Vocals are often the component of a song that most listeners naturally seek out, sometimes without even realizing that’s what we’re gravitating towards. It’s as though our innate connection with the sound of another human voice helps it cut through all the other noise — so much so that we expect the voice to be a focal point.
So when an artist can surprise and delight their listeners with creative and innovative applications of their vocals in a song, whether by lyric, melody, chords, or something wholly unique, it’s all the more fascinating to hear. And there’s perhaps no better human on this planet to break down those such fascinating musical instances, than singer, songwriter, producer, and exceptional pop vocalist, Kimbra.
Hot on the heels of her brand new course on Soundfly, Kimbra: Vocal Creativity, Arranging, and Production, we grabbed Kimbra for an hourlong chat about this very subject matter. In this new episode of our podcast, Themes and Variation, Mahea and I and Kimbra discuss “Songs Dominated by Vocals.”
We chat what we love and find most intriguing about songs by My Brightest Diamond, Remi Wolf, and Chance the Rapper, we talk about how beautiful spontaneity can be on a recording, how to listen with a “sampler’s mindset,” and we dig into the exciting topics Kimbra explores in her new online course.
Listen to the full episode right here.
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Want to dig a bit deeper? Check out the companion course on Soundfly.
If you’re enjoying this episode, and you’d like to learn more about some of the musical topics we touched on, go ahead and visit Soundfly’s free companion course for songwriting prompts and additional resources. From scale modes to melody-writing and even audio production tips and tricks, we’ve curated some extra resources for listeners who want to go the extra creative mile and put stuff from the episode into action.
Episode 16 Highlights
1. Mahea on the unique impact of the human voice.
Mahea: “The vocals are, like you guys were talking about earlier, filling the space that maybe orchestral instruments or more synths might have otherwise. But at the same time, I think, because a voice has the ability to use different syllables, it creates a different atmosphere around the song.”
2. Kimbra speaks about intentional “mistakes” and having a sampling mindset.
Kimbra: “I think it’s a sampling mindset. I don’t come from a DJ background, but I did get very deep into the Roland SP-404 and enjoying kind of creating my own little loops.
And of course, even with the voice live, like, you know, the “Settle Down” song you guys mentioned, that revolves around a simple sample vocal thing, right? So if you think about producing other musicians like you’re waiting for a sample, it changes the way that you listen. So then you’re listening for hooks.
So it’s not only a sampling mindset. It’s also a pop writing mindset. So you’re waiting for something that is you know, catchy enough to be repeated. It’s like when, you know, Prince says ‘There’s no mistakes. Just do it three times and it’s not a mistake anymore.’ And now it’s intentional, you know? If you make a mistake, just do it again.”
3. Carter points out the heralding trumpets in “All We Got.”
Carter: “You know, the gospel influence in Chance’s music — and he does it such justice — I know that trumpets, in terms of a biblical reference from what I understand, it’s kind of like God’s intervention in humanity almost when there’s a trumpet. He is almost from the pulpit, with those triplets and really saying these very powerful themes lyrically, the trumpet is blaring as if this is a proclamation.”
Join Our Collaborative Playlist
Just like we do every time we launch a new episode, we’ve created a collaborative Spotify playlist in order to share every song mentioned in this episode and explore many others that fit the topic. We need your help, we want your help, and we can’t wait to hear the songs you love that are dominated by vocals!
Feel free to add your favorite songs to the playlist.
We’ll see you in two weeks with a new theme, new guests, and some new songs to break down. If you have any comments, questions, or theme suggestions, drops us a line at [email protected]!
Ready to Learn From Kimbra Herself?
World-renowned artist and songwriter, Kimbra opens up her creative process to students for the first time in this comprehensive course with Soundfly. Explore how she finds inspiration, improvises over an idea, pinpoints the focus for a song, and expertly produces compelling tracks with her innovative approaches to singing, arranging, production, and more. Whether you’re an aspiring vocalist yourself or a producer interested in treating the voice as one of many tools in your arsenal, this course will help you develop new methods for making compelling music.