How to Become a Successful Session Singer

(Last Updated On: April 10, 2021)

Being a successful session singer isn’t easy.  I have spent years doing session singing. In that time, I used to wonder why some people were even there.  On the other hand, there were times that I really enjoyed singing with the people I was working with.

Professional session singers are usually hired to sing on a single track. They render their vocal skills to serve the songwriter. They even put aside their creative aims and choices to be of service to those who have hired them. 

What Are The Roles A Successful Session Singer Can Do?

There are many avenues that a budding singer can take to jumpstart his/her singing career, and one such avenue is by becoming a professional session singer. But what does a professional session singer do? Well, session singers are mostly professional singers who are highly trained and very skillful as singers. They are usually hired on a work-for-hire setup, which means they are hired on a contractual basis. They are also hired for recording purposes to provide backup vocals to the main vocalist.

Session singers are in a strange position.  They have their own unique role and game plan from the lead singer.  Yet, they have to learn to mesh their performance with that of the lead singer.  Here is the step-by-step guide to become a successful session singer. Hope it will help you to reach your goal in your session singing career.

Session singer is a very professional and experienced vocalist who is hired for a particular contractual period for studio recording purposes. The session singer jobs include singing as a background singer, backing vocalist / backup singer, studio vocalist, and sight reading / singing.

Steps-By-Step Guide To Become A Successful Session Singer

Step 1) Develop Your Listening Skills

First of all, listen.  Listen to the background vocals in every song you hear.  Pay close attention.  Notice how, even though their job is technically to blend into the background, a good session singer can make or break a performance.  “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”  The same is true of a singing group.  It’s not easy for that reason.  People depend on you.

Step 2) Patience

Of all the related tips I could offer, patience is probably the most important.  It can take a while just to get your foot in the door.  You aren’t going to get rich or become very famous as a session singer.  At least, you aren’t going to do so overnight, anyway.  Writers and producers tend to stick to professional  session singers that they already know.  Often, they’ve run into problems with amateur session singers before.  That probably caused them a lot of wasted time, not to mention money.  So, just getting a chance to try out is hard, never mind earning a living session singing.  So, you have to have the patience and a real love for the profession. Be prepared and be grateful for every opportunity to try out that you get.

Step 3) Good Attitude

Talent can take you far, but not if you have the wrong attitude.  Earlier, I mentioned wondering how certain people got into singing with me.  That’s because they didn’t seem to want to be there.  Worse, many of them seemed to think they were a ruler of a kingdom and everyone around them was a mere peasant.  You have to have the talent, but you also have to enjoy what you do and enjoy working together on a level ground with other people.

Step 4) Record A Good Demo Reel

Try to have the best demo reel that you can.  When you record a demo reel, be sure you have individuals listen to it who will give you an honest opinion, before you submit it to potential employers.  Don’t ask someone who may have his or her own motives or someone who doesn’t want to hurt your feelings to listen to your demo.  The more opinions you get, the better, too.

Step 5) Open for Any Criticism

If you decided to send a resume to 10 different companies, you are likely to get ten very different reactions and suggestions for improvement.  The same is true of a demo reel.  If you can get honest opinions from those around you and are willing to entertain their suggestions, you will go far as a successful session singer.  In fact, with that attitude you are likely to go far in life in general.

Step 6) Train Yourself To Sing In Different Genre of Songs

If you want to be a great session singer, you should also remember that you should have a bit of variety in your demo reel.  It’s an opportunity to showcase all of your talents and abilities.  Be careful, though.  Don’t bite off more than you can chew.  If you have certain styles that you know you aren’t good at, don’t put them on your demo reel.  Being consistent and displaying high-quality work is much more important. You want producers to be impressed and begging for more.  Put them on the edge of their seats.  That’s your goal. Try to train yourself to become more flexible and capable of singing any genre of songs, that is the key factor for you to become the most sought-after session singer.

So, as you aspire to be the best, most successful session singer you can be, remember to make a good impression.  Have patience.  Make connections.  Remember that what you accomplish today may seem small, but it will pave the way for later.  So, use these tips to your advantage and you’ll be doing the jingle singing and session work that you want to do in no time at all.

Step 7) Have Your Own Home Recording Studio

This may seem a bit demanding on your part to require you to have your home recording studio. But if money is not an issue and if you want to thrive as a session singer, you need to be familiar with the recording process. You should also get a tutorial lesson on how to handle DAW. 

Invest in a home studio with proper equipment, for you can do the nitty-gritty of your singing session in your home studio if necessary. Moreover, the know-how that you get on recording can surely enable you to move further in your singing career.

Skillsets That A Professional Session Singer Must Have

  • Professional session singers should be capable of sight-singing, or, if not, they should have a very keen ear for notes. They should also know how to blend their voices with the main vocals. Moreover, they should know how to provide backup vocals to singers during live performances.
  • Most session singers do not have a continuing contract with any recording company. They are only employed on a work-for-hire basis. In a way, they can be called “freelance vocalists” whose incomes come from their sessions during recordings and live performances.
  • Of course, session singers should have great versatility. They should also have great singing voice. Plus, they should be well-versed with the different genres of music and must be able to provide backup vocals for any type of genre.
  • They should have good ear to readily pick up difficult notes. Additionally, they are expected to handle any singing task that is thrown at them by their contractors. They should also be able to walk into any stage or studio and perform whatever is asked of them without much rehearsal, and they should get that task right the very first time.

What Are the Characteristics of a Professional Session Singer?

As mentioned above, they should have the exceptional singing capability. They should also be reliable and can work under different conditions and extreme pressure. Their contract periods may vary in duration from one gig or session to a lengthy contract that requires them to accompany the primary artist on tour. 

In a way, the job of a professional singer is not easy. But this should not deter you from desiring to be a professional session singer. If you are desirous of becoming a session singer, here is a list of the crucial traits that you should have:

1) Reliability

As a professional session singer, one of the important traits that you should have is reliability. This means that you should develop your singing skills to the point that you can render whatever is required of you by your contractor. You should also be accessible to your contractor and punctual in every session and deadline. You should also respond punctually to any enquiry of your client. Moreover, you should be able to set realistic deadlines and should professionally fulfill those deadlines.

2) Depth of Singing Experience

If you don’t have yet any experience recording in a studio, then, you should garner enough recording experience if you want to become a session singer. Much of your time as a session singer will be spent recording in a studio. As such, you should grab any opportunity to learn the rudiments of vocal recordings in the studio.

Not all singers are cut-out for becoming a session singer. If you are not up to the high-pressure life of a session singer, then you should not aspire to be one. Moreover, you should not aspire to be one if you are not a perfectionist and don’t have the discipline required to handle the pressure. 

Despite not being an easy job, being a session singer can be very rewarding. It can also lead to better opportunities in the future.

3) You should carry a Good Portfolio of Related Skills

There are many talented and highly skilled session singers out there. Thus, the competition may be stiff. You need, therefore, to present a good portfolio of related skills to get the lion share of those who are hiring session singers. 

You should have an excellent resume to sell your service. But building solid credentials takes time. It also necessitates a good presentation of yourself, including your professional photos and audio reels that showcase your vocal styles.

4) Good Technical Music Skills

You should be technically good in music if you want to be a session singer. It is a must! In other words, you should be able to sing well based on technical theories of music. It is a plus factor if you can sight-read and can distinctly figure out the harmonic arrangement by ear. Remember, you will be required, more often, to engage in sight-reading as a session singer. 

Since the time spent in the recording studio translates to money, you should be able to sight-read quickly and effectively. You should be accurate with your pitch and great with blending, for you can’t afford to have multiple takes during recording.

Remember that artists pay money for the time spent in the studio. If you make careless mistakes that prolong the recording process, you cost them money. So, if you want to get rehired for other works or be recommended to other artists or executives, you need to act professionally and perform the tasks at hand with accuracy and precision.

How Much Money A Professional Session Singer Can Make?

Most session singers are freelancers. This means they are self-employed, and they only get paid if they have singing sessions. At the onset of a contract signing, the fee is negotiated between the client and the session singer. The session singer then gets paid even if the track or album is not released to the market. 

The job of the session singer is a “one-off fee.” This means the session singer doesn’t get any royalty if the album becomes a success unless it is stipulated in the contract.

At the onset of your career as a session singer, you will surely find it hard to have a regular income from your gigs as a session singer. In fact, you would barely make a living out of being a session singer at the start. 

As you expand your circle, and as you get recommended for your previous works that were exceptional, you would get recommended more often. You would then begin to build a broad client base that could provide you with a stable flow of income.

So, you should work hard on building a good portfolio that would serve as your card in getting more clients. You could also increase your hourly rate as you improve your portfolio. Moreover, the demand for your skills would increase as you gain more experience and recommendations. Remember that, just like in any other services, you should build on the feedback given to you by your previous clients. The more positive their feedback is, the better it would be for your session singing career. 

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2 thoughts on “How to Become a Successful Session Singer”

  1. I live in the DC Metro area and a session singer is perfect for me. I don’t want a career out of it I just want the opportunity to sing. I have always sung different genres of music so as not to minimize my voice. I am just looking for opportunity…honestly I have gotten the same advice on just about every website but no additional direct information.

    Thank you for your attention

    Reply

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