How to Become a Session Singer
Session singers are trained, skilled professional singers who are hired to provide background vocals for a lead singer. They have to learn to blend their performance with that of the lead singer, which isn’t as easy as it sounds.
Session singing isn’t for everyone: it is demanding and, therefore, only for the cream of the singing crop. Many session singers have their own solo careers, but choose to also offer their talents for recording purposes.
If you think you may have what it takes to be a successful session singer, here are some tips to help you become a professional session singer:
Create a captivating promo pack
When looking for work as a session singer, the first thing you will be asked for by a prospective contractor is your “promo pack”. This needs to be slick and professional.
What you should include in your session singer’s promo pack:
Photographs are essential if you are at all interested in recording live as a session singer. The photos you choose should be professional and flattering but should not misrepresent you. Choose a headshot that you feel shows you at your best and embodies your style as a singer.
Some agencies may also request full-length shots.
Your biography should be a well-written summary of your relevant achievements to date.
Ensure your most impressive accomplishments are described first and use sub-headings to lay out your different singing experiences clearly.
If you are particularly specialised in one musical style, or are truly versatile, it is worthwhile including this in your bio.
Finally, you’ll need a demo tape that showcases your best work. It should back up your biography by putting into practise the talents, range or versatility you have outlined.
Before submitting your showreel to any prospective employers, it is always helpful to have an outsider’s opinion. Ask someone, you trust to be honest, to listen to it and be prepared to make any suggested improvements.
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Accumulate studio experience
For someone starting out as a session singer, studio experience is the first practical step.
Spend as much time as you’re able in the recording studio and, initially at least, be prepared to work for free.
Reach out to any contacts you have that might be able to help out. If you don’t have any, then aim to make contacts: source relevant people online and offer your support.
Contacting fledgling songwriters who might need vocals on a demo tape may help you to get a foot in the door — aside from the needed vocal skills, they may find you useful when recording as you are likely the first singer to interpret the lyrics.
Build your reputation
The more experience you get under your belt, the better your reputation will be. Your reputation is the single most important asset that will help you to get paid work, so it is worth ensuring you are competent and reliable at all times.
Producers often rely on word of mouth when booking new session singers, so time spent networking (visiting gigs, music/networking events etc.) and cultivating your professional persona is time well spent — be prepared to work hard for your first paid session.
Placing a classified advertisement in music industry publications is a good place to start and, of course, there are online music sites that will allow you to advertise your services for free. Having your own website, if built and managed properly, is another great way to get your name out there too.
Always carry business cards with you to avoid missing out on an opportunity that comes when you are least expecting it. Business cards help you to appear professional and can be especially useful if you frequent musical events.
Also, you may want to contact recording studios to see if they hire session singers or hold a bank of people that they employ “in house”.
Do you work as a session singer? How did you get your first gig? We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below!