Professional etiquette in session singing

After  35 years  of session ProfessionalEtiquette1536x1024singing 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!


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