The Importance of Preparation: Tales of a Skilled Pretender
Sometime last year, the brother Hlats linked 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, I watched the bro redo a Keznamdi tune and to say I was intrigued would be an understatement.
Fast forward a few months and I got booked for my first vocal session with same studio and the first track I was given was a Sean Paul cover. I was excited to be getting the opportunity to work with a professional engineer for the first time in a long while, but at the same time I was really anxious about the impending session. I had a little over 3 days to learn this song, which I was only hearing for the first time, and I would have to mimic all the different segments of the tune, backing vocals and all. At this stage I must confess that I hadn’t experimented with harmonies, and this song was plastered with them, so anxiety was a given for me. In a bid to ensure I was at my best when I did the session, I practiced the song tirelessly at every possible opportunity, I would’ve put in about 4 hours of straight practice on the first night alone. In the ensuing days, I literally breathed this Sean Paul song, I listened to it on my daily commute to work, sang along to it during my breaks, rehearsed it whilst having dinner, you name it. I thoroughly obsessed over this tune and when my session time arrived I was well 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, which meant the engineer could have a smoke break and still have ample time to focus on his other sessions. This experience taught me a valuable lesson which I carried into all the sessions I have had to date, being prepared will not only save time but it will ensure you stay on good terms with people that invest their time in you (this applies to all aspects of life anyway).
Incidentally, I bumped into said engineer a few weeks ago on a night out and we caught up over a drink, he mentioned that he had taken some time off doing session vocals. 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…