Talking vocals with Donna Marie
Multi-talented Warringtonbased musician Donna Marie has plied her trade as a session vocalist, music producer and songwriter, with releases on top tier dance music imprints including Ministry of Sound and Clubland. Donna also runs her own independent record label, Climbing Mountain Records, and you can work her awesome vocal tones into your own tracks with this issue’s Vocal Sessions sample pack, which you can find on the cover DVD or download from Filesilo.
: Tell us about your background and previous projects…
DM: “At the beginning of my music career, I never aspired to be a vocalist. It happened out of circumstance, as I began writing songs and going into the local recording studio. I started to find my voice when I was around 16, and went onto playing regular solo gigs and in various bands after being spotted by an agent.
“While I was studying music technology at university, I answered an advert from UK hardcore DJ Scott Brown and subsequently worked with him as a vocalist. This led to working with several other producer/DJs from the dance scene. Following on from that, I’ve played as a singer/songwriter across the UK, supporting artists such as Amy MacDonald and Sam Isaac.”
: When you record yourself, how do you bring out your best performance?
DM: “I record myself all the time in my project studio, laying down vocals and guitars for the most part. My setup is relatively simple, consisting of a computer with Avid Pro Tools 10, a Universal Audio Apollo Twin audio interface and a large diaphragm condenser microphone. I record in an acoustically treated space, and also have an sE Electronics Reflexion Filter, which helps to limit the sound of the room.
“I take several approaches to getting my best performance down on tape. Typically, I record multiple takes for each track and comp them, before reworking things where necessary. In terms of vocal recording styles, I sometimes find multitracking the lead vocal and placing that in the mix works well, while a single-tracked vocal performance with no overdubs can give great results too. It all depends on the track, and what sound I’m trying to achieve.”
: What advice would you give any producer reading this who is new to working with a vocalist?
DM: “It really depends on the vocalist. Generally, we’re very sensitive people, so positivity is the way forward if you’re looking for a good performance. Letting the vocalist work in a way that makes them feel comfortable is important, but if this isn’t working, for whatever reason, I’d say making polite rather than forceful suggestions as to what you’re after may help.
“I’ve worked with engineers and producers who try to push me out of my comfort zone, which is fine for the right project, but if you’re working with a vocalist because of how they sound, then letting them stay in their comfort zone will give great results. After all, the sign of a good producer is that they can bring out your best performance, rather than showing off their technical know-how.”
: What’s more important to you in the studio: a great sounding vocal recording, or a great performance?
DM: “Performance is hugely important, but if the sound recording is compromised, it’s better to get that right before continuing. After all, a great performance with a dog barking or car alarm in the background won’t necessarily work in the mix. In my experience, using correct gain structure is paramount; this will help to eliminate unwanted room noise and capture the tone of the vocal. Microphone proximity is also part of achieving the right performance, as it has an impact on how the end result sounds.”
: What’s next for Donna Marie?
DM: “My new single, Shelter, was released on December 20, with drums and piano recorded at the amazing Parr Street Studios in Liverpool. Next year, I’m back on tour with A Country Night In Nashville, with more solo shows and music in the pipeline.”