Randy Hart talks with Rick Chudacoff about “The Art of Producing the Vocal”

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Rick Chudacoff
Rick Chudacoff indicated with green hand, photographed with Larry Hoppen, Peter Bunetta, Bill, Leslie Smith & Robbie Dupree

Rick Chudacoff is an award winning producer and composer.  Having produced such artists as The Temptations, Smokey Robinson (for which Robinson won Best R&B Vocal Grammy for “Just To See Her”), Michael Bolton, Donna Summer among many iconic performers, Rick is a master at vocal production.  I work with Rick frequently on projects for Aircast Custom Music and thought his insights would be of interest to anyone involved in production.

1. Having produced artists who are known for their unique vocal stylings, what role does a producer play in the recording of their vocals?

Each vocalist requires varying degrees of input.  For those who have a unique style, I encourage them to play up that style to it’s fullest to give them as much unique identity as possible.  For a singer who may have a good voice, but no particularly individualized characteristics, I’ll look for as natural sounding techniques for them to follow to give them some artistic personality.

2. We’ve spoken in this blog before about the value a good engineer brings to a project.  What tricks have you learned from those you’ve worked with that help you in production now?

I’ve had the good fortune of working with some amazingly talented engineers over the years.  These days, when most all producers have their own digital audio workstation, be it Pro Tools or other program, it has become necessary to have a knowledge of basic engineering so that with the adequate professional gear (microphone, preamp, etc.), I can record vocals and other individual overdubs in my home studio.  I wouldn’t even call it “tricks”, but just the basics; knowing and understanding signal path and how to use EQ, compression, limiting, de-essing and yes, even tuning.

3. Vocal tuning and manipulating phrasing is a standard practice these days in post production of vocals.  Not having that technology in your early recordings required you going for a true performance.  What are your thoughts on this usage in commercial recordings today?

The times they have been a changin’!  A modern producer really has to go with those changes or often be left behind.  The positive aspect to having those tools for tuning and time manipulation is that I can focus more on getting the emotional performance from the artist and if a note is out of tune or a phrase would feel better if “laid back” a bit, I know I can fix that later.  This as opposed to having the singer continue to sing the same line over and over which can often take the emotion out of the performance.

4. You co-wrote and produced (with Peter Bunetta) an international smash, “Steal Away” by Robbie Dupree.  As it was a huge pop hit, he was a new artist at the time.  What do you think attributed to that record’s success?

Steal Away” was simply a fun pop song that had the best of the sounds of that era and a voice (Robbie Dupree) that had a texture and appeal that hit a nerve in the listening audience.  I do remember finding the “feel” of the piece by eventually turning off the “click” track and letting the tempo of  it float, giving it a certain excitement it we weren’t achieving when playing with the click.  This isn’t always the case, but it did translate in this instance.  That along with having some wonderful friends playing on the track with Peter (drums) and myself (bass).

5. Working with highly creative and talented artists as you have, what advice would you have for up and coming producers?

Most new producers come from starting out as musicians or as engineers.  It used to be that a producer would simply know who to hire for all of the aspects required in support of production, but nowadays, a producer really needs to have both a clear understanding of music so he or she can communicate with the musicians in their language and have at least a basic knowledge of engineering in order to get wishes across to the engineer or to be able to record information his or herself.  That’s all on the technical, nuts and bolts side of production.  The other part is to find the talent.  Seek out an artist that you can believe in and work with them through all the aspects of production which includes but is not limited to selecting material, nurturing the artist, even being their therapist at times, developing the arrangements for the songs, going through the pre-production process where you try out those arrangement ideas and find optimum keys for each piece, hiring the musicians and engineer, selecting the studio, coordinating the timing/pacing of the entire project, recording tracks, recording overdubs, recording vocals, editing tracks and vocals, getting the songs prepared for mixing, finding the best possible mixer and studio and after all mixes are satisfactory, mastering the project.  I’ve described production as the combination of a million decisions along the way leading to the final product.

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