will eventually fail and that there is a 1 in 200 chance of succeeding overall. Now I couldn’t find any data, but I’d be willing to bet that the statistics for having a successful music career sound ominously similar.

Of course, when you are thinking about going into business everyone tells you this statistic, and I am guessing that as someone who has aspired and persevered with following a career in music you’ve no doubt been warned countless times how competitive it is; that you should have a back-up plan; that your goals are unrealistic. Am I right?

So, what makes us persevere, even with the odds stacked against us?

It’s got to be a bigger why. You must (subconsciously or consciously) know that this is something you want or need to do, that it’s a risk worth taking, that you believe deep down you can do it, and you must have an idea of why that is.

Think about your own personal why, write it down somewhere, and in times of doubt and demotivation, get it out and remind yourself of why you’re doing it. Consider what the alternative to following your dream is for a minute.

This is usually enough to re-gain perspective and drive you forward in following that why.

 

  1. Successful artists are the ones that don’t give up

This is stating the obvious, but bear in mind that any music artist who you deem to be successful, or even just slightly further on in their journey than you, is an artist who didn’t give up.

We’ve already discussed that there is not a single person following a music career who hasn’t faced rejections, or negative feedback or hitting dead-ends. With that knowledge, you can be sure that any music artist who is sustaining and succeeding in their music career, simply didn’t give up during the tough times!

In my experience, it is this single factor that often defines the difference between a successful artist, over and above their talent, music, or brand. Food for thought…

 

Learn more

To register your interest for the AR ‘Self-Manage Your Music Career‘ online course, which leads you through how to create your brand, build your audience, implement a strategy to follow for your music career and monetise your music, click here!

 

How to prioritise tasks as a developing music artist

There’s no doubt that juggling the many tasks you need to do as a developing music artist is challenging. This is particularly tricky if you are also working around a full-time job or studies at the same time as trying to move your career music career forward.

However, prioritisation and time management is challenging at every stage of your career. As you become more established and more successful, it doesn’t necessarily mean it becomes easier. In fact, if anything, it can become even tougher – you’re more in demand, your team grows and then there is even more people and schedules to be managing. Priorities need to be clear and time management needs to be slick across the board, so that the entire team is working together cohesively.

How you prioritise the tasks which are most important and how you manage your time is an ongoing balancing act throughout a music career. But if you are working independently or are perhaps at the very beginning of your careers where you’re doing everything by yourselves, I know that this can feel even more overwhelming than usual. It’s sometimes difficult to find the energy to devote consistent time to your music career around everything else you have to do.

As an artist manager, I’ve had to perfect my time management and prioritisation skills down to a fine art – teaching my artists techniques and helping them to focus on priorities effectively. Times that by 3, 4 or 5 different artists you might be managing and you get the picture as to how crucial this is.

Here’s how to prioritise tasks as a developing music artist:

 

1. Focus on the music first

If you’re at the very beginning stages of your career, you feel you’re still a new artist, or your sound is still developing, really focus on getting a clear sound identity down first.

If your sound identity is still unclear, i.e. you haven’t been able to narrow down and define exactly what your genre/style/defining musical motifs are, and what you want to be communicating musically as an artist, continue focusing on this until you’ve defined it.

Then focus on getting a really great product (and when I say product I mean high quality recording of songs that you’ve written or performances of your voice/instrument) under your belt. If you don’t yet have high quality recordings of songs or performances that you’re proud of, this is your starting point.

Make sure you focus on the music first. This is absolutely your top priority in the beginning stages of your career, because until there’s some singing, playing or songwriting of yours to showcase you can’t drive anything else forward.

 

2. Make audience-building part of your daily routine.

Audience building is one of the most important tasks of your job as a music artist. However, lots of artists make the mistake of thinking that audience building can’t start until they have a release to promote, or have played X number of shows, or until that have a manager – in truth, if you don’t begin building your audience til this point you are likely late.

A small and sustainable way of starting to audience build is to document your musical journey. For example, what are you working on each day that is a part of your music career that you can give a snapshot of for anyone who’s following you on social media. Been writing lyrics? Photograph them. Been rehearsing? Film a clip of it for your followers to hear. Playing a gig? Livestream a song from it for those that couldn’t attend.

Choose a social media platform and share just one behind-the-scenes look at what you’re working on musically each day of the week. By the end of the week you’ll have shared seven pieces of content that have given people some insight as to where you are in your music career, what’s coming in future, and what’s going on the behind-the-scenes!

There’s lots of other audience building strategies and approaches you can take further on down the line when you start putting campaigns into place around your music releases. In the meantime, you can start building your audience in this simple way now. You can even do it on the way to work!

 

3. Batch your tasks

Make a list of everything you need to do of a week – that might be songwriting new lyrics or material, recording, rehearsing, curating social media content, collaborating with co-writers and producers.

Then try and batch those so that you’re focusing on one thing at a time. For example, if your focus is on the music and you know that you need to write or record new material, make sure that you set aside a specific time to do that.

Maybe Saturdays are specifically dedicated to songwriting, Mondays are the days when you contact promoters and open mic nights about coming to perform, Tuesdays for a half an hour is the day that you really focus in on your social media.

During each time you will only focus on that time slots allocated task, rather than flitting from one task to another. Otherwise your focus becomes very diluted.

If you can, avoid trying to complete 20 different things that are your list all at once, or split your focus amongst lots of different tasks. I find it’s much more productive to spend intensive time focusing on just one task at a time.

Knowing in advance what you will be working on at a given time also allows you to prepare and organise around it much more easily. Crucially, you should find this allows you to complete tasks more quickly.

 

4. Eliminate unnecessary tasks

As a developing music artist, yes there is lots to do. But it can also easily feel like there’s even more to do than there really is – I’ll explain why. Instead of just keeping busy, you should really be thinking about if I task has a return on its investment of time. Is it a necessary task, in other words? Much of the work you undertake may not be. But how do you tell?

If a task isn’t either improving your craft, strengthening your brand, building your audience or making you money, it is likely an unnecessary task. Sure, there’s lots of little things you can do that might make minimal improvements in a certain area, but if it’s not having a specific return on investment it may not be worth the time it takes. For example, if you are playing a gig to help build your audience, does that gig attract audiences who fit your own audience demographic? Does it get good numbers of people through its doors? Are they likely to be responsive to the style and type of act you are? These are the types of questions you should be asking to determine whether this is a task worth undertaking.

It isn’t possible to do everything at once, especially if you’re working full-time or you’re studying so it’s important to prioritise. When time is at a premium, if a task doesn’t fit into any of these categories you can probably eliminate it.

 

5. Take one action every day (no matter how small)

If you want to make sure that your music career is moving forward consistently, make sure that you’re taking one action towards it per day. Whether you have 10 minutes to spare, or you have two hours to spare, make sure that you’re doing at least one action per day. This ensures that momentum is kept even when working around a busy schedule, and allows you to fee that you are not neglecting your music career.

If you save all your music tasks and do them on one day at the weekend, it can become quite overwhelming and very easy to procrastinate (hence falling behind with your goals) instead of breaking these into more manageable chunks. As a result, quite often what that means is that nothing happens because you don’t get around to it, or something else comes up and the time that you set aside to focus on your music career falls by the wayside. Sound familiar?

Break down your to-do list of tasks that you need to do that week into small chunks and do one of those things a day, even if that’s just sending one email or posting one thing on social media. That way you know that you’ve at least done something, focused a little bit on your music career that day.

 

Learn more

Those were my tips on how to prioritise tasks as a developing music artist. I hope they help. If you have any more tips that you have found help you prioritise tasks in your music career, please do leave them in the comments to share with fellow developing music artists.

For more on this topic you can view a previous AR Seminar on this topic here and for more information on the ‘Self-Manage Your Music Career’ course, please register your interest here.

The real cost of a vocal topline – Part 1

So, you want a vocal topline for your track? But you don’t want to pay for it, at least not too much.

But what is ‘too much’? Despite working hard to deliver quality vocals to music producers at reasonable prices, we have noticed a discernible devaluing of singers and topline writers amongst the electronic music community. Many producers feel they should work for free, and be happy for the opportunity to do so. It’s a complaint we often hear from the singers and topline writers themselves too, including many established names. It seems that singing, and even lyric and melody writing (the definition of a topline), are often not considered as skilled a trade as music production.

Speaking with many electronic producers, one of the reasons presented for this is ‘everyone can sing’, by which they mean that everyone has use of their voice – not the same as having incredible natural talent, a distinct tone, and years of singing training to ensure professional technique. By this same argument, anyone with access to a laptop can produce music – but this is not the same as having years of experience, an innovative use of sounds, or fantastic software/hardware, much less a great record. Another reason given is the fact that while a producer may spend several weeks working on one track, the singer and topline writer’s work appears to be done in the few hours they spend in the studio recording the finished topline. Little accounting seems to be made for the many hours often spent developing the melody and harmonies, writing the lyrics, arranging the vocal and rehearsing the performance of it to ensure the topline is captured at its best during recording. Let’s not forget the many years, finances and efforts invested into learning and perfecting their craft, just like the best producers.

That music production is any more-or-less skilled than singing or songwriting (and vice versa) is an argument we simply can’t get behind. We believe mutual respect between the two is vital amongst the electronic music community.

Agree or disagree? Head over to our Facebook page and leave a comment there now.

We will be breaking down, in real terms, the true cost of a vocal topline next week but for now we’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Know Your Rights: Topline Writers, Producers & Vocalists

The collaborative process between music producers, topline writers and vocalists (who may or may not also be the topline writer) in creating a song, should lead to an end product which all parties can be proud of. However, when it comes to the respective rights of each person involved, it can also lead to conflict and misunderstandings – like this example of Avicii and Leona Lewis.

In the complexed and multi-faceted area that is copyright and royalties it’s not hard to see how confusion can ensue. However, there should be no excuse for failing to recognise the rights of topline writers and vocalists, as well as those of producers, whom have jointly created music together. Unfortunately, we see too many cases where at least one party has not had their rights recognised nor registered with the necessary organisations. These are most often due to a lack of understanding and administrative oversights, as opposed to malice. This is why it is so important that topline writers, vocalists and music producers all take responsibility for being as knowledgeable in this area as possible and ensuring they are discussing terms from the outset of a collaboration. In turn, record labels must also take responsibility for recognising the Rights of all parties involved in the creation of a record and reflecting this in their agreements.

As a vital aspect of making and monetising music, we will be writing about this in more detail and offering resources to topline writers, vocalists and producers on this in future. However, let’s start with the basics. Whether you are a topline writer, songwriter, producer or vocalist, if you have collaborated on the creation of a song in any way these are the rights you need to be aware of and what you can do to ensure these are being administered correctly.

 

Songwriting Splits (Copyright)

If you write any part of a song, whether it is the topline melody, the lyrics or the backing track, you are due a songwriting split (and in turn a share of publishing income – mechanical royalties and performance royalties) of that song. Therefore, this would be relevant to topline writers and lyricists, as well as music producers if their production constitutes songwriting work (i.e. they wrote/produced the instrumental parts of the song, as is typical in electronic music). You would not be eligible for a songwriting split (or any publishing income) if you recorded vocals on a track as the singer, but did not contribute in any way to the writing of the song (please note – in rare cases there could be exceptions to this if you had been expected to do a large amount of vocal arranging, create (write) extensive harmonies or heavily ad lib). It is also not unheard of in electronic music that a featured vocalist who did not contribute to the songwriting may still be offered a songwriting split, in lieu of a session fee, by way of payment.

The way in which songwriting splits are decided are often determined by a few different factors – for example, how many people have been involved in the songwriting process or how much you contributed to the song. Historically, the lyrics and topline melody of a song would make up 50% of the song, while the instrumental/backing track parts would make up the remaining 50% of the song. However, in electronic music these two features of a song aren’t always equal. Furthermore, whilst a song may be split 50/50 between a topline/lyric writer and a producer, it is common practise that both parties will actually own 50% of both the topline/lyrics and the track – despite who wrote what. More on songwriting splits and the complexities of determining each writers split here and here.

Whichever splits are agreed between the songwriters, it is important that this is stated in writing (as early as possible but certainly before the song is exploited in any way) and that each writer then registers their share of the song so they receive the correct publishing income which may arise. To ensure you catch all the types of income which are generated from owning any musical copyright you must register your songwriting splits with both the Performing Rights Society (PRS) and the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS) here.

 

Mechanical Rights

Mechanical Rights compensate the writer(s) of a song when that song is reproduced or distributed either in physical form, such as CD or DVD, or streamed/downloaded from the internet. Therefore, you are entitled to Mechanical royalties if you wrote any part of the topline melody and lyrics, or indeed the instrumental backing track, and thus it is relevant to topline writers, lyricists and producers. It is not relevant if you only recorded a vocal without having written any part of the song.

If you have written any part of a song which is due to be released on a record label, you should be awarded mechanical royalties even if you are not the named or main Artist of the song. This is often overlooked if you are a topline writer collaborating with a producer or Artist who signs the song on which you collaborated to a record label. Labels do not always use due diligence in checking how many writers were involved in the creative process and will sometimes agree mechanical splits with the main Artist/producer without including the topline writer. This is a too-often occurrence in dance music.

Therefore, if you are a topline writer you should be ensuring that your contribution to the writing is reflected with a share of the mechanical royalties, and that both the Artist with whom you are collaborating and the label releasing the song are fully aware and in agreement – ideally before the song is signed but certainly before release. You should also be a member of the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS) who will collect the mechanical royalties due to you, on your behalf.

 

Performing Rights

Performing Rights compensate the writer(s) of a song when that song is played (in either live or recorded form) publicly at concerts and festivals, as well as being broadcast on radio, TV and certain digital platforms, or played in clubs, venues, shops, and public business establishments such as gyms etc. Therefore, you are entitled to Public Performance Royalties if you wrote any part of the topline melody and lyrics, or indeed the instrumental backing track and thus it is relevant to topline writers, lyricists and Artist/producers (in the context of electronic music). It is not relevant if you recorded a vocal without having written any part of the song.

If you are the writer of any part of a song, in order to receive your writer’s share you need to ensure you are registered as a rights holder member with the Performing Rights Society (PRS) in the UK. You can do so here.

 

Neighbouring Rights

As with the above, Neighbouring Rights also relate to public performance of a song. However, while public performance rights compensate the writer of the song when their music is publicly performed, neighbouring rights compensate the master holder (usually, the record label) AND the performer when a song recording is played in any public forum. Therefore, if you perform on a song (for example, sang the vocal) you should be awarded neighbouring rights even though you did not write any of the lyrics or melody. These rights therefore apply to lead vocalists, backing vocalists, session singers and all instrumentalists who perform on a song recording. This means you will be awarded royalties (the ‘Performers Share’) each time a record you perform on is played on radio and TV, or in clubs, venues, shops, and public business establishments such as gyms etc. If you are the performer on a record, in order to receive your performers share you need to ensure you are credited as a performer at the time the song is registered with neighbouring rights societies – Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL) in the UK. You can do so here.

Please note that neighbouring rights aren’t paid in the USA, and therefore not applicable to US plays of your record.

 

Disclaimer: please note that rights, royalties and how they are administered can differ from territory to territory – the above are specific to the UK. Most other territories have equivalent societies as all those mentioned above.

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.

 

The Subject of Subjectivity

The subject of subjectivity – in music it’s a big one. Not simply that we, of course, have differing tastes, musical influences and ways of expressing ourselves musically. But we also seem to hear, and certainly feel, music differently. The very definition of subjectivity being ‘based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes or opinions‘ speaks of a purely emotional response, rather than one informed by facts or science. This has given us a rich musical tapestry, none of which is better illustrated than in electronic music– an umbrella term for a diverse and often polarising multitude of sub-genres (here are just some. Gulp). This is no doubt a positive, for both music listeners and music creators; the scope for musical expression being so broad that people of all tastes and influences can find escapism in it. But it can cause an issue when applied to the business of music.

This is never more true than when producers and topline writers come together to create a track. There are a number of reasons this can be the case–a fusion of the twos differing musical styles, ways of writing, and inspiration included. However, it can be far more complexed than that. If people hear and process music somewhat differently to one another, this is a very minor disparity compared to how we describe and talk about music to one another. What is generic to the topline writer may not be to the producer, what is underground to one may not be the next, likewise what commercial, universal, leftfield or catchy are, to use some terms frequently bandied about in electronic music. We even recognise differences in the way sub-genres within electronic music are understood or described. This is largely where misunderstandings and setbacks can occur within the topline process. It is with this in mind that we ask all of our clients (the producers) to provide musical references which illustrate the key stylistic traits they have described to us in their topline briefs. This must then be followed with extremely clear communication of what is required to the topline writer.

One thing that does seem to be widely accepted within commercial music is that all producers (not to mention their respective publishers and record labels) are looking for hooks– those short riffs or phrases which catch as many listeners ears as possible and make a song accessible. Again, not exactly a scientific definition but we all know them when we hear them. They can be created within the produced track itself, but are more often left to the topline writer/vocal to bring to the track. At the very least a producer needs to have allowed the required space and flow within a track for the topline writer to embed them (when writing a topline to a pre-produced instrumental that is). There is a formula to writing in such a way, however to achieve this by speaking purely in (very subjective) musical terms is near-impossible. It is for this reason we ask all of our clients, in addition to the (subjective) style or feel of music they are hoping to create, what their objectives for their track are –who is it to appeal to and on which platforms? Which record labels are they hoping to find a home at? What are their radio targets for the track, ideally?It is in identifying these types of clear-cut goals to a track that musical subjectivity can remain a creative gift, without becoming an obstacle to the topline process.

-AR

Artist or Singer?

There is a distinction to be made between an ‘artist’ (in the musical sense) and a ‘singer’, which is rarely acknowledged when discussing vocals.

To be clear, both are an art and both possess a clear skillset. This skillset may vary from artist to artist or singer to singer, but can be strikingly different between an artist and a singer. So what is the difference?

In the broad sense an artist is most often someone who writes or produces their own music, as well as playing and performing it. They may of course sing –  their voice could even be their most defining feature as an artist (Adele springs to mind, despite her songwriting prowess), but it will seldom be the sole focus of their art. The genre of music they create, or their own individual style and distinguishing musical features, may remain fairly consistent throughout their career.

A singer is someone whose primary talent is their voice, which they may have trained through years of study and practise. For professional singers, their voice – and possibly this alone – is their stock and trade. Their accompanying skillset may be based around vocal technique, range and ability, reading music proficiently enough to sight-sing, harmonising and vocal arrangement, microphone technique, genre-versatility, plus knowledge and maintenance of their vocal health. They do not necessarily write music or lyrics.

It goes without saying you can be both an artist and a singer, and there will certainly be crossover of the varying different skills both employ. However, how a vocalist identifies them self – artist or singer – can make for huge differentiation in how they approach their vocation and the transactions between themselves and those they collaborate with. If you are a producer, this is of importance when deciding which type of vocal you are seeking for a project.

In artistic terms, you have to ask what it is you need your collaborator to bring to the table creatively. Do you need music and lyrics written as well as vocals delivered? Is there a specific voice, tone or vocal range you require? Are you hoping that your collaborator’s profile will add credence to your project? What type of parameters are you working within?

Is the role you now have in mind better suited to the skill set and assets of an artist or a singer? In practical terms, this differentiation also extends to how each is remunerated for their art. An artist may be seeking (or already engaged in) recording and publishing deals; potential ‘passive’ income from royalties being how they monetise their art over the long term. To this extent, their own songwriting and recordings are of most value to them. The business transaction between a professional singer and anyone employing them may be far more straightforward – their time and vocal efforts will be exchanged for a fee. They are a session singer and will expect payment for each session or performance they do.

Securing the right type of vocalist for your project, and the subsequent smooth running of your collaboration, depends upon understanding this differentiation. Once this has been defined, identifying the right person for your project – whether artist or singer – should be clearer. Furthermore, ensuring that in turn the vocalist identifies themselves the same way and mutually agrees the expectations under which they are working is key.

As always, there may not be a definitive ‘category’ for each vocalist you work with and, like you, their careers and sense of self professionally can and will evolve. But an understanding that there can be a difference between artist and singer should be kept in mind when seeking vocals for your respective projects. Likewise, some food for thought for vocalists and the career paths they choose to follow…

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

Vocalists – is the talent pool larger than you think?

One of the key reasons I began the AR Vocal Agency was to increase the options available for music producers who were seeking vocalists and top line writers to work with. For many, it seemed that the pool of talent from which to choose was restrictive in either its size or its accessibility. If you were an artist/producer who happened to have the support of a great A&R, a proactive publisher, management with a musical background, or a large number of your own singer contacts then you were perhaps at an advantage when it came to finding vocalists/top lines. This, provided you were also time-rich to do the necessary searching and extensive listening required to source just the right vocal for your track. For emerging artist/producers the former of these – a strong support team – can be rare. For established artist/producers the latter – time – is a luxury. The result is that often the choice of vocalists and top line writers to work with can seem, if not be, very limited. And where to look?

There is no one set route, nor ‘correct’ process, for finding the right vocalist on any given project. I have heard stories from at least one of my own music idols, whose most iconic vocal dance track was delivered by a neighbour of his ‘who happened to sing a bit’. Sometimes, whatever works, works. However it is hugely important to me that artist/producers recognise that the pool of talent out there is incredibly wide – if you know where to look, or are willing to dedicate time to searching through all the haystacks in order to find the needles.

Here at the AR Vocal Agency, sourcing the vocalist/top line writer who is the best fit for each individual project we work on means looking far outside the circle of those who are tried and tested. There is nothing we enjoy better than partnering an established artist with an exciting new talent – ideally long before their peers are on to them. In fact, being able to introduce voices and writers who were previously unknown to the commercial music community is a source of huge pride. Whilst our network of vocalists is extensive, staying true to this ethos means that our search for new voices must be consistent.

In staying so, my hope is that the AR Vocal Agency can help to ease any frustration music producers have around sourcing the vocals and top lines best suited to them. In turn, we also wish to provide talented vocalists with a platform to be seen and heard by the people who need them most. For both parties, this is especially important where the support of publishing, management or a label may not be in place. And it might just be perfect for anyone lacking in time.

-AR

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