Advice From The Vocal Producer Of Gary Barlow And Sting - Steve Williams
Steve Williams is coy about name dropping and we’re having to prise it out of him – although one would think that anyone with his credentials wouldn’t be shy to mention having worked with Lisa Stansfield as Musical Director and then Sting, the Human League, Gary Barlow and many more top names in the industry.
“My history is that first I was a session drummer. I was doing world tours and albums with a variety of famous artists. And then I just got more and more into production. I was mad on computers as well. Because I was originally a drummer, as a drummer, I suppose you're at the back and you're listening to what's going on and that's why I was a Musical Director so often as well! You can sort of direct things. It's really weird - from the back, you're listening, and I just got into how the whole system worked and the workings of production, the workings of music on the whole and pop music, and understood it and just started to write and produce. So what happened then was I had a few studios, I was doing some tours and running a studio, and I decided I preferred producing to playing live so I just carried on doing it. I got more and more into it to the point at which it eventually just took over and I had to make a decision - do I want to tour or do I want to produce? So then, I opened up Chapel Studios and I've had this studio for 11 years and it's been going really well."
So is it mainly music you're doing?
It's only music. I don't do any films. I do some voiceover stuff I suppose but not much, perhaps about 10%, if that actually. That is my love, my passion, so I'm always doing that.
So you're probably using Synchro Arts stuff for vocals mainly. Was it VocALign first?
Exactly, yes. VocALign is a staple really. Especially for backing vocals as I'm sure you're aware but then along came ReVoice Pro and it is just another lead isn't it?
What's the workflow normally? Is it big stacks of vocals?
That's happening now, more than ever. You may hear the raps but within a rap, there are three vocals going on at a time and you get bands like One Direction, the stacks in One Direction are just immense and all the shouting that goes on as well. It’s being used in a very creative way as opposed to just for the chorus. ReVoice Pro is brilliant for all of that sort of thing. You can stack the doubling vocals as well in ReVoice Pro, so it's not just stacking three voices at once. You can just triple and quadruple and then add the harmonies and tighten them up.
Is it just the workflow you like?
It’s the sound too - Melodyne's quite clinical in its delivery whereas ReVoice Pro tends to be more musical.
“It's only music. I don't do any films. I do some voiceover stuff I suppose but not much, perhaps about 10%, if that actually. That is my love, my passion, so I'm always doing that.”
You use the term musical - is that what you're going for?
Exactly. That's most of what I do. I'm not going for robotic effect. If I go for robotic effect, you go for robotic effect.
The other great thing is the way you can make adjustments to the part is automatic. If you don't want them on the main track, you take them off and adjust the adjusted track, the other track, whatever the other track is, the harmony for instance or the double track that you've imported and ReVoice Pro puts them right.
So it sounds like you're another one of these people that uses it because you've got great vocalists to start with and you're not covering up bad vocals, you're just finessing great vocals.
Well I mean, yes, because it's a commercial studio, we deal with bad vocalists, medium vocalists and great vocalists. To be able to make somebody who's bad reasonable, to make somebody who's reasonable good, and just minor adjustments to a great vocal, it’s all possible to achieve them in ReVoice Pro.
There are stories told of producers going through and literally dropping in vocals word by word. Other producers just get the track running and getting a vocal take down. Which kind of school are you from?
Here's what tends to happen - it's not always the same and it depends on the vocalist.
You do the first take all the way through and then the vocalist decides whether or not they want to do full takes or fix parts of the track. It's an emotion, it's development and it's an evolution of the emotion from one section to the other. Some can decide to do sections on their own and get good at doing those sections.
Within those takes, you have 3, 4 or 5 different takes of each section somehow and you go through it and you choose from those sections. If there's one take that's brilliant for the whole verse, great, but one verse not, you take that word from somewhere else. It tends to be that if you happen to put a word in here, a word in there, it sounds too bitty and it's just pointless so it's better to get a good take.
The great thing about things like ReVoice Pro is that, in a way, it takes away the old school method of dropping in so much. You can get a good confident vocal that's not all in tune but then you can put it in tune, so in a way it's a little bit more authentic. With ReVoice Pro, you're not dropping in, it's an authentic vocal but you're just tuning it.
That's the interesting thing - the authenticity issue, pitch correction and all the issues that surround it and all of the press that surrounds it. One authentic take and then just tune it a little bit rather than just putting it together and patching together this word and that word. Just because they're in tune, that's probably a less authentic version in my opinion.
So in a way, ReVoice Pro can actually give a more authentic vocal.
“We deal with bad vocalists, medium vocalists and great vocalists. To be able to make somebody who's bad reasonable, to make somebody who's reasonable good, and just minor adjustments to a great vocal, it’s all possible to achieve them in ReVoice Pro.”
You've talked about great vocals, good vocals and bad vocals, what for you are the key things you make sure you get right every time when you're getting those vocals down?
It all depends on the context. If it's like a Johnny Cash track, timing is everything but tuning is less important. If it's a pop track, usually tuning and timing are important, but the great thing about VocALign and ReVoice Pro, is that you can get the vocal you want. You can record a vocal and you can bring it as close to what you want it to be as possible. Then you can use ReVoice Pro once you’ve got down a great performance. ReVoice Pro is a hyper-important tool and I would suggest that anyone gets it, for that reason.
Brilliant, Steve. Thanks for your time!
You can find out more about Steve and The Chapel Studios here
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