Interview with David Tench, Musical Director of The Voice UK
Share email twitter linkedin facebook

Interview with David Tench, Musical Director of The Voice UK

As Season 7 of The Voice UK reaches the semi-final stage, we were lucky enough to grab a few moments with band-leader extraordinaire David Tench, to discuss what got him into music in the first place, some personal highlights from his five years on the show, his incredible band, what it really takes to become a Musical Director and the first year that "almost broke" him...

We also discover why Nord's famous red keyboards are David's instrument of choice!


What inspired you to become a musician?


Well, my parents tell me I used to dance and sing in front of the TV when I was two to The Boomtown Rats - “I Don’t Like Mondays” so...Bob Geldof.

Actually, it’s just something I’ve always done. I’d say I really decided I wanted to do it aged twelve. I got into Prince and Michael Jackson and it snowballed. My Mum worked in the library and brought CDs home for me. I listened to anything and everything. I was a sponge. Genre didn’t matter and still doesn’t really. 

Who are some of your earliest influences?


This list could take up pages but here’s a few that blew my mind growing up.

Prince, The Beatles, Stephen Sondheim, Michael Jackson, John Williams, Jamiroquai, James Brown, Rage Against The Machine, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Bill Evans, Jellyfish...

Before becoming the Musical Director on The Voice who else have you worked with?


I’m lucky enough to have accompanied and toured the world with some brilliant artists including Kylie, Spandau Ballet, Will Young, Take That, Leona Lewis, Caro Emerald, Jocelyn Brown. Daniel Bedingfield, Natasha Bedingfield, Joss Stone, Lucie Silvas, Kid Creole, Sophie Ellis Bextor, Westlife, Pixie Lott, Lady GaGa, Pixie Lott, Patti LaBelle, Sam Moore, Terry Reid, Girls Aloud, Nicole Scherzinger and more.

I even got to back James Brown once. That was unforgettable.

I’ve also been MD on a few west end shows/ tours.

After I graduated from LIPA I went for interviews with theatrical agents - I was gonna be an actor.

Over the time I’ve been working on The Voice I’ve met and worked with over a thousand singers. I try to treat each one as an individual artist. To recognise what kind of sound they would like and would suit them and build their accompaniment. Also, give them enough freedom to express whatever they feel.

How did the experience of working with these artists help your work on The Voice?


Well, the more experience you get with different artists the more you learn how to adapt to their needs, not just in a musical sense but also how they are as people.

Over the time I’ve been working on The Voice I’ve met and worked with over a thousand singers. I try to treat each one as an individual artist. To recognise what kind of sound they would like and would suit them and build their accompaniment. Also, give them enough freedom to express whatever they feel.

What are your responsibilities as MD on the show?


I oversee musical performances, play keys and direct the band.

I take input from the coaches, the artists, the producers etc and try to turn out cohesive musical backings that suit each artist.

I’m also on camera sometimes supporting the coaches and singers in rehearsals.

And I coordinate the musicians, including lots of players and singers that aren’t visible but are audible.

The band is made up of some incredible musicians.  Who are you playing with this year?


Ash Soan on drums - wonderful, tasteful, subtle and adaptive player who understands how not to get in the way of the singer and build the perfect part for a tune. His studio recording credits speak for themselves. So lucky to have him in the band.

Ben Epstein on bass - perfect in the role, he has endless enthusiasm for music and making the final performance the best it can be. He locks in with Ash and has so much experience in supporting singers. Again, he knows how to play only what’s necessary to make it work yet dig in with killer runs when things need a push.

Ben Jones on guitar - a brilliant and sickeningly talented musician who has impeccable taste in terms of guitar sounds and part creation. His time is always perfect and he has a knack for coming up with the perfect part before I’ve had a chance to say “how about something like...”

Jake Edwards-Wood on keys - Jake has my back in every way and I’m so grateful. That chair is one of the hardest because you constantly have to monitor how the song is developing and find parts to fit but not over play. He’s equally adept at gospel organ as he is at reading a complex string part. Sometimes he’ll play only a few notes on glockenspiel, other times he’s like an octopus.

It gives me the chance to keep patch changes to a minimum because I have so many other things to think about.

The singers on the show are often blown away that the song they’re singing by Stormzy, Adele, Sam Smith, Seal etc features one or more members of our band playing on the record.

The band has remained the same for a while now.

We know each other’s quirks and foibles and are able to work fast, sometimes without even vocalising the idea.

Sometimes, we’ll be on camera and the coach and singer will ask me for a key change or to start slowly, or build more etc.

Then as filming of other stuff continues, I’ll communicate to the band what we need to do at what bar number. I’ll ask each person to adapt, rest in certain bars etc. Mads will make changes to the pro tools session, Steve will transpose parts, which we’ll download instantly. Then after two minutes, we’re ready to go with everything they asked for and we move on to the next thing.

It’s silly fast.

It’s important to be enthusiastic, to care about making it the best it can be but also be able to leave no doubt in the musician’s mind that they’re on the right track and that, as a team, under your guidance they’ll always prevail.

MD’s are all different in their style but the most important thing is a successful end result.

The amount of material you have to learn must be a massive undertaking!?  How do you go about this?  When do you start?


Oof!

Well, it starts with callback auditions where I meet about two hundred hopefuls. They’ve been chosen from tens of thousands. We chat to them, hear them sing and I make notes about their vocal range, musical influences, style etc.

After that, roughly 110 singers are chosen to perform for the coaches in the studio.

The music team collaborate with me and the artists to choose their audition songs.

I then cut them all down to ninety seconds so that it’s fair for everyone.

I’ve done so many of these now, I’m quite quick at recognising which parts of the song will show the singer off best.

I also sometimes record ideas about how we’re going to flip it.

Some songs we just transcribe and play exactly as the original. Others, we build from scratch to suit the singer.

Our brilliant arranger, Steve Parry, prepares charts for the band. Our genius producer Mads Hauge prepares any sounds that the band won’t actually play live. In the case of a big dance thing, that could be nearly all of it.

Then the band rehearse for seven days building and recording about sixteen arrangements a day.

Those recordings are sent to the singers so they can practise. Mads does quick mixes that still sound brilliant so the singers are usually happy by the time they come to rehearse with us.

We do another six days with them doing tweaks.

Next, we record any overdubs (backing vocals, strings, brass etc).

And then we’re in the studio doing the camera rehearsals.

The coaches join us and sit in the chairs and we record about seven weeks of TV in roughly four days.

That’s the blind auditions part and that all takes about a month around September time.

After that we meet again and repeat the process for the Battles, The Knockouts and that takes us up to the live shows and the final in March.

Have there been any difficult lessons learned?


Yeah I think all of us have made mistakes that we try never to repeat.

From my point of view indecision is something to avoid. We have so little time to make things work, I often just have to pick a course and stick to it.

Also, I learned early on not to fill my diary with too many other projects outside of The Voice. It takes up so much of my time and energy I perform better when I approach it fresh.

What is your favourite part of the job?


Lots of things. 

I love backing the coaches. Especially Jennifer Hudson and Tom Jones. They’re exceptional singers. 

I also love when a performance lands creatively. When it all comes together. Starting with an idea to flip a song into something else and getting to the end and saying “well that all came together and worked”. 

Would you be willing to share some personal highlights from your 5 years on the show?


So many of the performances including the Coach opener for series 7 - "Feeling Good". That one worked really well I thought. 

To be honest, just making it through the rehearsal process for the Blinds (outlined above) the first time I did it. It almost broke me. Back then it was more singers. Eighteen songs a day for seven days straight. I lay in bed at the start of day three thinking “I’m not sure I can do this” but we worked really hard and the sense of achievement was so good. 

Watching Ben Jones do the Blinds for the first time without being able to read a note of music. He memorised 116 songs. That was remarkable to watch. Now he reads.

What advice would you give to somebody looking to become a MD?


I’d say you need to imbibe as much music as you can. You need as broad an understanding of what makes musical performances work as possible. You need to know and understand how to make the piece come to fruition. Listening is key. 

You should respect and encourage your band or ensemble to bring the best out in them. Listen to their viewpoints and all others around you but then interpret them and lead with conviction. 

People respond to passion and togetherness.

It’s important to be enthusiastic, to care about making it the best it can be but also be able to leave no doubt in the musician’s mind that they’re on the right track and that, as a team, under your guidance they’ll always prevail. 

MD’s are all different in their style but the most important thing is a successful end result. 

If you could work with anybody who would it be?


Prince was always my answer. 

To me, he was the greatest performer. 

Now there are so many. I can find something interesting and exciting in almost any artist. 

In terms of the current music scene, who are you a fan of?

Quite a few including:

Emily King, Yebba, Haim, Janelle Monae, Chris Stapleton, Jessie Ware, Bruno Mars.

What are your plans for the rest of 2018 and beyond?

We’re going to finish The Voice 7 and The Voice Kids 2. Another show I did the music for called Change Your Tune is on TV in March. I’ll also be finishing Got What It Takes? for CBBC. 

As you can see most of my time is taken up doing music for TV shows and even though it’s a lot of work, it’s rewarding and fun so I’m up for more. 

I do miss touring and writing songs too though so you never know. 


Written by Bedingfield, Tench & Hauge

Before we say our goodbyes we couldn't help but ask what David thinks of Nord's latest flagship model, the Nord Stage 3 88...


This thing is the perfect instrument for me. As you can see, speed is key to the "music for TV" process and this instrument affords me the chance to get perfect sounds in seconds. My new fave features are the low pass filter in the EQ section. I can’t tell you how many times I need to filter down pianos for breakdowns etc. And the fantastic new easy to read screens...the extra memory for all the brilliant (free) sounds to be stored. I could go on. 

I also use the Nord Piano 3 and Nord Lead 4. When I go down stage to perform solo piano I always prefer to use my Nord Piano 3 with the triple pedal. The realism is perfect for me.  Otherwise, it’s the Nord Lead 4, I love how compact it is and the in-built effects.

Huge thanks to David for taking time out of his insane schedule to talk to us.  You can follow David @davidtench and keep up to date with the show @thevoiceuk.

Enjoy the content above? Why not subscribe to our YouTube channel and keep up-to-date with the latest in product launches, application updates and musician interviews!


View our YouTube channel here.

Subscribe to our mailing list


This new blog is presented by the team at Sound Technology Ltd, a leading distributor of musical instruments and pro audio equipment in the UK and ROI.