Tips and Tricks for Session Singers

What does it take to be a session vocalist? And how do you make a lasting impression in the studio?

Whether you are new to the session world or trying to break in, let’s explore how to prepare for a session, how to deliver a stellar vocal in the vocal booth, and how to increase your odds of getting a callback for future work.

How to Prepare for Your Vocal Session

Pre-Work: This is essential to any vocal session. The more work you can do in advance, the smoother things will go. Find out the location of the studio, directions, what to bring, time of the session and what is expected of you.

Scratch Track: If you’re lucky enough to get a scratch track or chart prior to the session, do your homework and work out your parts in advance. When it comes to the studio, time equals money. The quicker you can lay down a quality vocal, the happier the client will be and you up your chances of getting hired again. If you don’t have that luxury, try to schedule a time to speak with the songwriter or producer beforehand and find out as many details as you can about what you’ll be singing so you can be as prepared as possible.

Vocal Preservation: If you’re gearing up for a long day in the studio, be prepared to pace yourself. No singer wants to hit vocal fatigue too early. Review all sections of the song(s) prior to the session. Choosing to sing certain parts before others may help you pace your session more effectively.

Get Rest: The night before your session, be sure you get a good night’s sleep.

Stay Hydrated: Proper nutrition and hydration will keep your body in tip-top shape leading up to your session.


Ask for What You Need

The day of your session, it is important that you voice any needs you have:

Effects: Do you like your voice wet or dry when you record? If you prefer reverb on your voice, be prepared to share that with the engineer before the session starts.

Microphone: What type of microphone do you prefer? Does your voice sound better on a certain microphone? If you have the opportunity to choose from a selection of mics, it never hurts to know which suits you best.

Preferred Method of Recording: Engineers will often ask if you have a preferred method for recording vocals. Do you prefer to sing the song all the way through or one section at a time?

Headphones: Most studios provide quality headphones for the session vocalist. However, if you find yourself working a lot in the studio, over time you may develop a preference for one pair over another. That said, feel free to ask what options are available to you. Some session vocalists invest in their own headphones to ensure ease of use and comfort.


Exceed Expectations

Exceeding expectations seems like such an obvious objective. But more often than not, expectations are not met. Here is a surefire list to ensure you hit the mark:

Timeliness: Show up on time (and by on time, I mean early).

Warm-up: Come warmed-up and ready to go. You want to deliver the best vocal you can in the most time-efficient way.

Know Who’s Who: Make a point to remember all the names involved in your session. It personalizes the experience, and the benefits can go a long way, even beyond your session.

Speak the Language: Knowing the right language when communicating with the engineer from the vocal booth is essential. Understanding words like, “Punch” “Pre-Roll” and “Doubling/Tripling” will help with the flow of the session, and makes you sound like the pro you are.

Personality: Put your friendly, can-do attitude on display. No one wants a high-maintenance diva. Check your ego at the door.

Excitement: Everyone likes an authentic compliment. Sharing your excitement and genuine enthusiasm towards the song you are singing goes a long way. It may be your ticket to getting your next session booked.

Be Easy to Work With

Know Your Place: Don’t make the mistake of openly sharing your opinion on lyrical and/or arrangement enhancements. Your ideas might be well intentioned, but unless you are asked to share, you risk offending the songwriter and the opportunity to be hired again. As you establish rapport and work history together, your relationship may evolve into a more collaborative scenario, allowing you share your opinions more openly. Until then, it’s safe to stick with what you are being hired to do: deliver a killer vocal.

Predict the Unpredictable: What harmonies might be added? If the key gets changed, could you still sing the money notes in your chest voice? A great session vocalist predicts scenarios that might play out during the session and delivers with ease.

Of course, being a great session vocalist takes more than just following a bullet-point list. It takes great skill, unending hard work, and a little bit of luck. But if you take these tips to heart and incorporate them into your preparations and performance, you might be able to make your own luck in becoming a working session vocalist.