Whether you are singing background vocals on a country album or choir vocals for a classical composer, session singing is a big part of the music industry for a vocalist. It is a great way to earn a living, make connections, and to be a part of some really special projects.
Throughout my career I have been fortunate enough to sing on many sessions, some of the most memorable being sessions for Disney, Cece Winans, Kari Jobe, Hope Darst, and original choral compositions. I have learned a lot through the years, so here are some tips for anyone entering the session singing world!
1. Come Prepared. Warm up your voice before you arrive so you are ready to go once it’s time to start singing. You never know what song you will be starting with and it’s important to sing confidently. I’ve done many sessions where we started with the hardest song to get it out of the way early, so you definitely want to be warm and not timid. Also, eat a good breakfast that will sustain you through the entire morning- you will need the energy!
2. Be Flexible. Many times the style of singing can change from one song to another within a single session. I have been in sessions where we started the day singing classical, choral vocals, and ended with a free flowing gospel song. Once you have clarity on what is being asked of you, be flexible and adjust your vocal style as you go. Do your best to match those around you if you are singing in a group so you don’t stick out.
3. Admit When You Mess Up. It is inevitable, at some point we all miss a note or word in a session. It is important to speak up when you know you missed something so it can be fixed. However, there is a balance to this practice. Many times, if you are singing with a group of people, subtle misses here and there can’t be detected, especially if the tracks are being layered multiple times. In those cases, keep rolling so you aren’t stopping the flow of singing for something unsubstantial. However, if you mess up big and it can be heard, own it, fix it, and move on.
4. Know Your Strengths. I once attended a workshop for session singers that was incredibly helpful and the one thing they said that really stuck with me was, “know your strengths.” It is a misconception that you have to be great at every style of singing to be a successful session singer. It is actually the opposite. Know the styles you are great at and rock them! You will have much more success that way rather than trying to be everything to everyone. We all have our gifts and strengths and they aren’t the same as the person next to us. One style isn’t better than another, just different. One voice type isn’t better than another, just different. There is room for everyone and their individual voices.
5. Prepare in the Off-Season. There are busy seasons and lulls in any industry and this one is no different. When you aren’t in sessions regularly, use that extra time to maintain and grow your skills. Practice your sight-singing, do consistent vocal exercises, take some voice lessons, attend a workshop or two, and continue nurturing your gift. Then, when things pick back up again you will be better than before and ready to go!
6. Have a Great Attitude. I can’t stress this one enough. This can make or break your career as a session singer. It doesn’t matter if you are the most talented singer of all time; if you are difficult to work with, you will not be hired back. On the flip side, an upbeat, positive attitude that enhances a session will always be remembered and carries a ton of weight. The days can get long, especially with difficult and mentally taxing songs. Fatigue will hit every singer at some point, but do your best to stay focused, present, and encouraging. Above all, remain humble. Whether it is your first session or your thousandth, there is always room to learn and always room to be kind to one another.
I hope these tips help as you navigate the session singing industry and gain confidence for the next time you step up to a microphone. Happy singing!