This article was originally posted on November 20, 2018.
Your group may have a talented vocal percussionist (or more than one), but to help them reach their highest potential in performance or in recording, we reached out to Mel Daneke of Viridian Productions. Here’s what you need to know when your vocal percussionist steps onto the stage or into the recording booth.
What do vocal percussionists need to be aware of when performing live on a sound system?
These days, no matter where you perform, you’ll most likely have handheld mics for at least your VP (vocal percussionist), bass, and soloist. Different engineers have different preferences from VP’s, such as how they should hold the microphone, so you should be ready to adapt to their needs.
Sound check is incredibly important. Make sure your VP can demonstrate their full kit, a few basic hits, and the loudest sounds in their repertoire, so the engineers knows what to expect during the performance. For those VP’s who are technically savvy, if they know what helps their sound from a mixing perspective, they should let the engineer know.
Sound check also ensures that the balance is correct. The VP shouldn’t overwhelm everyone else’s sound in the group’s monitors. Most a cappella engineers should know what your group needs, but when in doubt, communicating your needs and preferences is a good idea.
How can directors help their vocal percussionists shape their skills for live performance?
If you have members that want to try vocal percussion, let them try! Encourage them to develop their skills and do it with the group, even if it’s just for one song. If you’re at a school with multiple groups, get skilled VP’s from your group and others to work with those who want to learn. If you want to know how to help an aspiring VP, check out our database of tutorials and videos at Acappella.how and this article on teaching vocal percussion. You can also reach out to the community with Facebook groups like the AEA (that’s us!) and CASA.
To learn properly, as with anything else, VP’s have to practice. Beyond rehearsals, they have to become comfortable and familiar with vocal percussion. VP’s are, in Mel’s words, “the heartbeat of the group”, and that’s a big responsibility. Listening to all kinds of music and trying to emulate the different styles will help a VP become a more rounded and mature artist.
How do a cappella producers record vocal percussion in the studio?
Techniques can vary based on the producer, but most have a process like the one that Mel described to us:
- Lay down the entire groove two or three times on a condenser mic (the standard mic for recording vocals in the studio). Consistent takes are the goal.
- Listen back and fix small mistakes.
- Record again with a handheld microphone – it feels more like a performance, so more energy, emotion, and clarity come through.
- Pick the best of those takes to be the underlying beat for the song.
- Record samples of the different pieces of the kit – kicks, snares, toms, crashes, special sounds like zippers, etc. These can be layered in to create a deeper percussion sound.
- Overdub parts that can’t be recorded all at once. Examples include wind effects and long crash decays that hold out over the groove – things that the VP can’t do live.
- Some engineers will try other ideas, plugins, or effects. These can include electronic effects.
The goal is always to preserve the sound of the VP – the “humanness” of a live vocal percussion performance – while using the time and technology available to get the best possible result.
What else do I need to know about producing vocal percussion?
Don’t be afraid to try different sounds in rehearsal. It can be daunting to try new things, so you should encourage your VP to experiment and stretch their limits.
Look at adding tech to your set. Effects pedals, loopers, and drum pads can be and have been used in many a cappella sets to enhance the VP and achieve the sound you want. Mel would love to consult with your group about it – contact her here!
Finally, practice. It can’t be emphasized enough. If you’re not practicing, you’ll lose the skill. So go for it!
This article is based on an interview with Mel Daneke, a producer, singer, and vocal percussionist who founded Viridian Productions and performs with the female vocal band Musae. She’s one of several a cappella personalities we interviewed in our Summer Series. Stay tuned for more articles on what YOU need to know about a cappella education every week.
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