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Five Tips For Getting Down A Killer Vocal... and why it's worth getting the best vocal performance when recording

Producer Pete ‘Boxsta’ Martin refuses to be defined by one genre, and for him the reason is simple, “I flow between so many different genres because I think in today's climate as a producer it's all about fusion. If you talk to any songwriter or any singer on the planet, it's about creating a fusion between genres. Thank God for my lineage I've been through Rock bands, Indie bands, Pop, R&B you know like I've run the gauntlet between all those things because I have a genuine interest in music. I think as a young like producer you shouldn't be locked to one genre. You should be open-minded to it because it again comes back to some of the best tracks in recent years are a fusion of several genres.

One thing is for sure Pete relies on both Revoice Pro and VocALign to ensure the vocals on hits for artists like James Arthur, Tokio Myers, Jessie J, Mali Music, Missy Elliot and Rizzle Kicks are the best they can be. However, for him, the power of Revoice Pro and VocAlign is not to make bad vocals sound good, but great vocals sound amazing. “I’m a firm believer in these plug-ins, I use them all the time for both main and backing vocals, but it’s important to get a great vocal recorded in the first place.” He continues, “A lot of people criticize vocal production and say there is no need for talent. I disagree, you can’t take a lump of coal and call it a diamond, but even a diamond has to be polished. What Revoice Pro enables me to do is to get a killer performance and then make minor changes or create let’s say a double from that one amazing performance.”

It’s for this reason that Pete wants to share five tips for getting down a killer vocal, all things that happen in front of the mic, as he says “great vocals are about telling stories and getting a performance that matches the emotion of the story, there’s not a plug-in on the planet that can do that. With that in mind, here are Pete Boxsta Martin’s top five tips;

1. Warm Up

Warm up is essential especially when you're hitting the morning session with a vocalist it's so imperative that they warm up first. Also, it's also important for you to clear your mind as a producer or as a musician in the room by playing scales because it helps you get focused on what we need to do for the day — warming up centres you on the need to concentrate on notes and music. Never go in and sing cold especially if it's a morning session because it can affect your voice terribly and if you try to go in with hard notes it can cause damage. Always have lukewarm water during the session and never suck throat lozenges.

Sometimes singers don't even have sore throats, and they come in sucking throat lozenges, and I ask why are you sucking that? And they say to protect my voice, but actually, it is doing the reverse.

2. Positive Attitude

I recently worked with an artist and this person was blowing hot and cold. They would walk in one day and say “You know I think we're gonna do fantastic things” and the next day suddenly they had been the worst mood you could think of. Also, that affects your environment it affects the room and the creativity around you. So always bring a positive mental attitude because at the end of the day that's going to help you. It's going to help you relax into the right frame of mind to create and to open yourself up because when you sing you need to reveal yourself as an artist. The only way you're going do that is if you're comfortable with the people around you. Get into the right frame of mind and get those people working with you in the right frame of mind.

Sometimes people want to have their people in the studio with them, as a producer, I don't mind it. Why? Because I think whatever takes the artist to give their best is worth it, as long as everyone respects the space.

I did a charity single the other day with about 100 kids in the studio, and as we were working with other talent they started making a lot of noise, and I asked them to please respect the space. For me, the studio is like a sacred space where artists reveal themselves and express their deepest emotions. I recently worked with a female artist who was recording a vocal that sang about her experiences of being abused, to open up and express that in song takes real courage, and so it’s important to make sure the studio is a safe space and is respected.

3. Work With The Producer/Engineer.

I’ve had people in the studio who have not communicated with me effectively and we’ve been halfway through a session and worked out the headphone mix is wrong, and that’s why they are out of tune.

My best advice is to let the producer check that first, let them check the levels between the headphones and between music and vocal and effects. I've said to many singers invest in your own high-quality headphones because it doesn’t matter what studio you go to you'll always have the same sound in your head. Headphones vary a lot, and while there’s a lot of great neutral sounding headphones for studios, for the singer it is better to let them use something they are used to monitor on.

4. Stay Connected To The Lyrics

Someone like me who wants to get the absolute best out of vocalists sometimes will repeat takes, and you may repeat a verse 20 times to get the right kind of content out of it. However, what can happen is sometimes the singer will lose their connection to the lyrics or what the song is actually about and although sometimes you have a great take technically you lose the emotional content of the lyric.

You know when you're going over it a million different times you suddenly realise you're just flatlining the emotion. So I'd say stay connected to what the lyrics are saying and see if the emotional content matches up with the delivery.

5. Trust Your Instincts

I have three singers in the studio every week who are brand new singers to me, so how could I possibly understand what the capabilities are, or what cool tones they have in their voice? Only the singer, especially in the new situation, knows what they are capable of.

Take an artist like James Arthur, the first time he walked in he sang one take, and I told him that it was done. He said “really?” I was like wow the emotional content is amazing it's connecting with all the lyrics, and he said to me “but Pete you don't know what I'm capable of yet.” I thought he is right. Let's do another couple of takes. As the session progressed his voice started opening up and I realised he had this monster falsetto that I wasn't even expecting to hear

Lesson learnt is that you need to you need to trust your instincts as a singer. If you don't think you’ve done your best performance, then do it again, because it’s going to be there for the rest of your life. So make sure it is the best representation of you. I always ask them is that the Grammy take?

If this was the last song that you ever did or the last session you have ever sung is that what you want to be known for? Have you done the absolute best to deliver what you can?

Why He Uses Revoice Pro And VocALign

Talking with Pete Boxsta Martin, you start to understand that the reason he uses tools like VocALign and Revoice Pro is that because it is essential for him to capture the story and the emotion. Plugins like Revoice Pro help him to make sure he can polish the performance without losing an ounce of what he worked so hard to get in the recording.

More on Pete Boxsta Martin at boxstamusic.com

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