Kenny Royster, Nashville Music Producer
on Studio Music Work

Kenny Royster and Darby Ledbetter with their Emmy
Kenny Royster on Recording and Producing
Interview by Sue Basko, esq.

Today’s blog guest is Kenny Royster, Emmy Award winning Music Producer and
owner of Kenny Royster Productions and Direct Image Studio in Nashville, Tennessee.

Please tell me about the Emmy Award.
An artist that I am producing, Darby Ledbetter, brought me a song titled "Don't Let Your Guard Down,” that he was writing. I told him to change it to "I Won't Let My Guard Down," because that sounds like a promise. His co-writer, Jeff Teague, and I produced the song together. I engineered it.

Darby is a five time deployed to Iraq National Guardsman. The National Guard shot a video to the song and it was played in 2,700 movie theatres. It was nominated and then we won the Emmy. Darby and I have co-written a song called "Soldier Up" that the National Guard is going to shoot a full-length video on, starting March of this year. We are believing for Emmy number two.

How does your studio get award-winning sound?
The difference between a semi-pro studio and a world class studio is gear, signal path and experience (you get what you pay for). I've recorded over 8,000 songs, giving me a lot of experience. As far as gear, I use world class components that start from the microphones and end up at the recorder, i.e.: the preamps, compressors, converters, effects and mastering components. Very technical, but the bottom line is that it sounds great and wins Emmys!

Do you have any songwriting accomplishments?
I have written songs for prime time major network movies, television and film. I've also written a Country Christian number one song for the band Ricochet, called "That's Love."

Please tell me about your past, what led up to where you are today.
I started out as a guitar player, singer and songwriter. I moved from Portland, Oregon to Los Angeles, California and recorded in many studios in Los Angeles with my bands. I then moved to Nashville, Tennessee and started a recording studio of my own.

These are some of the artists that I've worked with: Richie McDonald from Lonestar, Craig Morgan, The Lynns (Loretta Lynn's daughters), Jamie O'Neal, Randy Houser, Trace Adkins...and too many number one songwriters to list. I've been in the production and recording business for over 15 years and recorded over 8,000 songs.

What are you up to today? Please tell us where you are located, about your studio, what you do, etc.
I'm producing several artists that are currently shopping record deals. I am writing music and songs for major ad campaigns for the National Guard, Facebook, and recording artists.

I own and operate my own studio: Kenny Royster Productions and Direct Image Studio 1700 Hayes St., Ste. 100-D, Nashville, TN 37203, (615) 321-8532,

My studio is a full service studio, recording everything from simple demos to full-on masters. With me and my studio you get an engineer, producer, vocal coach and recording studio all in one.

After working with over a thousand singers and studying with some of the best vocal coaches in the world, I've molded my own vocal techniques that get great results (two $100,000 Colgate Country Showdown Competition winners use my techniques). If you're a singer and you're looking for a studio, you should work with me. I've recorded genres that include: country, bluegrass, Christian, rock, pop, Latin, opera, reggae and R&B.

I have a unique studio in that I have world class in-house instruments set up and ready to play at all times. Drums, guitars and guitar amps, keyboards, synthesizers and acoustic instruments.This helps in keeping a world class consistent and versatile sound.

Please tell me about how you work with young or new artists.
With new or young artists, I try to teach them how to record emotion. My vocal techniques give singers the tools to amplify emotion. The song dictates a certain kind of approach but proper techniques make the emotion more apparent to the listener. The sound of a voice comes from the vowels, the beginning consonants of the important words are a powerful communication tool.

Singing tips: Put on the headphones, do not put your hands up and hold onto the headphones while singing. It's very unnatural and restricting. There are several properties of the human voice that change, but too many variables to be discussed without one on one interaction with me.

Another tip is, move your body to the music. Air guitar or anything rhythmic is your friend and will add to your performance. This connects you to the groove and gives you power.

Focus your voice “forward." Imagine your voice being projected into a space in front of you, and slightly above your head. This is where the voice rings and the harmonic properties of your human instrument are allowed to work. "Forward and up.”

To get the most out of these techniques, you must work with me one on one. Come to Nashville and work with me for an enlightening experience. You'll be able to take the singing tools I show you with you everywhere you go. I can provide you with a full band of great musicians that can create a very current cutting edge, to modern retro sound. The song itself dictates part of how to produce it. The rest is up to the artist and me.

I love the way the vocals sound on the songs you recorded for Cameron Burnette.
The signal path for the vocals is a custom handmade Lawson mic and a Vintech mic pre and a tube tech cl1b compressor and radar converter and lexicon effects and Sony Oxford eq. It's a 15,000.00 chain.

Let's talk signal path.

Source i.e.: drum, guitar, amplifier etc., microphone, mic cable, mic preamp, compressor, converter, equalization, effects, clock, mixdown. When you are talking world class signal path, it's only as good as your weakest link.

You buy a great acoustic guitar or electric guitar amp, then you buy a great microphone and it should sound great right? It's only part of the signal path. You still need a great mic preamp and compressor (depending on what you're recording). If it's vocals, you definitely need a compressor.

Then it's converters, if you are recording digital. Then equalization for sound shaping. Then you'll need great effects to create the desired ambience. Then you'll need a world class clock, if you are recording digital.

All of these elements are a must for professional recording quality. The bottom line is, and will always be, the performance of the artist. The best artists out, all want to have the best sound available, so nothing in the signal path can be anything but stellar.

So what should you purchase? Lots of variables and opinions, so let's talk common awesome basics. Vocal signal path: mic Neumann 47 or many manufacturers make great replicas. Lawson 47, Peluso 47, Blue 47, Telefunkin 47, Corby 47, Bock, Soundelux. These are all great Mics for vocals. Not cheap but great. Great for acoustic instruments, also.

Now preamps: Neve 1073, Vintech 73 and 81 line, API 500 series, Chandler, Avalon, Focusrite. These are all great, just pick a flavor! Now you've got a mic, and mic preamp.

How about a compressor: Universal Audio LA2A or 1176, or Tubetech CL1B, Manley Labs Vari Mu, Neve, Focusrite, Avalon, or Vintech. All great.

Now, Digital converters: RADAR, Apogee, Black lion. All great.

Now digital clocks RADAR, Apogee, Black lion. All great.

Now microphone cable: Mogami.

These components will give you a great signal path. These components are what I use in my studio.

Can you explain a little about the Nashville music scene?
The great thing about the Nashville music scene is that great musicians and singers from all over the world come to work in the studios and with touring artists. This provides artists that don't have bands the opportunity to have incredible musicians on their projects.

Come to Nashville and record with me and let me share the blessings with you that I've been blessed with. You'll be able to take the experiences and tools with you and use them throughout your entire musical career.

-- Kenny Royster

Thanks, Kenny!