What makes a hit song these days? It's got to be sticky. It must have a hot beat and a catchy hook that gets stuck in your head at the most inappropriate times: work meetings, conference calls, hooking up with that boring guy who you only hang out with because he has, like, the most comfortable bed in the universe.
I blame the producer (not for the boring guy; for the catchy songs). But while producers are responsible for a lot of the good things about a song, they can also at times be too heavy-handed, taking all the magic and humanity out of a track. It’s safe to say that some artists rely entirely too much on the producer to create a sonic illusion rather than fine-tuning the world’s first instrument: the voice.
Miami-based R&B singer Gaby Duran takes pride in her voice, so much so that instead of allowing a producer to polish it up, she marches to the beat of her own drum (literally) and completely removed the middle man from her music. “Hello, my name is Gaby Duran, and I play the voice box,” she said as she turned down the volume on her speaker during a listening party at Little River's Casa De Fado Gallery.
This wasn’t the first time she performed, but it was the first time she released a project created without the help of a producer.
Rather than downloading some kid’s drum kit for $70 from Twitter, Gaby sticks to the “analog” way of things by using only her voice for her debut EP, Vocals Only. As the title suggests, every sound on this project was created using only voice, her beats constructed from putters, hums, and hisses. “The raw voice is the most important thing of my project, and I wanted to emphasize that. Even the greats like Mariah Carey are heavily produced but still have that raw sound, and I wanted to bring that to life in Vocals Only.”
Her music is free of Auto-Tune, vocoder, reverb, and hyper speed, which are all popular voice effects used by anyone with a laptop, a microphone, and extra time on their hands. But Gaby wanted to give “the real her” to fans. “I have amazing friends that produce and could easily give me studio time, but I didn’t want all of that,” she says. “I recorded Vocals Only in my bedroom on a computer mic. I just wanted to lay a foundation of what I really sound like.”
Duran was influenced by Dominican rhythms, jazz, and hip-hop while working on the three-song EP. The last cut on the EP, "Chat for Mama," features Broward County rapper SIN.
Photo by Jonathan Ibero
Although she does not come from a musical family, Duran has been studying music since the age of seven. Shortly after moving from New York to Miami a few years ago, her passion for music and hunger to learn began to grow while working with a few Miami favorites including Twelve’len, Denzel Curry, and Nick León. Her success landed her gigs at Bardot, the Stage, and (the late) LMNT. She even opened for national acts like Questlove, Dead Prez, and Shabazz Palaces.
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Duran obviously kept production at a minimum for Vocals Only, but she does plan to branch out and recruit producers for her upcoming work — as long as they don’t “fuck with her voice.”
"I'm not opposed to working with producers," she says. "I actually already have three songs finished with Nick Léon, which will [be released] sometime next year."
Hopefully those upcoming projects will do justice to her voice, which has obviously been the key to her success. “Every instrument was created to emulate the sounds that came from our voice boxes," she says. "The voice is the original instrument, so I thought it was only right to honor that with this project... There are so many sounds in this voice box, so before I drop these other projects in the making, I had to let people know what that sounded like raw."