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The otherworldly vocal

Jill Cunniff's angular rhythmic sensibility and agile voice made Luscious Jackson a household name in the nineties with smash hits like Naked Eye. For her upcoming solo work, an equally infectious pop album with a more mature, introspective edge, we created a special vocal sound for the song Eye Candy.

As production on Eye Candy began, it became apparent that the song should have a strange and otherworldly quality. We wanted to push and pull the listener between two worlds: an energized place of anxiety, and a powerful and comforting chorus infused with a feeling of relief. We also created a soundscape for the middle of the song which was ghostly and ethereal. We felt that the vocal treatment should complement the mood of the song.

After a bit of experimenting, we came up with an interesting solution. For the verses we used a combination of two microphones. The first was a “natural” mic: an Octova MK-12 with a large diaphragm Lomo capsule. This mic captures the intimate and airy quality in Jill's voice. It is somewhat akin to a U-47 in that it imparts a timeless quality to the voice yet has none of the sonic limitations of a vintage mic.

The second microphone we dubbed the “effect mic:” an American Microphone D4T from the 50's that we found years ago on eBay for about 10 bucks. Despite the manufacturers claim “. . . where clear speech and natural music reproduction is required,” this “salt-shaker” style mic is all tin and buzz. What does a D4T sound like? It isn't exactly the “telephone effect,” or the “megaphone effect,” or the “guitar amp effect.” It defies description. But its sound is one-hundred percent vibe—a quirky mood. Science meets emotion.

The two mics were blended together, adding just enough of the effect mic to be noticed. The signals were then bussed and treated as a single sound, which is the effect you hear on the first verse.

At the chorus we felt that things should it feel more natural, creating the impression that the singer was coming from a new place, something less edgy than the sound we had in the verse. We pulled back the “effect mic” and changed our approach for the harmonies. 

A stereo pair of AKG 414's were placed at the opening to the studio's piano. Configured in figure 8 position in a sort of spaced-Blumlein array, Jill began her overdubs standing about a foot away and singing directly into the piano. 

Miking the vocals in stereo helped harmonies stand out, but having the ambience from within the piano imparted a sense of space that was clearly different from the effect we had chosen for the verse. Instead of panning Jill's harmonies in the mix, we had her change position in the stereo field with each progressive pass of the harmonies. This natural panning was a terrific starting point in creating the new mood we needed for this part of the song.

The bridge of the song also required a creative approach. Here, we used the effect mic exclusively. 

The attention we paid the vocal sound even provided fodder for eerie technological shadings that can be heard throughout the track: “ear candy,“ if you will. For example, the strange sighing effect that precedes the words “eye candy” was created using a sliced piece of Jill's harmony track. It was reversed, twisted, and combined (using a vocoder) with a synth pad (one we also created) which plays through the chorus.

A vocal sound is one of the most vital elements in music production. Eye Candy is no exception. A vocal must fit into music like a hand into a glove. Taking the time to create a good vocal sound is a rewarding process, and a process in which the emotional intent of a song can be revealed in a creative and musical way.

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