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.
By Eric Normand
A cold, damp rainy night wasn’t enough to stop Berklee alumni and others from converging on one of Nashville’s coolest venues, The Rutledge in what would be the first Nashville Berklee Jam to be held in downtown Nashville. Monday, February 18 marked the one-year anniversary of this event which had previously been held in the suburb of Kingston Springs, and the move to downtown aims to kick the event’s profile up a notch as this centrally located venue is perhaps one of the finest performance rooms in the city.
People began rolling in around 6:30, and the guest speaker on this night, 2012 NSAI, ACM, and BMI songwriter of the year, Dallas Davidson began his portion of the night shortly after 7:00 PM. Dallas, Rhett Akins, and Ben Haslip, make up the songwriting team known as “The Peach Pickers”, who in recent years have become the most successful songwriting team in the history of Nashville. Since moving to Music City from Albany, GA in 2004 Dallas has had over 100 of his compositions recorded including 13 number one hits – “Gimme That Girl”, “Just a Kiss”, “The One That Got Away”, and “I Don’t Want This Night to End”, to name a few.
I gave him a brief introduction, he spoke briefly about his journey to Nashville and how he got his start as an “in-the- trenches commercial songwriter”, and then he quickly got into some questions and answers.
In response to a question about naysayers along the way during the years leading up to his recent success, Dallas candidly responded:
“The list is long and distinguished… starting with my dad… [Laughs]… a lot of publishing companies passed on me, all of ‘em did… the first time around and the second time around.”
He went on to tell of how he got his first big break, a story which underscores the importance of a person’s character.
“A guy named Brett Jones actually signed me to a publishing deal. He started a company called Big Borassa, I was his first writer that he ever signed, and he swears that he didn’t even listen to my songs; he just got to know me and believed in me… I was very, very fortunate to have somebody like that guy come in there and give me a shot and write with me and teach me a lot of stuff.”
Dallas spoke about how he uses his small-town roots to provide topics to write about, as he wants to be “the mouthpiece” of his rural friends. He shared that he likes to write the melody first, then the groove before starting on the lyrics.
In response to “What advice would you give aspiring songwriters?” Dallas replied:
You’ve got to write a bunch of songs… I mean this in the friendliest, competitive way… your direct competition is me and Rhett Akins and were writing 100 to 150 songs a year… Work harder than us and believe in yourself, because that’s all we did… don’t take no for an answer…
Concluding his portion of the night was a mini set of four of his recent number one hits, which we were fortunate to capture on video (courtesy Jack Zander). The band behind him on this night consisted of the players who backed Dallas and Rhett Akins on the 2012 Luke Bryan Farm Tour – Tom Good on bass, Nick Forchione on Drums, and me on guitar. Dallas’s heartfelt performance was well received, and upon its conclusion I thanked him and took a few minutes to reorganize for the jam portion of this event (which will be explored in part two of this blog). Meanwhile, please enjoy the videos below from Dallas’s performance!
The Nashville Berklee Jam is held at The Rutledge on the last Monday of every other month, with the next event to take place on Monday, April 29 featuring special guest, Bassist, Bryan Beller (Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Mike Keneally) who will also be joined by his wife, Kira Small.