DA Studios: Shaun Frank’s top 5 tips for vocal production
Welcome to DA Studios, a feature that dives deep into the world of music production. We’ll bring you a variety of installments that will include guest posts from artists offering inside tips, detailed looks into the minds and tools of producers and more.
Shaun Frank has proven one of Canada’s most exciting dance music exports. Having collaborated with everyone from KSHMR to Steve Aoki in the past year, Frank has had no shortage of visibility on the release front. In fact, it was recently revealed that he was a collaborator on The Chainsmokers’ crossover hit, “Closer,” which recently topped the Billboard Hot 100.
In the wake of this success, as well as ahead of his new Spinnin’ single “Let You Get Away” which drops on Friday, we’ve enlisted the Canadian producer for the latest edition of DA Studios. Shaun Frank has delivered his ‘top 5 tips for vocal production, which you can read in full below.
On Friday, Shaun Frank will make a rare stop in Providence, Rhode Island as part of Small Victory’s forthcoming SV Welcome showcase at Lupo’s. Tickets are available here.
1. Capturing the performance
When producers are discussing vocal production it quickly becomes about the mic, pre-amp, and what processing to use, but I think that the most important detail about the vocal is the actual performance you capture from the singer. You can have the best and most expensive signal chain, but if the vocalists performance isn’t inspiring it doesn’t really matter. To give you an example, when I tracked Drew from the Chainsmokers vocals on Closer, we did it in the back of a tour bus with the generator running outside. This was all done through a cheaper mic and through a cheaper pre amp/DA Convertor combo (can’t even remember what it was). We actually went back into a proper studio a couple months later and tracked it again through industry standard top-of-the-line gear, probably a signal chain worth about 5 times the price as the original recording, and in the end we pretty much just used all the recordings from the back of the bus. There was just something about the honesty and vibe of the original performance that was better regardless of the quality of the actual recording.
2. Don’t wear the singer out
Have your equipment set up and 90% dialed in before the vocalist puts on the headphones. If the vocalist is singing while you are twiddling knobs trying to get the perfect sound, you’re probably missing some of the best takes you’re gonna get out of him/her. Keep your vocal recording setup simple. I use a good pre and a tiny bit of compression; most of the processing happens after. As long as the vocals aren’t peaking anywhere, just start recording. Even the best vocalists tend to wear their voices out after singing for an hour, so if you spend 30 minutes of that trying to dial in a sound, you’re wasting precious takes.
3. Create a vibe
Sometimes you’ll be recording your best friend, (like I have the pleasure of doing with Delaney Jane), and other times you’ll be inviting a complete stranger into the studio to sing. Vocals are a bit of a precious thing, and even the best vocalists can sometimes get a bit nervous singing in front of strangers under the microscope of being in the studio. It’s your job as the producer to make the singer feel as comfortable as possible – make sure they have water, make sure they’re happy with whoever else is milling around the studio, etc. If they would prefer to just work with you and you only, kindly kick everyone else out. It’s your job to make sure that for the time they are singing, they are feeling nothing but good vibes.
4. Lyric Sheets are for amateurs
This is a huge one for me. The vocalist should know the parts before you hit record. I can always tell when a singer is reading the lyrics off of his/her cellphone or lyric sheet. The best way to capture an amazing performance with any instrument including the voice is if the part is learned ahead of time. I don’t have much else to say about this point other than it will make all the difference. I’ve rescheduled plenty of sessions when the singer didn’t have the lyrics learned, simply because getting them away from reading allows them to get out of their heads and just feel it.
5. Performance over tuning and timing
When you’re going through and picking takes for the final vocal and putting it all together, don’t listen as much for tuning and timing as much as the character of the performance. Technology has allowed us so much wiggle room for tuning and timing using software like Melodyne and Autotune that almost anything is fixable. What’s not fixable is an emotionless performance. So try to pick the takes that have the most character and the most feel, and then fix the pitch and timing once you’ve got those put together. Sometimes I come across the most beautiful mistakes that end up being the best takes.
Hope that helps with recording your next vocal!