After 35 years of session singing in LA, Nashville, and London, I’m still gobsmacked at the unprofessional behaviour I witness from alleged ‘pros’ in my business. I have seen the most outrageous things, including a singer being fired in front of the group due to poor professionalism. So unnecessary, as it’s so easy to get things right!
It takes a lot more than a great voice to get steady work, though, and this is where some singers simply fall down. If you want to start a career as a session vocalist or want to secure your current client base, there are some tried-and-true professional practices that will enable you to walk out of every session knowing that you couldn’t have done more to make yourself hireable again and again.
For starters, think like a producer. If you go in thinking, “Wow this is going to help my career”, it will show. You need to remember that IT ISN’T ABOUT YOU. It’s about the artist or the commercial, the client or the melody. So make sure you’ve asked all the questions necessary for you to fully understand what the producer needs from you on the session. Then do it. Without complaint, without ‘attitude’, and without unnecessary interruption by trying to be funny, chatting, etc. Be the singer your producer needs you to be. Here is a dos and don’ts list that will serve you well in the session world – leave things off at your peril!
1.DO be 15 minutes early. ‘On time’ is already late. People are being charged for studio time. Make sure they’re not paying for dead time waiting for you to turn up.
2. DON’T warm up at the session. You should arrive already warmed up, knowing the material well – if it was sent to you in advance. Many sessions do not send material in advance so come prepared to sing in any part of your range.
3.DON’T bring your ego with you. You are exactly as important as the bassist, the drummer, the guitar player, etc. and no more.
4. DO offer different textures if you are able – tell the producer that he has a choice, and sing a simple, short line in each option as examples.
5. DO stay positive and pleasant, even if it is frustrating. Everyone wants to be around positive people. They will remember that about you.
6. DO stay quiet in between takes so you are sure to hear the next instruction. It’s annoying for a producer to have to keep saying ‘quiet please’ or worse, “Are you quite finished?”
7. DO make notes on your lyric sheet. Use your own personal shorthand code. It’s often difficult to remember multiple instructions as you’re singing a pass.
8. DO be gracious and treat every client with respect. This is your business and your reputation is as important as your vocal abilities.
9. DO be as quick as you can. Time means money in the studio. If you can show that you are quick and precise, you will make a great impression.
10. DON’T just sing any old thing when the producer is getting a level on your voice. This is the hardest tip, I believe, for new singers to remember. Sing the part you are assigned exactly the way you will for the track, with your head position exactly where it will be while recording. Don’t stop singing until you are told to stop. It is frustrating for a producer to have to keep saying, “Keep going please”.
So there you go…have skills, will work!