The World's Most Active Heavy Metal Producer: An Interview with Andy Sneap
Andy Sneap, the man behind some of biggest metal records
In the world of heavy metal, top producers like Andy Sneap are no exception when it comes to wanting to craft great vocals. It’s not just about guitar tones or double kicks – it’s about preserving the emotion that is portrayed in the often extreme vocal performances.
Sneap, who’s worked with some of the most popular metal acts, both as a producer and as a touring musician, has produced over 100 albums at his studio Backstage Recording Studios in Derbyshire, UK. It all started for Andy when he got his first guitar at age 12, and a few years later started the highly-regarded thrash metal band, Sabbat. The band was signed when Andy turned 18, which set the tone for his long-standing music career.
“We did three albums before the band split up in 1991. Then I got into the production side of things. I had my own little eight track setup at the rehearsal room which then got me working at a twenty-four track studio in Nottingham in the early 90s, all on tape.”
Judas Priest, Amon Amarth and Megadeth are just a handful of bands he’s got under his production belt and Sneap is still very much active today, having recently worked on Dream Theater’s recent record ‘A View from the Top of the World’ and Exodus’ album ‘Persona Non Grata’.
The challenges of producing metal
The primary challenges of producing metal are commonly related to the vocals. It’s not often people realise screamed vocals have a pitch to them, even if they sometimes don’t sound like it – which is something Andy has to edit manually rather than rely on software due to the extremities of the signal. However, what is clear when talking to Andy is that VocAlign Ultra has helped him save time aligning choir vocal stacks, choose the ‘tightness’ of a vocal alignment and even rescue the mix of a live DVD…
To give you an idea of a pitched vocal scream, M. Shadows from Avenged Sevenfold gives a great example:
The full Andy Sneap interview
In terms of vocal production, how do you think it’s changed over the years?
“It’s the performance that will sell the song at the end of the day. You can record on an SM57, or a ten grand microphone – but to me, it's all about the performance. It's all about the emotions in the voice and whether it grabs you, that's always been the same. I do think though the tricks we can do to nudge things into shape, and maybe a take that would have got thrown away which can be manipulated to make it work, are game-changing.”
How have you used VocAlign Ultra in your workflow?
“A lot of times I'll wish a vocalist had done a double track. One day I was using the milder vocal preset [in VocAlign Ultra] and I created a sort of a stereo double track in the chorus with the original lead. I think that's a great feature for those instances! I also used it on Amon Amarth where we'd get the lead vocal and then we'd have a group of about 10 backing vocals which we aligned to Johan’s fairly aggressive, but clean vocal – it still worked and it really sped things up. I could adjust it to a point where it's not overly tight… because you've got the option where it hasn't got to be 100%... so you can get a little bit of movement, but still knock it into place with it which I love.
The other thing that I use VocAlign for is when I'm writing stuff with other musicians, the amount of singers that don't get the timing right – either they don't understand triplets or don't understand the way to end a word or certain things. And I can sing it, and then adjust the timing of their voice to mine – my voice is terrible, but my timings are good. That works great a lot of the time. As a producer, I can also demo an idea, use their voice and line it up to my timing. So if I've got a certain swing of a phrase that I want to hear within a song and it's not quite in, I'd sing it in a better timing and then use VocAlign to line it up. It works great!”
Déjà vu moment: producer Paul Godfrey also told us he did just this, watch the video here.
What tightness settings do you usually use when using VocAlign Ultra?
“Around the 85% mark – and I'm the same with pitch as well, actually. I’ve never used auto-tune. I hate it! There's a natural way of doing it. What I like to do is get a good take and then correct the pitch so it keeps a good feel to it and isn’t so square. Once it’s in pitch to how we want it, that’s where VocAlign Ultra comes in and we can nudge around the backing vocals to the pitch, it’s great for that.”
What are your thoughts on VocAlign and how has it helped you?
“VocAlign has been my go-to plugin for vocal alignment over the last 10 years, and the improvements in VocAlign Ultra have taken time and pitch alignment to the next level. I'm not gonna say which one, but there's a live DVD that I worked on, where I replaced nearly every vocal on it with different live gigs using VocAlign – really because of the quality of the recording and some performance issues. When you watch the DVD, you cannot tell that I've gone in and done that.”
How has Revoice Pro helped you get a sonically-better track?
“For me it's a big tool for backing vocals – for getting those choirs big and getting the syllables bang in time, and so haven’t got esses jumping around at the end of lines. These usually take forever when editing backing vocals – I’d be chopping the ends of the words off and nudging them round, whereas now it's a few clicks [with Revoice Pro 4], and in certain DAWs you can even batch process this to make it even quicker.”
Producing metal can appear to be a daunting task – there’s a lot to get right and isn’t just a case of ‘turning everything up to 11’, as Spinal Tap infamously once said. What is clear though is that vocals are the driving factor in the metal genre just as much as they are in any modern pop track; and tools that help nail the vocal production are essential to every producer.
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