Vocal Setup for Tracking
So welcome to day nine this is Chris Barretto, amazing vocalist from Monuments.
My favorite vocalist to work with
Aw, you're too sweet
And I'm just being nice.
Yeah, no. (both laugh)
So we're gonna talk about how we get set up for a vocal recording session.
Exactly why I love working with him. The stuff that I wish every vocalist would do and the first thing is giving me pre-pro.
And if you look on the screen right here, when I actually worked with Monuments last time, they gave me this for the entire record. But since we're just doing one song, I have it here for one song, but there's an instrumental version of this song, vocal pre-pro, you know, all the vocals that we would be recording. A demo version with everything put together. Another instrumental version and what do you know, the lyrics. Now this doesn't seem like a crazy big deal but it is a crazy big deal because not that many bands actually go through the trouble of giving y...
ou something this comprehensive.
It is crazy, right? It seems like a no brainer that you should just give the person whose recording you this kind of stuff.
It's my job to make your job as easy as possible.
Exactly, so I can do as good of a job recording you as possible.
But this is the kind of stuff that you should demand from a vocalist if you're not sure that you're gonna get it. There's a few reasons. First of all, if the vocalist has pre-recorded demos of all their vocals, then there's really no question about what we have to record. That doesn't mean that we can't change things on the fly in the studio and make them better. But at least we always have a reference.
Gives you a clear road map.
Yeah, for sure. And how do you go about recording your pre-pro stuff?
Well with the pre-pro, obviously to be as prepared as possible I guess is the rule of thumb here. You know, so going into the studio like when we were going to work together on 'The Amanuensis' essentially I wanted to have everything written obviously. Even though I know a lot of people sometimes don't have everything prepared when they get into the studio.
Well the thing is if that's going to be the situation, it's at least kind of known upfront like there's some bands where they say that they want to write the choruses with their producers or something.
And that's okay but if that's going to be the situation
As long as it's known upfront
As long as it's known, exactly Not one of these situations where you think you're gonna be doing one thing and then the vocalist shows up and there just isn't work done.
And it's just a whole catastrophe.
Yeah, no, no. See, you know, I guess the other thing is that I know myself as a musician and as an artist or whatever. I know I work a lot better the more prepared I am. So, going into the studio obviously I like to have everything written out as much as humanely possible saving of course room for any little bit of magic that happens in the studio. That means I'll have all my lead lines written out the way that I feel like I want them. I'll have all the harmonies arranged that I feel like I want them. I'll have all the lyrics set in stone that I feel like I want and obviously all the rhythms are there. I mean, nothing is 100% set in stone, but like I said before, the road map is there to make everything easy for you and me so that way when we get into the room you're not confused about what I'm trying to do, I'm not confused about what I'm trying to do. And if we actually end up going into some new places that we're on the same page together and that way it's not like just kinda shooting in the dark. There's an actual direction that we're going for.
And we could always compare against what you had before
And see if we've improved it or destroyed it.
Usually destroy it.
Usually. Well sometimes it just never gets as good as the original intent.
That's true too. But it gives you the room to work with what you already have and it doesn't leave you with that sense of urgency and anxiety to figure something out, you know what I mean? It allows you to actually enjoy your time there because you're not pressed for time to figure something out. You're not pressed for time to make something really great happen like right on the spot. You know, you know what you're doing. You're essentially taking a lot of pressure off yourself and whoever you're working with. Which I think is what you should do.
Well, as a producer I think that the job description has gotten muddled over the years and right now people think that being a producer means writing things for the band and I don't think so.
Writing is a job in and of itself. (Both speak at once) Yeah, that's right. And also helping a chorus be better or changing a few notes or changing the rhythm of your words, that's not writing, that's production.
But to get the pre-pro like this is helpful because them working with the artist that has a vision then I can do my job of capturing that vision as best as possible. The artist doesn't already have a vision and I have to create it for them.
Oh, that's rough.
That's rough but it's the same thing with the rest of your band also. Like when we went over cleans with John Browne or whatever and we used the ones that he created on his POD xt. That makes my life a lot easier. He already knows exactly what we wants, what he's going for and I don't have to fish around on a bunch of amps and try to guess what's in his head. That just makes life way, way better.
It's about efficiency.
So how do you technically go about creating your pre-pro?
Well I work very, very simply. I work at home with GarageBand.
But it's just enough to get my ideas down so I'm at home. I have mics, SM7B. No pre amp or anything like that. Again I run on a very basic setup but I work at home with a piano mainly so once I have all the instrumentals or just a good enough chunk of music that I feel either inspire to write or I feel enough that I can just write to
So the band will send you
Yeah, generally In most cases I get the music first before I write anything just because that's been the way we've been doing it. And it hasn't been the other way around up until this point so I get the music, I'll write to that. I work with the piano. It makes my life that much easier. I highly recommend it for not just other singers but for anybody in general if you don't have at least basic knowledge of a piano. Do so.
There's a reason why when you go to a music school, no matter what instrument you play, they make you learn the piano too.
It is literally every instrument in one.
You know, you have your rhythm section. You have your string section. You have your horns. You have your vocals. You have everything right there. You know what I mean? So the piano is my best friend, it should be everyone's best friend. And so then when I'm at home, I'm essentially just going though the tunes. I'm listening to the tunes. I'm internalizing the music. What John's presenting. What Olly's presenting. What anybody's bringing to the table and I'm listening to see what kind of vibe the tune is bringing. Is it something that's syncopated? Is it something that's very open and round sounding? Is it something very short staccato attack-like? And that will dictate the kind of phrases I'll try to come up with you know, if it's something a little bit shorter, more rhythmic in your face, maybe I want something that either goes along with it or something to contrast it. Maybe something a little more legato and aerial. Blah, blah, whatever. Something floaty, you know, we'll put it on top. So depending on what the music calls for is how I'll start to write and then the keyboard helps me zero in on my melodies just where I kinda want to take things so that way if Browne is writing for example the tune that we're doing, 'Quasimodo' is in C. So here we go. (plays tune) C minor. (plays tune) Couldn't really hear the third there. But anyway, C minor, that gives you there's all your options right there. And from there, the only way to put it is just kind of coming up with the coolest melody that sounds good to me and I guess the way that I would phrase what is a cool melody is just that when you come up with any kind of melody, it doesn't have to be a specific way of creating but any kind of melody that gives you that stinky blues face you know, you're like yeah, that sounds good. That's a good measure of where you're at creatively.
Well I think it's really important to note that just because you know the theory behind what you're doing doesn't mean that's where it ends. I think a lot of musicians and at the theory like if they write for a guitar solo and they make sure that all the harmonies are in the right key, out of the right scale on all that, then they feel that they've done their job and that's just the beginning of the job and as a matter of fact at least to me, that stuff should almost be instinctive.
At this point, when I write I've done so much training to my ears that I just hear if a note is right or wrong. That doesn't mean I can't go and tell you what notes are available but
That's where you practice.
My ears are there.
You know what I mean? You practice all that so when you get there you don't have to think about that.
Yeah and you can focus on...
The coolest possible thing.
The spirit of the so once again back in the home and creating in the pre-pro stage you know I'm not thinking about necessarily the soulful inflection of anything or how the characters gonna turn out to be. Those are the things the personality of the song, if you will. That stuff kinda comes together later after my melody has already been established with something that feels good. Something that I know I can sing and I can deliver powerfully. And put a little bit of whatever kind of inflection or flare I want on it. That comes as a result of securing my melodic center.
One thing you just touched on that I think we should talk about is making sure that you can actually sing what you write. Cause I worked with a lot vocalists and bands that will write parts that are outside of the vocalist's register and as a producer, with bands that are less prepared that's something that I often have to address right in the beginning right when we're doing pre-pro. I need to sometimes change the tuning of the entire album just to fit what the vocalist can do,
So you're thinking about that already.
Absolutely. (Barretto laughs) Even when we did this record man, there were some stupid things that I wrote that I came in when we were recording and I was like, gone, gone. Just take that out! Yeah. Definitely writing consciously about what it is that you're trying to achieve because if you're just doing studio projects well then, you know, go for him, because that's the intent of your project and you have a lot more leeway to be more, I suppose, recording creative, you know, because you don't have to worry about reproducing that.
Well you can spend all day trying to hit, what was it, the high G?
The F sharp.
The F sharp, yeah.
I didn't spend all day doing it.
No, but we spent like an hour.
It's not bad.
Anyway. But if you are trying to reproduce it live then you should be conscious about what it is that you're trying to create because you know that you at some point will have to deliver.
So it's important that you're able to do that.