The best pop vocals have a habit of sounding effortless, but watching singer-songwriter Charlie Puth explain how he goes about producing them in Pro Tools makes you realise that recording and editing them is anything but.
In the video above - an excerpt from Puth’s class on writing and producing a pop song from scratch, available now on Studio - he reveals that, when recording tricky-to-sing vocal phrases - in this case a two-word (‘hope’s up’) chorus hook that jumps up a whole octave - he uses a trick he learned from producer Ryan Tedder. This involves breaking the phrase up and recording each word separately.
What’s more, to add depth to the vocal, Puth records each word multiple times. Here, he takes inspiration from “something that Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson used to do when they were tracking vocals for We Are The World.”
Explaining further, Puth says: “Quincy would have Michael back up from the mic and sing in kind of like different character voices. Still the same Michael but… one voice he’d sing it super-close to the mics, one voice he’d sing it super far away and then in the middle somewhere so he had that nice blend, and that’s what we’re gonna do.”
You can watch Puth going through the process of recording these layers and moving them around the Pro Tools timeline so they’re perfectly in sync. He takes the view that “VocalAlign [Synchro Arts’ vocal alignment plugin] is a really great tool but nothing is a better tool than your eye and a physical cursor.”
As you might expect, Auto-Tune makes an appearance as well, and having created his stack of “Frankenstein” vocals, Puth also records a “natural” take so the end result doesn’t sound robotic.
Puth’s painstaking process calls to mind Finneas and Billie Eilish’s vocal comping method, which they explained to David Letterman in an interview last year. Opening up the Logic Pro project file for Happier Than Ever, the title track from Eilish’s 2021 album, they explained to a flabbergasted Letterman that there were actually 87 vocal takes for the song and that the end result is a comp of all of them.
There are some pretty big numbers involved in Puth’s vocal productions, too. In his Studio video, he happens to mention that See You Again, the Wiz Khalifa track that he guested on, features a whopping 180 background vocal tracks in the chorus.
Another pop artist who likes to dive deep into their vocal production is Ariana Grande, who was recently filmed bringing her Pro Tools recording and comping A-game to a remix of The Weeknd’s Die For You.