Why they’re a key part of pop music – Billboard


In April, one of the more low-key jobs in the music industry was thrown into the spotlight. Chris “Tek” O’Ryan, a producer who specializes in vocal brilliance, has sued Justin Bieber’s company, JRC Entertainment, and the singer’s manager, Scooter Braun, alleging they backed out of a deal to pay him a percentage of earnings on many Bieber tracks he has worked on. “Having now been effectively sidelined by the artist he spent over a decade helping to build, Tek has no choice but to turn to the courts to ensure the team de Bieber respects the bargain of the parties,” O’Ryan’s attorneys wrote. , Johnson & Johnson LLP and Stillwell Law.


See the latest videos, graphics and news

See the latest videos, graphics and news

It was a rare moment of public exposure for O’Ryan and his peers, “an underrated class of music producers who operate largely in the shadows of the music industry,” according to the lawsuit. (In a statement, a representative for Braun called O’Ryan’s claims “inaccurate, misleading and misleading.”)

Few gigs in music require as much self-erasing as the vocal producer, and few are as misunderstood. The beatmakers behind a fierce instrument want everyone to notice – to the point where they regularly add name tags to tracks to help listeners in the identification process. But voice producers have the tricky job of making artists look amazing while making their own work invisible.

“On a pop record, the most important thing is an artist’s voice,” says longtime vocal producer Mitch Allan (Avril Lavigne, Christina Aguilera, Demi Lovato). Allan is a master of all trades – also a veteran songwriter, guitarist and former lead singer of pop-punk hitmakers SR-71 to boot – but when his focus is on vocal production, it’s imperative that he blends into the background. “I’m not doing this because I want people to hear a voice and say, ‘Mitch Allan had to cut that,'” he explains. “I want people to hear the song and never hear me.”

Additionally, the casual listener’s understanding of a vocal producer’s work rests primarily with “the person applying the Auto-Tune”. And while that may be true, the technical part of vocal production “probably accounts for about 20%” of the work, according to Bart Schoudel (Selena Gomez, Zara Larsson, Katy Perry). The vocal producers say their gig is part coach, part therapist, doing whatever it takes to “get the best performance out of an artist,” as Schoudel puts it.

“Being in the cabin can be very stressful,” he continues. “You’re behind the glass, you don’t know what everyone on the other side is talking about. It’s really easy to get into your head. I see artists at their worst – the first time I meet them, I hear false notes. I can take the pressure off, help them through this. It’s reading a play, knowing when it’s time to take a break, to make someone laugh.

The idea of ​​working with a producer who specializes in summoning great vocal performances was popularized relatively recently in the music industry, according to Allan, by one man in particular: Kuk Harrell, who has worked closely with The -Dream and Tricky Stewart during their dominant chart-run in the 2000s, a period that produced nu-standards like Rihanna’s “Umbrella” and Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)”. “Without Kuk Harrell’s work with Rihanna, I’m not sure we’d all be doing what we do,” Allan says. “He really pointed out to the labels: I need to hire a vocal producer, someone who’s just awesome at cutting these vocals.”

Harrell “is the father of voice production,” Schoudel acknowledges. “Those Rihanna performances, of course, he did so much more, but the magic he captured there is so special.” Allan estimates that about half of the Top 40 radio tunes have been hit by one of his peers; Schoudel says most “big records” depend on a vocal producer.

Schoudel will scrutinize the artists’ notes, of course, but also their pronunciation and even the shape of their faces as they sing. One of the artists he often works with “speaks so well in his English that it sounds like an English actor or major singing a record about gender, having sex – it doesn’t fit,” he explains. he. To keep the tracks from sounding too sterile or too academic, he encourages her to articulate certain words, forcing the vocals to mimic the cadence of casual speech and singing between her teeth.

The letter “T” is often a target for Schoudel – he may have a singer remove it from the word “hate” and sing it more like a “D” in the word “to” – and “R” may be a another stumble block. If these are carefully spelled out, he says, “it’s like Broadway.” After he bends over a line with a vocalist and they nail it down, it often hits a spot where “phonetically, you’ll spell it completely different than you’d say”.

In another case, Schoudel worked with a pop singer who had trouble singing a tragic song she had written. “She’s used to doing big voices, happy, lots of brightness,” says Schoudel. “But we don’t smile when we talk about these things. I had her sing a few takes where she literally rolled her cheeks down,” like she had gone to the dentist and been injected with novocaine. When the artist heard the results, she finally felt she was summoning an emotion that matched the lyrics – “that’s it!”

Jenna Andrews has done vocal production for BTS, Tamia and Majid Jordan.
Shervin Lainez

Jenna Andrews (BTS, Tamia, Majid Jordan) frames her work slightly differently — she likes to help artists “find the right harmonies to lift certain sections” of a song. “You get a track that may be missing in some places,” she explains. To add punch, “you think to yourself, ‘this could use a snare drum or a kick drum here,’ and you can mimic that with a vocal sound. Maybe it’s a five-part grand harmony, or maybe -maybe you’re just dubbing the voice.

An additional goal for Andrews when working with singers, especially younger ones, is to help them locate “the bends and vibratos” that give each voice a unique character. “I think that’s what people recognize, especially a singer’s vibrato,” she says. (She recently posted a video with Splice focusing on voice production, which she hopes can help raise awareness of what the job entails and why it’s valuable.)

Another part of the vocal production process is known as comping, which Allan describes as finding “all the little bits of [singing]and put them together. This requires surgical precision. “The level of attention to detail required for such work cannot be overstated, often involving timing and pitch shifts measured in mere fractions of a millisecond or semitone, with individual words broken into dozens of manipulable pieces before ‘to be expertly reassembled,’ O’Ryan continued. Explain.

Once the voice producer sews it all together, the seams are hidden – again, it’s a self-erasing job. And its impact is difficult to quantify, although it is considered essential, especially in the commercial pop industry. Vocal producer work “isn’t a tangible thing on its own,” says Schoudel. “An artist sings, a producer makes music, a writer writes melodies. These are clear. To draw a performance from someone is abstract.

So for now, voice producers seem destined to stay in the background. Vocal production is “the art of capturing art,” says Allan. “But no one will really know except the two of us in the room.”


About Author

Comments are closed.