If you’re a songwriter, you’re likely to hire a session singer at some point in your career. I’m a songwriter and session singer myself, and I’ve hired other session singers before. You’ll want a variety of singers in your reel to showcase that your songs can be used for a range of performers. You may also want background vocals that are different from your own. There are many reasons to hire a session vocalist, but it’s important to find the right one for your project.
As a session singer, I feel it’s my responsibility to make sure you have the best information available before you hire me. Whether you choose to work with me or someone else, the more you know ahead of time, the better your project will turn out. Let’s talk about hiring a session singer!
Before You Hire a Session Singer
You can figure these out in any order, but I urge you to work on as many as possible before hiring someone!
1). Determine Your Budget
If you contact someone without knowing how much you can spend, you’re unlikely to know if their prices fit your needs. A few important things to consider: Are you hiring for a full song, just harmonies, toplining? Prices vary between singers and depending on the services needed. You can keep a range of prices in your head before contacting anyone. This way you’ll know how close they are to your target.
2). Decide What’s Important
You can find many award-winning session singers online, singers who have worked with top artists, singers who are also songwriters, the list is endless. What matters is what YOU need for your project. If you’re looking for someone with a large following, a specific skill, or major credentials, this will help you narrow your search. Keep in mind, however, that there are many incredibly talented singers who don’t have major awards. The industry is all about who you know, and some singers just don’t know anyone yet. If credentials aren’t important to you, it’s worth it to search for unknowns as well.
3). Choose a Voice Style
There’s a big difference in vocal styles between Lizzy Hale and Alison Krauss. Not only are the genres different, but the vocal tones are different as well. It can be unique and interesting to blend genres, and people do it all the time. When you listen to your song, what famous person do you envision singing it well? Try to find a session singer who can capture that sound for you!
4). Determine Your Deadline
You may not have one, and that’s fine. However, if you know you need the song in a week, it’s important to let your potential vocalists know! I can’t speak for other session singers, but I work on gigs in the order I get them. If you’re the 10th person, you’ll be 10th unless you tell me it’s urgent. Some singers charge an urgency fee (I usually don’t, unless it pushes another deadline back) so it’s important to factor that into your budget.
5). Make a Connection
It’s important that you enjoy working with your session vocalist. You don’t have to be best friends or anything, but you should enjoy working and interacting with them. It’s okay to look elsewhere if you don’t feel it’s a good fit. We are used to clients working with a variety of singers and we aren’t offended, I promise!
6). Evaluate the Professionalism
You need a true professional for your project. I’m not just saying this because I pride myself on my work. I’m saying it because I’ve seen way too many session musicians who don’t take this seriously and do their clients a great disservice. You are paying a professional for their time, you deserve professional treatment. Are they recording in a treated room, with a quality microphone? Are they delivering quality work? Does their contribution improve your song? These are important factors to consider, but unfortunately you might not know this until after you’ve started working with them. You can use it for next time, however, when you decide if you want to continue working with them.
7). Review the Policies
This sort of relates to #6, because professional musicians have professional policies. If they don’t have any, please ask them for some! You’ll be doing them a favor by making them create policies they should already have in place. For example, what if they get sick and can’t complete the job? What if you need to back out for various reasons? What if they finish half of the job and you need to cancel? These things should be worked out before starting the project, so make sure your session singer has these policies in place.
I know this seems like a lot of hassle up-front, but please trust me that you want to make sure you hire the right person for your project. If you jump into it without reviewing at least some of these, you may very well regret it.
If you want to do a little soul-searching to find out what kind of session musician you need, try my Pre-Hiring Worksheet for free here!
These worksheets are part of a whole book I wrote about communicating with your session musicians. It’s geared toward getting the right result the first time, with as few costly edits as possible. If you want to check it out, it’s right here!
I am also currently giving private consultations for session musicians. We can talk about whatever you like, whether it’s policies, recording, or any other aspect of running a session business. Feel free to contact me about it here!