Music Talks Education Center: When Singing in Key and On Time is not Enough, Part 1

Singing in key and on time is not enough!… getting a great vocal performance…

Singing in key and on time is not enough!

I’ve been in the studio working with my oldest son. He’s 19, an aspiring artist and a wonderful lyricist. He’s writing socially conscious lyrics filled with graphic imagery. Lyrics are his strong point, his challenge; however, is getting a great vocal performance!

Working with him recently, I began to notice that his vocals were always to the extreme. Either too much attitude or his dynamics were off. Never a balance! His vocal never placed in the mix. It sounded separate from the music. For him, staying in key and on time is never a problem, two skills that continue to plague many artists.

It took a couple of sessions to begin to understand what was going on. Initially, I thought it was a problem with dynamics.  Each time I said, “less attitude”, he brought his volume down. When I said, “ok, your mic levels are now too low and your attitude is off”, he went back up in volume. Then I thought, maybe it’s his mic technique. Not knowing when to pull the mic away from his mouth and when to lean into it!

I found myself “riding the fader”  during playback and using all types of plug-ins trying to compensate. That bothered me, knowing how I feel about technology. I love technology but I had to stop myself from using the plug-ins to solve the problem. I’m a big fan of, “cultivate talent first,” then use technology to enhance music in creative ways that “humans” can’t do, yet!

After spending more time observing him. I started going back and remembering when I was in his shoes and having a similar problem. I remembered a term we used to use at that time, “lock it in the pocket.” Play your instrument or sing “in the pocket!” What’s “in the pocket?” It’s a feel, it’s the groove, it’s being locked into the timing! Follow what I’m saying? It’s not “the timing,” It’s being locked “into” the timing.

What’s the difference? The difference is the feel. What I noticed with my son is his performance was on time. But it was what I call “flat lined.” Meaning, he was just on performing “on time”, mechanically with the metronome!  However, the music, the track is so much more than just the straight metronome setting; the global timing. What about the timing you find within each instrument being played by each musician? Their combined interpretation of the global timing, that creates the song’s feel.

(continue, part 2)


David Knight

Music Talks Educational Network
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