Whether you’re producing a song you wrote or working on somebody’s song, there are a few essential things you need.
For example, you probably need a tempo. Things getting pretty messy when you decide not use set the tempo and use a click track of some kind.
You’ll probably also need to check in on the key of the song. Unless, of course, you’re making techno music. (Kidding.)
But one of the most important things you’ll need is a “scratch” vocal. Don’t believe me? Take a look at these top 5 reasons you should use one when you’re producing the track.
1. Knowing when to get out of the way of a vocal.
This is one of the most obvious and most important reasons you should be recording with a “scratch” vocal. You’re far less likely to record a killer guitar riff that runs right over an important line in the verse.
This is one of the things that is a dead giveaway for amateur productions. If you don’t think about the placement of the vocal in the track, you’re probably in the way of the vocal. And in almost every style of modern music, the vocal is king. So stay out of the way when you’re producing parts.
Here’s another angle to the problem posed above. Instead of just staying out of the way, why not make it a benefit? When you’ve got a vocal track in there, you’re able to write the perfect guitar line to fit in between two lines. You know just how much time you have between the bridge lines so you can put the perfect drum fill in between.
Not to say that all cool musical ideas have to happen in between two vocal lines, but if you want it to be heard, it probably should be.
You might even try harmonizing with the vocal park using a guitar or other instrument. This is all possible when you’ve got a vocal in from the start.
3. Pull the energy from the vocal and reflect it with the music.
When you’re working with a great vocalist, you’ll be able to feel what type of energy is required for different parts of the song. Use this to read where the song should go.
At the end of the day, the vocal is what most people care about. So everything you do should help make it more powerful. This is just another way to do this. By listening for when the vocalist starts to ramp up to that high note, you’ll be able to start a build with the production that matches perfectly and takes the track soaring through the high parts. You’ll be able to make the lows even more dynamic and can strategically place your dynamics to match the song.
4. Always keep the hook in mind.
Another key reason you need to use a “scratch” vocal is so that you can keep the hook in mind the entire time.
Unless you’re working on Peruvian Flute music, the vocal is king. And in a lot of modern styles, the vocal carries the hook.
The hook should be the first thing that pops out at a listener as they hear the song. This is the part that’s going to catch their attention. So instead of burying that behind all sorts of cool musical ideas, feature it.
And if you don’t know where it happens, how can you do that? Working with a vocal from the start let’s you build around it so that it can be featured in the final production.
This is one of the toughest parts of producing. It’s easy to layer 200 tracks together and make it sound cool when you’re building the track. But if you layer those tracks together and then start to put the vocal on top, it’s going to sound crammed.
You’ll have left no room for the vocal. This is never a good strategy.
On the flipside, if you under-produce it and assume that the vocal will carry the song, you’re in danger of a weak production. It might sound very empty and dry. This is not good either.
When you’re working around the vocal, you have a much better sense of when the track is finished. You’ll know when you’ve reached the perfect amount of music to support the vocal without going overboard.
This can save you time – lots of it. Instead of scratching your head wondering why the track isn’t work, you’ll be sending the track off to mix. Don’t waste time adding tracks that are going to get in the way of the vocal and be taken out. Not worth it. Get it right the first time by using a “scratch” vocal.
Notice how I’m putting “scratch” in quotes each time? That’s because there’s really no such thing as a “scratch” vocal. In most cases, you’ll throw it out and rerecord a much better version later. But what if the vocalists gets sick the week you’re supposed to record vocals? Or what if they nail it?
It’s happened before – you’d be surprised how many scratch vocals make it on to the final record. So don’t slack off thinking you’re going to definitely throw it away. Make the vocal good and get a decent performance just in case. You never know, you might end up using it!