Our guest speaker for the June, 2014 Nashville Berklee Jam was award-winning vocal coach, Judy Rodman. In this in-depth workshop she covers many facets of the most challenging endeavor a vocalist will encounter, singing in the studio. Here are some highlights from her talk (her entire presentation can be viewed below).
“The studio is an odd place to sing, it’s very artificial…it requires perfection, because the mic is really sensitive… and recording is forever.”
To optimize a studio performance, Judy offered many practical pieces of advice:
- Make sure that you get the cue mix that you want.
- Make sure you get the right amount of reverb.
- Try singing with one side of the headphones on and one side half off. This allows you to “be a little grounded in the room acoustically”.
- Take some things out of the mix that are swimmy or distracting.
- When singing lead, experiment with tracking the song in sections, for instance verses first, then a high chorus
- Regarding tuning and compression – “You want to sing as well as possibly can so you can use as little of that correction as possible…then the song is going to sound more natural and you’ll be in control.”
One reason that singing in the studio is hard is that you are missing an audience. Most singers that are new to singing in the studio tend to look down at the mic. “I can’t think of any song I’ve ever heard that the lyrics were directed to the mic, and when you sing to the mic that way, it’s going to sound like you’re not singing to anyone.” To remedy this, Judy’s suggests singers don’t face the control room. Face a corner or somewhere you’re not distracted and imagine you’re singing in a concert hall. “Create your own holideck.”
Another thing that makes studio singing hard is that most studio settings are not set up for optimal singing. “I’ll bet you 95% of the studio’s I ever go into, the mic is not set up, the music stand is not set up, the cue box is not set up in ways that would help a singer automatically have the best breath control.” During her talk, she demonstrates the proper way to place a mic stand, music stand and cue box to give the singer the space they need to optimize breath control. “Move the music stand and cue box back a little.” The singer shouldn’t have to lean forward to reach the mic.
Regarding multiple takes of a vocal, sometimes an engineer or producer might say, “okay, this pass, give me everything you’ve got!”. This doesn’t mean to push harder. Often, the louder you sing, the smaller you sound. The louder you sing, the more they have to pull you back because your pinging the meter. And you lose resonance. “More is two things – passion and resonance.” The magic formula is “back off the pressure, add passion”. The power comes from your butt, hence the phrase “sing your butt off!”
Lastly, “You want to know how to maximize your efforts so you get magic”. Know how to prepare for the studio, know your songs backwards and forwards, know your keys and tempos. The day of your vocal session – get a massage, drink water like a fish, watch what you wear (noisy fabrics, ball caps, sun glasses – don’t let anything come between you and the vocal).
Judy Rodman is an award winning vocal coach, session singer, recording artist, stage and television performer, songwriter and vocal producer. Named ‘Best Vocal Coach” by NashvilleMusicPros.com and “Vocal Coach in Residence, August 2013” by TC Helicon’s Voice Council Magazine, Judy teaches her trademarked vocal training method “Power, Path and Performance”™ to singers and speakers nationally and internationally in her office, by phone and Skype. She is a published author with several professional vocal courses; her “All Things Vocal” blog has over ½ million views. Her vocal clients include major and indie recording artists and labels, touring and studio background singers, national public speakers and voiceover talent. She has had #1 records as an artist, songwriter and producer, and won ACM “New Female Vocalist” and BMI Millionaire awards. She is member of NATS, AFTRA, SAG AFofM, BMI. Judy’s vocal students include: Kacey Musgraves, Mat Kearney, Pam Tillis, Dakota Bradley, Radney Foster and Brian White, to mention a few. To learn more about Judy or for more practical vocal tips please visit her website, JudyRodman.com.
The Berklee Nashville Jam is a bi-monthly event held on the last Monday of every other month at the Rutledge and hosted by Berklee alum, Eric Normand ‘89. The event, which is open to the public, is free for alumni and a guest; and $5 for non-alums. After the guest speaker, attendees are welcome to jam with the house band and others from the Nashville music community. For more information about the Berklee Nashville Jam, visit www.nashvilleberkleejam.com.
Our second “Nashville Berklee Jam” at The Fillin’ Station in Kingston Springs this past Tuesday was a great success! The guest speaker on this night was none other than Nashville’s award-winning vocal coach, Judy Rodman. Judy has played many a role in the Nashville music industry over the years – recording artist, A-list session singer, producer, hit songwriter – and on this night her talk focused on different career paths for vocalists. Judy was involved in the writing of my book “The Nashville Musician’s Survival Guide” and, backing up my theory of the necessity to “wear a lot of hats”, she talked about multiple streams of income for today’s musicians and artists. Among the potential jobs for vocalists she outlined were artists, live singers, and session singers (jingle singers, background vocals, demo singing, and voiceovers).
Here are a few excerpts:
“Recording artists need vocal ability, because the mark is up. Even with pitch fixing, rhythm fixing…your vocal needs to be as good as it possibly can be because it’s going to sound more natural and it’s going to be more emotionally compelling…You also need a ‘unique artist definition’…it’s not good enough to be just another great singer…you really need to be unique and find your own definition as an artist – your uniqueness, your vocal uniqueness – which means you need to explore your whole voice and your life experiences that you’re going to put into your art. The sound of your artistic definition is going to have to do with the sound of your voice, the choice of your instrumentation, and your message… Artistic definition takes exploration. For those of you wanting a career as a recording artist I would say don’t shortcut your experimentation.”
“For live background singing – you need to have the ability to trace and completely blend and go with the nuances of the voice of the singer you are looking to back…You’ve got to be able to change your sound as the artist wishes…you will of course have to have the ability to sing harmony parts and hear them… you have to have a specific look – whatever the artist is looking for. You need to network and find out who is gigging, who is in need of background vocalists.”
“Session singing…You need great vocal technique, usually you’ll need some vocal training…you really need to have surgical control of your voice for pitch, sound, blend and nuances –because time is money in the studio…You need to of course hear harmony parts quickly, you need to have the ability to read manuscript…but you also need to know the Nashville Number System.”
Judy then gave some practical vocal technique tips before answering several questions from alumni. Click on the following links if you would like to hear her talk in its entirety.
Judy Rodman Talk – Part 1 (21 min)
Judy Rodman Talk – Part 2 (21 min)
There is also a ton of useful and practical information for vocalists at Judy’s website www.judyrodman.com.
When her talk concluded we began the jam portion of the evening with our house band backing Judy for two songs to start things out. Her second tune, “One Way Ticket”, was a number one hit she wrote that was cut by LeAnn Rimes. Judy’s vocal performance was emotionally charged and inspiring to say the least, and this set the tone for the rest of the evening. A special dynamic on this night was the “optional vocal performance critique” that Judy offered for willing participants. To break the ice, I decided to go first and sang my two songs with the house band. After my first song, Judy pointed out some of the strengths about my performance and addressed a few things to work on.
The jam continued with several great performances. Brian Lucas, the house keyboardist, sang a great rendition of “Georgia”, for which he took the vocal critique option. This pattern continued for the rest of the night, with literally every vocalist asking for a critique. Among these were Ted Schempp, the vocal duet “Acklen Park” (performing songs they co-wrote with alum, Shantell Ogden), Sarah Tollerson, and Michelle Lambert – all performing original material. After the first song by each performer, Judy offered critiques and then we would try a part of the song again, seeing instant improvement in the vocals (don’t get me wrong, the vocal performances were pretty strong to begin with). Alums, Elton Charles on drums and Rick Carizales on guitar, also sat in and did a fine job backing up some of the guests. Brian Lucas made a big contribution by charting out many of the songs in advance, and Shantell helped out by taking photos and some great video excerpts (see below).
It really was a special evening, fun was had by all and I think everybody learned a few things too. I want to thank Judy Rodman, our house band (Heston Alley on drums, Tom Good on bass, Brian Lucas on keys) and all the alums who participated and helped make this a special evening, I can’t wait for the next one!
The next Nashville Berklee Jam will be held on Tuesday, April 10th at the Fillin’ Station with special guest, Reese Wynans, formerly of Stevie Ray Vaughn & Double Trouble. His talk will share perspective on being a lifelong career musician, working with SRV, and the importance of understanding blues and roots music. Please check our website regularly for updates.