The Importance of Preparation: Tales of a Skilled Pretender
Sometime last year, the brother Hlats hit me up on a random Thursday afternoon and asked me to accompany him to a studio session. After requesting more details regarding this “session”, with no luck in terms of clarification, I agreed to tag along for the ride. Unbeknownst to me, this would be my first foray into the wild world of session vocal work. In a nutshell, session vocalists are hired guns that record vocals for a fee, usually doing cover songs for a variety of purposes. That day, Hlats relicked a Keznamdi tune which was an intriguing experience.
Fast forward a few months and the same studio booked for me for a vocal session to record a Sean Paul cover. This was an exciting to work with a professional engineer for the first time in a long while, but anxiety around the impending session soon took grip on me. I had a little over 3 days to learn a new song, which consisted of various segments including harmonies. I must confess that I’m not the best when it comes to singing harmonies and the song is plastered with them. In a bid to deliver the goods for the session I practiced tirelessly, putting in at least 4 hours on the first night alone. In the ensuing days the Sean Paul song was the centre of my existed, listening to it at every possible moment. I thoroughly obsessed over this tune and when my session time arrived I was more than prepared.
The first session went seamlessly, and the engineer was quite happy with the amount of time it took us to complete the session. The energy in the control room after I finished recording the vocals was positive because we finished working with time to spare, giving said engineer a well deserved smoke break. This experience taught me a valuable lesson which I carried into all the sessions I have had to date. Being prepared not saves time, but it ensures you stay on good terms with people that invest their time in you.
Incidentally, I bumped into the engineer a few weeks later on a night out and we caught up over a drink. After exchanging some pleasantries he mentioned having taken time off from engineering for session vocalists. After a bit of probing, he told me he had recently had a rather difficult session where the vocalist was unprepared and difficult to deal with in general. Imagine, this vocalist was so ill prepared and frustrating that the engineer needed 5 days off work to get back into a good place. If you are a budding vocalist, and this is not tied to session work only, make sure you are always prepared. Remember the old adage, practice makes perfect? It’s kinda true…