Sam Sparro is identified by his smooth and soulful vocal style, but unlike others in his musical bracket, he does all the parts himself. The action happens in Sparro’s cozy basement studio in his Los Angeles home. It’s here that he put together his latest release, Quantum Physical Volume 2, the second in an EP series.
For all his smoothness, Sparro’s go-to microphone is the robust Shure SM7B, “the Thriller mic,” as he can yell into it. He relies heavily on Universal Audio both outboard, LA-610 MkII, and plug-ins including Lexicon and Space Echo as well as the Maserati VX1 from Waves. Logic is his main DAW.
“I use distortion, saturation and reverb as a vocal tool,” Sparro says. “I notoriously layer vocals and like them to be present. On ‘In Your Heaven,’ to give it that large vocal harmony, I run all my background vocals into one chain and put a group compressor on there. I like the Fairchild 670, which I then run through a bus with some harmonizer and distressors. I like the tape replications. Even if I use tuning to give the background vocals a clean pitch, I’ll put wow and flutter on them and distort them to make them sound not as crisp. I use reverb as a coloring tool in the mix. I love long-tail reverbs with no sidechain—although I did use sidechain on ‘Hands Up.’”
Sparro has been known to do five of each harmony: left, not as left, center, not as right, right. With years of studio practice and impeccable timing, he is able to deliver these vocals in sync. Says Sparro, “There is an ABBA documentary I saw where the two producers would make the girls stack so many layers of the lead vocal, that’s why it sounded so big. Before there were tools to double vocals, they would sing four or five of the lead vocals and mix them down to one voice. Quincy Jones did that with Michael Jackson: the main vocal really loud, then one from further back, then one from the left, and one from the right. I do that with background vocals. The thing I always strive for is taking something digital and clean and making it sound a little dirty.”