May 18, 2016, 16:25

Sitting in the producer chair as a vocalist pours her/his heart into your track is a bit like holding a nest of baby birds in your hand. You can be too rough and cause bruising. You can care too much and smother. Or you can be indifferent and let in the snakes. These choices may seem abstract, but they matter. As rock producer Howard Benson (Daughtry, 3 Doors Down) once said of producing hits, “90% of it is vocals.”

One trick I’ve learned while producing is what I call the “gravy take”. It’s the idea that once your singer knows they’ve given you a usable take, they’ll relax more and really start giving you gold.

It makes sense. Being behind the mic during a session is about generating, not evaluating. Good singers spend their energy focusing on air control, pitch, effects and emotion. Whether it’s working or not is up to the guys on the other side of the glass – that would be you. 95% of the vocalists I’ve recorded (including me) don’t have the bandwidth to both perform and evaluate. Those are two different sets of muscles.

Therefore your first job as vocal producer is to gently guide your artist to a place where they feel confident they’ve given you at least something of value – something you can use. They need to know they’ve done their job.

After that, tell her/him you’ve got your meat and potatoes and now some gravy would be nice. Give your artist that rare freedom to actually be an artist. Almost always, what comes next will far surpass your vision. Oscar-winning actor Christopher Walken once said there are only two things a director should ever say to an actor: “Do it again.” or “Good. Let’s move on.”

Lead vocalists take bigger personal risks than anyone else in the band. No layman ever said, “I can’t stand that song because of the drum fills.” Or “That concert sucked because the bass player wasn’t feelin’ it.” But singers step into that crossfire every time that recording light goes on.

Treat your vocalists with care. Help them fly. Get that gravy.


Mike Bielenberg is a professional musician and co-founder of, a production music marketplace with over 44,000 tracks online where media producers, video producers, filmmakers, game developers, businesses  and other music buyers can license high-quality, affordable royalty-free music from an online community of musicians.

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