Tips For Recording Vocals From Award-winning Asian Pop Record Producer, Tat Tong
Tat Tong is a multi-platinum selling, award-winning pop producer/songwriter managed by Universal Music Publishing with 12 #1 and 36 Top 20 hits across Asia. He is currently making inroads into the American and European music markets, and splits his time evenly between Los Angeles and Singapore.
Tat Tong on live vocals versus studio vocals:
As a vocal producer, I would say that the #1 challenge of recording great studio vocals is conveying character and personality.
Advances in transparent tuning technology and the ability to do unlimited retakes have completely changed the process, but sanitized, scrubbed vocals can often come across as soulless, and we don’t have the visuals of live performance to help us feel the emotion in what the artist is singing. If anything, we now need MORE character and personality to overcome the dehumanizing effect of modern recording technology. So here are some tips:
1) Figure out if your artist develops more character on longer or shorter takes. Some artists thrive on pinpoint focus on a few syllables at a time, while others find that constricting and will deliver the goods if you allow them to sing an entire section uninterrupted. Remember that you can always combine the best micro-sections from these long takes after recording is done!
2) Get your artist into the vibe. Dim or brighten the lights. Make the artist really think about what the lyrics mean, and give different mental images to focus on while the artist records different sections. I like to use colors (“this section is red, red hot”) or outrageous images (“sing it like you’re singing to a 10 meter tall teddy bear!”).
3) Get the headphone mix right. Reverb in the cans really helps for slower songs. Also, the volume of the playback will affect the artist’s intonation – louder will make the singer go sharper, and softer will make him/her sing flatter. This applies for energy as well. A correct mix will greatly support the artist in nailing the technical issues, thereby freeing up capacity for him/her to really emote.
4) Create a friendly, non-judgmental atmosphere where your artist is able to be vulnerable and teeter on the brink of making mistakes. I always search for such moments – a slight loss of control, a slight crack or quirk in the vocals – because when used judiciously this is what will give the vocal performance tons of personality which will shine through even after cleanup and tuning.
5) On a related note, you can also use the technology to your advantage to rescue previously unusable takes – if a take has tons of character and vibe but is shaky on the intonation, don’t throw it out just yet – fix it and see! In a surprising number of cases, these takes end up in my final track because they have that special “something” that the more technically-sound takes just lack.