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Monday, November 19, 2012

The 3 P's - The Key's To A Great Vocal

Vocal Recording image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
The mic is set up and it sounds great, the headphones mix sound good, and all you have to do is press record. Occasionally it's that simple, but most of time recording vocals requires some production help to get the best performance from the singer. That's where the 3 P's come in.

Pitch, Pocket and Passion are the keys to a great vocal performance, and in this excerpt from How To Make Your Band Sound Great (there's also a similar section in the Music Producer's Handbook), you'll see just how they come into play in capturing a dynamite vocal.

"In the studio, the three P’s, pitch, pocket and passion, are what a producer lives by. You’ve got to have all three to have a dynamite vocal. And while Pitch and Pocket problems can be fixed by studio trickery, if you don’t have Passion, you don’t have a vocal. On stage, the three P’s apply maybe even more so, since you don’t have any of the cut and paste and autotune advantages of the studio to fall back on.  Let’s take a look inside the three P’s.

Staying in Pitch means singing in tune. And not just some of the notes - every single note!  They’re all equally important!!  Pitch also means following the melody reliably. There’s a trend these days to scat sing around a melody, and while that might be desirable in some genres, it doesn’t work in any genre if you do it all the time.  Scatting might show off your technique and ability, but a song has a melody for a reason. That’s what people know, that’s what they can sing to themselves, and usually that’s what they want to hear.

The Pocket means singing in time and in the “groove” (the rhythm) of the song. You can be in pitch, but if you’re wavering ahead or behind the beat it won’t feel right. All of the things that help instrumentalists, like dynamics, turnarounds and articulations, apply to vocals as well. Concentrate on the downbeat (on beat 1) to get your entrances. Concentrate on the snare drum (on 2 and 4) to stay in the pocket.

Passion is the ability to sell the lyrical content of the song through performance. It’s the ability to make me believe in what you’re singing, that you’re talking directly to me and not anyone else. And passion can sometimes trump pitch and pocket. A not-all-that-great singer who can convey the emotion in his voice is way more interesting to listen to than a polished singer who hits every note perfectly but with little emotion. In fact, just about any vocalist you’d consider a “star” has passion, and that’s why he or she is a star.
On-stage, Passion can sometimes take a back seat to stamina, since you have to save yourself for a whole show and you can’t blow it all out in one song. That’s why many singers have only one or two big “production numbers” where they totally whip it out. This means that you have to learn the limits of your voice, learn how much of you goes into just cruising and when you can do it, and how much you need left in the tank to do your biggest, most effective show stoppers.
In the studio, there’s never any cruising - you’ve got to give all the passion you can give for every song and it’s the job of the producer to pull it out of you. That could mean getting the singer angry to stir some emotion, building him up by telling him how good he is, or making him laugh to loosen him up. Anything to sell the song! But once you know how to summon it up from inside you, you can do it again and again."
You can read more excerpts from How To Make Your Band Sound Great, The Music Producer's Handbook, and more at


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Anonymous said...

What and amazing excerpt from what promises to be a great book.
I hear the pocket mentioned all the time one TVS vocalist competition shows and I have aways found that particular part the easiest part of singing. But never called it by that word. Having been self taught musically by play recite. Then replay, recite and repeat methodology by listening to a great tune and choosing the key I want to sing in. Eg; George Michael polished high range or rock raspy Bryan Adams or deep mellow country style etc. I choose the pitch and hit the pocket/'groove' without problems then lastly the more I sing a tune the more I connect with the Lyrical message and how I feel it is relevant to me for expressing passion to engage the listener. Now I have a fuller understanding of why I found my process working for me.
I am very keen to read the rest of your book. Even as a solo act I am sure the way you convey performance and recording elements can help me and will definitely improve my live performance skills to the same level as my recording performance ability.
Cruising and making a set work for preserving my voice for the huge blow out tracks and understanding that all vocalists have to do that in their sets too is reassuringly refreshing to know from an expert who can express things in a palatable form for the self taught like me. Thank you for this informative taster of what you have put together in your book for everyone to access.


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