Pickin' Up Good Vibrations
The recording studio is often thought of as a place where magic happens. While true, rarely if ever, does the magic just happen.
It takes the right atmosphere to elicit those magical performances. Creating that atmosphere or vibe as it’s commonly called, requires more conscious effort and commitment than you may think.
Before we dive into this fascinating yet quite complex topic, let’s look at a quote from Sessionwire’s own COO and Co-Founder, Kevin Williams, as he was asked the question, “what is the vibe and why is it important?”
“The vibe is a sensation that you get when something special, something magic is happening. For me, I get a little rush up my back, and I go ‘Wow, that’s amazing’ and it surpasses any kind of understanding of why exactly it’s great, it just is and that’s what everybody looks for when they are looking for a great performance, it’s not all about editing something together to make it great, I mean that can help, it’s just something that organically, naturally happens when something’s really special.”
This insightful response from Kevin, who has over 40 years of experience as a producer and engineer, hits on some great points.
- The vibe is something you feel
Whether you describe it as a feeling, a sensation, or energy, the vibe is something felt. It is what moves you when you hear a performance. It is the human element that connects the audience to the performers behind the song.
- The vibe is unmistakable
You can’t measure the vibe the same way you measure frequency or pitch. When it’s right, you just know it. For Kevin, it’s a rush up his back. For others, it may be goosebumps on their arms. Whatever the case may be, when it’s happening, it’s unmistakable.
- The vibe surpasses understanding
Try describing to someone why a song or performance is magical. Words will almost always fall short. You know it was magical because you felt it. It just is. The ‘why’ doesn’t matter.
How you create the vibe, whether you’re working in your own studio or working remotely, is the same. While there will be some variation in how they are applied, the general principles behind the tips are applicable in both settings.
Enough of the preamble. Let’s get to the tips!
Tip # 1: Creating the vibe is a unique, personalized process
Unfortunately, there is no definitive guide or step-by-step recipe for creating the right vibe. There are just too many variables at play.
There’s the artist you’re working with. The style of music they play. The equipment used. The aesthetics of the studio. The relationships of everyone involved. The list can go on and on.
To add to that, every producer and engineer will have their own way of going about the process. The important thing here is to not overlook the small stuff. Just as your entire music production is the sum of all its parts, so too is the atmosphere or vibe of your recording session.
Everything from what preamps you use on vocals to how you deliver feedback, and everything in between can positively or negatively affect the vibe of your sessions.
Tip #2: Take the time to build relationships
Those moments where magic happens in the studio are not created by the musician or recording artist alone. It’s a work of collaboration created by the relationships between the recording artists and the producers and engineers.
“My whole shtick is I’ll never work with someone I’m not friends with. Like, why would I want to work with you if I don’t know you? So, my thing is you come over to the studio and, first of all, I’m cooking for you, I’m talking to you about your life. I don’t put pressure on anything.”
Benny Blanco, Recording Producer and Artist
source: The New Yorker Magazine
While you may not be able to pick and choose who you work with like Benny Blanco, who has worked with the likes of Rihanna, Kayne West, and Justin Bieber, it’s clear how important he feels relationships are to the process.
Like so many working and personal relationships, trust is the building block for these creative, collaborative relationships to be formed. This is certainly no easy task. Especially when you’re working with an artist for the first time and that trust needs to be developed almost immediately.
Ideally, you’ll start this process well before the studio work starts. When working remotely, you obviously won’t be inviting the artist over for a home-cooked meal at the studio, so focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t.
Set up a few video calls prior to the start of recording. Take the time to get to know each other. What are their likes and dislikes? What makes them comfortable in the studio or while performing in general? Listen to some music together. Share some of your work that you’re proud of and maybe some you’re not so proud of. It sounds a bit like a first date, doesn’t it?
For most of us, trust is something that grows over time and through shared experiences with other people. As an engineer or producer, you must actively work to build and keep the trust of who you’re working with throughout the entire production process.
Keep in mind that if you can gain someone’s trust quickly, there’s a good chance you can lose it just as quickly, if not faster.
Tip #3: Be a source of encouragement and support
Performances in the studio often reveal intimate details through the sharing of highly personal and emotional experiences. This reality can be a very exposing and vulnerable experience for the artist.
As a producer or engineer, you should be sensitive to these situations and respond with empathy and encouragement. Beyond creating a supportive environment, which is very important, always keep in mind what the purpose of that environment is: to capture magical performances.
For example, let’s say you’re working with a vocalist on a song with lyrics that are full of feeling and emotion, drawn from real-world experience. The key for the artist to convey that emotion is the believability of their performance. Not just for the artist themselves or the producer, but for the listening audience who is not present at the time of the performance.
In this case, the encouragement and support are about helping the artist get into the right headspace. If the song is sad in nature, maybe it’s about dealing with loss, you need to help them get into that emotional state and get them into the right frame of mind to deliver that believable, emotive performance.
Sometimes a few encouraging words can make all the difference in the world.
Tip #4: Do whatever makes them comfortable
Jimi Hendrix hated the sound of his own voice. So much so, that we would ask for his vocals to be turned down in this songs’ mixes. During an episode of the Eddie Trunk Podcast, famed sound engineer and record producer, Eddie Kramer revealed how the guitar legend felt about his vocal performances in the studio:
“He wanted his vocals buried in the track, that’s the issue. I don’t think many people know about that – he just hated his voice, he thought he had the worst in the world.”
While on the Jonesy Jukebox podcast, hosted by Sex Pistol guitarist, Steve Jones, Kramer describe how he handled Hendrix’s insecurity:
“I used to make these three-sided screens facing away from the control room and put him around this side, turn the lights down. He didn’t want anybody to see him sing and he’d stick his head around and say, ‘Was that alright?’”
Nervousness, tension, or a lack of self-confidence can be prohibitive to artists producing their best possible performance. Whatever you can do as a producer to calm the nerves or make the artist more comfortable, you should do it.
It’s that simple really. If your client feels relaxed and comfortable, they are more likely to be creative and deliver that memorable performance you are trying to capture.
Creating a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere is highly dependent on the individual preference of the recording artist. However, a few common areas you can explore are:
For some lighting is a big deal. Experiment with different types and colours to see what works best. It’s a small thing that can make a big difference. Lower lighting for example, can help calm nerves and make people a little less self-conscious.
Certain scents can play a significant role in creating a relaxed environment. Try burning some incense or a scented candle. In a remote setting, you can still create a shared experience by having everyone involved in the session use the same scents wherever they are.
- Drugs & Alcohol
Drugs and alcohol will be forever linked to the music industry. Again, it’s all about the artist’s preferences. If a drink (or more) of whiskey or a few puffs (or more) off a joint helps the artist relax, then so be it. There is the risk of too much consumption being detrimental to the performance but that’s a risk you just may have to take.
Again, we return to the wise words of Sessionwire COO and Co-Founder, Kevin Williams who talks about making the artist comfortable:
“The vibe is everything in the process. The vibe can be created by lighting. It can be created by food and drink. It can be created by other substances. But whatever it takes to get someone to feel comfortable, so when they are performing, they are doing their best, you know it comes from the heart, and they are doing their best at it.”
Tip #5: Get the headphone Cue Mix right
We’ve talked about the importance of the relationship and the emotions involved in music production, but we haven’t talked about the music production itself.
Your technical and creative talent as a producer or engineer plays a vital role in creating the right vibe. Not only do your abilities go a long way to help build trust between yourself and the recording artist, but they also have a direct impact on the performance itself.
We’re using the headphone cue mix as an example here, but we could have just as easily talked about the importance of how you choose to mic the drums or any other number of examples.
The headphone cue mix is a great example because every note a musician or vocalist plays or sings is affected by what they hear in their headphones. If the mix is unbalanced or simply unpleasant in any way, the performance can suffer.
Whenever possible use a dedicated Cue Mix because different artists have different preferences when it comes to the mix they listen to when recording. There’s no right or wrong when it comes to the artist’s preferences. In the end, if it results in a great performance, that’s what matters.
Of course, there are also situations where the artist doesn’t know what will work best for them and you may need to step in and push the cue mix in a particular direction. This is especially the case when working with artists who have little to no previous recording experience.
Tip #6: Use the best available technology
“Music is about capturing magic. Sessionwire perfectly allows me to maintain the vibe and energy with my artists wherever I go. This is going to change the music industry forever.”
– Arson Daylee, Artist and Producer
You may be wondering, “can I really create a vibe when I’m not in the same place as the people I’m working with?” According to Arson Daylee, who has worked with such artists as Young Thug, Travis Scott, and Machine Gun Kelly, the answer is clearly, yes. You just need the right technology to do so.
Up until this point, every tip we’ve given has been applicable to whether you’re working in your own studio or working remotely. The only difference is really in how you apply them.
The technology you use to produce and record music remotely has a direct impact on your workflow and therefore can affect the vibe of your sessions as well.
So, let’s quickly run through the basic capability your solution needs to be able to use our tips for creating the right vibe.
- High-definition video feed with voice chat
Without a high-definition video feed and integrated voice chat, how will you instruct someone where to place microphones? How will you be able to read the body language of an artist after supplying feedback? How will you create the human connection? The simple answer is you won’t.
- Two-way studio-quality audio
This one should go without saying but just to be safe, you need the highest quality audio for all parties to create a real studio experience and to elicit the best possible performance from yourself and the recording artist you’re working with.
- An all-in-one solution
To ensure a smooth workflow for both yourself and your client, you should be able to perform all necessary tasks within one application. For example, if you need to transfer a file during a session, having to use a separate application is less efficient and potentially disruptive.
- Cross-DAW compatibility
On both ends you’re going to want to work with whatever DAW you are most comfortable with. This will lead to a more enjoyable and efficient collaboration for all parties involved.
- Private and secure
Due to the sensitive nature of what you’re working on, having encrypted video and audio connections is a must-have, not a nice-to-have.
If you’re looking for a solution that has all these capabilities and more, download the Sessionwire application for free and try it out for yourself!
It’s all about the vibe
As Arson Daly said, “music is about capturing magic”. Before you can capture that magic you need to create the right environment for it.
When you create a relaxed atmosphere with an open and collaborative relationship between yourself and the recording artist, you make the process of music production more enjoyable and encourage the musicians and artists to give their best performance. In other words, you nailed the vibe.
Hopefully, you find these tips useful in helping to capture some moments of magic of your own. If you have any tips to add, please do share them by leaving a comment below.
Creating the vibe isn’t easy but when you get it right, it’s undoubtedly worth it.