A session singer is a highly skilled professional vocalist, often with their own solo career, who is hired for a contractual period, usually one track, one performance etc., of any style of music, mainly for recording purposes. Sight-reading and the ability to work well with other musicians without rehearsal is essential although some session singers work by ‘ear’. A session singer is one who has no ongoing contract with the record company, which employs them. In other words, they are employed, and paid, by the session.
Many singers start their professional careers through deputising for bands and providing backing, harmony, or guide vocals for studios and songwriters. This can also open the door to a solo career as shown by artists like ‘Sam Brown’ and ‘Dido’.
Whats the difference between a Session Singer and a Deputising Singer
A dep is someone who stands in or acts as deputy for someone else whereas a session singer is specifically employed to supply a service for a particular project or length of time. Both types of singer can be interchangeable, the session singer may dep for a band or another singer, whilst a singer who deputises may do a session for a studio!
So what does it take to become a session singer?
Session singers need to be competent sight readers and sight singers or capable of picking up a song by ear very quickly. They are expected to be able to walk into the studio or stage and perform whatever music is put in front of them without prior rehearsal and get it right first time!
All sorts of jobs can be classified as session work, which includes, but is not limited to: providing guide vocals for songwriters, lead vocals for films, television theme songs and jingles or singing backing and harmony vocals for touring artists and producers.
Good vocal ability, reliability and the ability to work under a variety of conditions with all sorts of people are essential qualities. Contract periods vary considerably from the ‘one off’ session or gig to long contracts accompanying major artists on tour.
How do I become a session singer?
Session fixers rely on their reputations so are unlikely to book singers or musicians that they don’t know. Studio sessions can cost £100s of pounds which means the fixer needs to feel confident that their musicians will deliver the goods. i.e. that they’ll arrive on time, they’ll get on with their colleagues, that they will be competent to work in what ever circumstances they are presented with. They often start out in business with contacts of trusted singers and expand their fixing list through recommendation from other trusted sources. When a session becomes available the Session Fixer will work their way through their favoured contacts until they find those that are available. Sending out CVs to session fixers is unlikely to generate much work, although if they are unable to contact one of their regular session singers you may be given the job!
How do I get paid?
The majority of session singers are self-employed. Each job pays a separate fee that is negotiated between you and the employer, who pays the session musicians for their time regardless of whether the track is released or used by the client who commissioned it from the studio. This is usually a one-off fee even in the case of tracks you record that subsequently become popular, unless a repeat fee or percentage agreement has been previously agreed between you.
Royalties due to recorded performers are collected by an organisation called The Performing Artists Media Right Association (Pamra) who are a collection society for performers. Membership is free and any musician whose performance has been recorded is eligible to join.
160 Borough High Street
Tel: 020 7940 0400.
Singers can confirm the rates with the Musicians Union prior to entering into an agreement. Contact the rates department direct on 0207 840 5555.
Finding Work as a Session Singer
Although we have provided a list of session agencies and fixers, they usually find their clients themselves either through producer recommendation or by reputation. Success in the session world depends far more on the reputation you gain in the business and on the contacts that you make.
Create a publicity pack! Include a list of recommendations from other fixers, producers and artists you have worked for (if applicable), current experience and a demo showing your vocal range.
Buy music industry trade papers like The Stage , NME, Bandit or Taxi Newsletter, or similar publications that run classified ads for singers wanted. You can even place an advert describing your abilities and offering your services.
Use the internet – many music websites offer a free classified ads section for singers, bands, musicians, music industry personnel. Take advantage of this by owning a website that highlights your talents and include the link in your advert.
Keep several Business Cards with you at all times. Don’t miss an opportunity, if a band, musician or producer approaches you at an open mic night, jam night, showcase etc., ask for their business card and give them yours!!
Contact Recording Studios, Backing Track Suppliers to see if they hire freelance singers or employ ‘in house’.
Ask professional singing friends, musicians, voice teacher, performance coach for an introduction or recommendation to a reputable agent or management company.
Enter Talent Competitions and offer your singing services for Charity Shows to gain experience, gain exposure and meet other musicians and artists.
Opportunities are only limited to the competence and determination of the singer who can find work with bands or artists in pubs, clubs, cabaret, theatre, nightclubs, radio, television, advertising and studio recording.