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Best of 2023: Vocal Production Masterclass with Trevor Horn (The Buggles, Paul McCartney, Seal)

Trevor Horn is a name that is synonymous with music production. Over the course of his impressive career, he has produced for a diverse range of artists such as ABC, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Tom Jones, Paul McCartney, Pet Shop Boys, Rod Stewart, and Tina Turner. Horn is also famously known as a member of the musical group The Buggles, which was formed in 1977, and produced the hit song “Video Killed the Radio Star.” Alongside his work with The Buggles, Horn co-founded the band Art of Noise and produced Band Aid’s all-star charity single “Do They Know It’s Christmas.”

We were lucky enough to have Trevor Horn at our campus in Orsman Road London as he hosted a masterclass full of valuable insights and wisdom he’s gained from working in the music industry at the highest level. At Point Blank, we offer degree courses like Music Production and Vocal Performance where masterclasses from experts like Trevor are available for you on a regular basis in addition to insightful course material like developing singing abilities in multiple genres, gaining proper breathing techniques and developing your vocal range. You can enrol now to learn from the very best in the industry.

Horn kicked things off by discussing the adequate preparation needed for recording sessions, emphasizing the importance of having a perfect lyric sheet with a large enough font for the singer to read standing behind a microphone. He also touched on having a reference version of the song with a guide vocal outlining the correct tune that can be consistently referenced.

According to Horn, finding the right key where the singer’s voice shines at its best is crucial. If in doubt, he advises checking the singer’s previous recordings and recounts instances where this extra preparation has saved entire projects. When it comes to microphones, he suggests using old valve mics as they produce an especially rich high-end. His go-to’s are the Sony C800G, and the Telefunken ELA M 251 paired with an Avalon microphone pre-amp. If you’re looking to learn even more about microphones, our music production degree courses go in-depth on proper techniques and getting the most out of your gear, you can have a deeper look into what we offer here.

Horn kept a full room of Point Blank students engaged as he shared his experience recording Rod Stewart’s hit song “Downtown Train” and used this anecdote to stress the importance of having a clear count-in on the reference track for the singer to know when to begin. He advised being very picky about who is in the studio, and not letting in anyone who might negatively impact the vibe of the room. Horn also talked about not getting hung up recording one part of the song and instead advises recording around 7 takes when possible. After the artist is satisfied, he suggested getting them to do the whole thing softly to re-inspire them in a unique way.

Horn then took a deep dive into comping vocals, advising against comping in headphones and instead using speakers. Horn recounted working with John Legend and asking Legend’s vocal engineer for the 5 takes of the original guide vocal, which he then comped together with some of the new takes they recorded together. This extra effort resulted in John being highly satisfied with how the vocals turned out, saying it was the best he had ever sounded on a recording.

In the Q&A session, Horn offered additional insights, such as his preference for recording vocals in the afternoon between 1 pm – 5 pm as well as letting the singer listen back to vocal takes in order to allow them to self-correct. Horn closed out his inspiring masterclass by sharing the unique inspiration behind the hit track “Video Killed The Radio Star,” discussing how the song touches on a sci-fi view of music and explores the technological changes of the 1960s.

You can visit Trevor Horn’s socials or purchase his new book to discover the story of his life through the lens of his most iconic songs here.

If you’re inspired by all these best practices for recording vocals and are looking to refine your music production skills, at Point Blank we offer you a whole range of degree courses to get you set on a path to success. You can enrol now and join our campuses in London and LA or learn from the comfort of your home, online.

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