What Does a Session Singer Do?

If you have been looking at ways to earn money as a singer, you may have considered becoming a session singer. But, what does a session singer do exactly? In this post, we provide a brief overview of the roles of a session singer and what the job entails.

What is a session singer?

Simply put, a session singer is hired on a contractual basis to provide vocals for live performances or to record their vocal on a track.

Typically, session singers have no continuing contract with record companies but are employed on a session-by-session basis.

In modern-day terms, session singers are effectively freelance vocalists whose work in recording studios makes up a large proportion of their income.

What does a session singer do?

As a session singer there is a variety of opportunities available.

Lead or backing vocals

To start with, you will be contracted to sing either lead or back up vocals.

When starting out, don’t turn your nose up at offers to sing backing vocals; many big names, including Elton John and Whitney Houston, started out doing just that.

Range of contracts

The kind of projects a session singer can be hired for can vary widely. Here are some examples:

  • Jingles for television commercials
  • Radio station jingles & idents
  • Demo songs
  • Pre-recorded backing vocals for live shows — solo or harmonies
  • Lead or backing vocals for an artist’s track or album
  • Live performance backing vocals
  • Vocals for film or TV soundtracks

Is session singing right for you?

Now you have seen what a session singer does, you will likely agree that session singing can be a gateway to a successful solo career. But it is also a fulfilling and demanding career in its own right. So, what types of skills and qualities does a good session singer need to have?

So much of the time, you don’t even know what you are going to be asked to do, so you show up, your working with somebody or a team of people and they will require things of you that you will need to be able to deliver. Kim Chandler, vocal coach and session singer

Technical ability

Technical prowess is a must. It goes without saying that first and foremost, a good session singer needs to be able to sing and sing well.

Can you sight-read music? Can you hear a full harmony arrangement by ear? This could be advantageous and sometimes you will be expected to do both of these — and quickly — since time in a recording studio is money.

You’ll need to accurate with your pitching and tight with your blending: a session singer can’t afford multiple takes when recording.

Caution: Shameless plug ahead! Continue reading below.

Reliability

As a session singer, you’ll need to demonstrate your reliability on a number of different levels.

Reliability in communication, availability, time-keeping and technical ability.

You’ll also need to sing consistently throughout every recording session; a working day for a session singer can be long and repetitive.

Also, you may be asked to sing an entire album’s worth of backing vocals in a single sitting. For which, you will need to learn lyrics and practice in advance of the session.

Versatility and patience

Often a producer won’t know what sound they re looking for until they hear it. As a session singer it is often your job to sing the same lines in a range of different styles until you hit the nail on the head.

No matter how bored or tired you are, you need to sound fresh. Patience is a virtue for a session singer.

Energy

Which leads us on to the energy of the performance in general. It’s important, as a session singer, that you warm up your voice before recording begins so that you are able to match the emotion of the song.

If your vocals are going to be used as backing for a live performance, ask yourself “Are my studio recorded vocals going to match the energy of a live show?”. This is often a stumbling block for session singers since the environment in a recording studio is very different to a crowd-fuelled performance.

Experience and resilience

A large proportion of time as a session singer is spent in recording studios, therefore, if you are tempted by starting out as a session singer it is wise to get as much studio experience as possible.

Clearly, not all singers are suited to the high expectations of session singing, which involves an awful lot of high-pressured scrutiny of their vocals as well as a significant level of perfectionism and self-discipline.

While becoming a session singer should not be considered an easy job or easy money, for the right person it can be very rewarding and could lead to future opportunities.

Have you worked as a session singer? How did you get into session singing and what would you advise other singers looking to do the same? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

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