Because of my music career and my journey into becoming an entertainment attorney, I now see a different side of the music and entertainment industry than your average artist. I have been through it all as an artist and singer, and have learned many things along the way. In this article, I’m going to give you my top 7 tips that professional singers need to know. Starting with number 7.
7. Learn How To Record Yourself. You might do this already, but if you don’t, you will need to in the future. Yes, you’ll go into studio sometimes, but a lot of time you might be asked to do “top lines.” A top line is when you do a vocal performance on top of an instrumental. Before you get to a session, a producer might want to hear what your voice is going to sound like on a track. Sure, you can send demo vocals, but you can elevate them by having your own home studio. Sometimes producers will send you the song, and tell you how they want the song to go, then, you will need to replicate what they sent you. You can show them what it is going to sound like through a “scratch” or “demo vocal”. This is another example of something that would be convenient to do at home. It is a very empowering feeling to take control of your ability to record your own vocals, especially from the convenience of your own home.
6. Learn How To Tune Your Own Vocals. Hopefully you are working with a producer who knows how to treat vocals, and can tune them when there is a note that isn’t quite right. But, never rely on someone else to control the quality of your vocal performance. There are instances where a producer doesn’t know how to tune vocals, and you might not like the end result. Don’t make an assumption and send raw vocals that you know aren’t that great. The producer might not make corrections, and all of a sudden, that ends up being the final vocal. If you know how to tune your own vocals, polish them up, send them off, so you can have assurance on how you are going to be represented. It also makes you look extra professional to people that you work with when you know how to tune your own vocals. Producers will appreciate that they don’t have to do all the work, and that you are able to take care of that step ahead of time. To clarify, I’m not talking about getting auto tune and running your vocals through that. I’m talking about when you tune through a program like Melodyne. Personally, I use Reason Studios because they upgraded in recent years so you can actually record into the program and edit within the program. Whatever program you decide to work with, it’s going to be a process where you are looking at vocal waves and doing hand tuning. It’s really not that difficult. Take out the intimidation factor, you can definitely do this!
5. Be Clear On Ownership. What I want to focus on for this tip are the instances where you go and record in someone else’s studio. The idea is that you have performed somewhere else, and you no longer have control or access to those files. I’ve had situations come up where I recorded at someone else’s studio, and because I recorded there, they assumed that they had the right to use my vocals on anything they wanted, including a music video they released without discussing it with me. That can create some problems. I think that having a discussion up front about the ownership and what you are comfortable with, and considering putting it all into a contract (more on that next) . In any case, make sure you always discuss ownership!
4. Get A Contract. Having a contract with your collaborator and/or your producer will force you to talk about the essential stuff up front. We typically don’t want to talk about money, compensation, and back-end points because it can be uncomfortable, especially when talking about doing something fun like making a song together. But, as a singer, you absolutely need to make sure that this is discussed up front! More specifically, are you asking for a “flat fee”? Are you asking for “back-end points?” Or maybe you are asking for a combination of both. A flat fee typically looks like this, if I hire you to come and sing on my song, I might pay you $900 and it’s going to be “all in.” Meaning, I’m not going to pay you anything else after that. Even if the music makes a ton of money, or if I use it for something else in the future, I’m only going to pay you that one time, and that is it. There are a lot of musicians and singers who do this. Sometimes, newer singers don’t know that you can ask for back-end points, which means you are asking for a percentage of any earnings that the song makes, if it makes any money. You don’t have to do this, but what I suggest is to do hybrids of that when you can. It’s great to get some money up front, because you have things you need to pay for, but you don’t want to miss out on the back end earnings.
When it comes to doing contracts, you can ask for anything, it doesn’t mean the producer or songwriter will say yes. And that’s okay. Figure out what you want out of these situations. As you become more experienced and get more on your resume, then you can say, this is what I want, and it doesn’t have to be up for negotiation. If someone wants to work with you, they will meet the deal points that you want. You will also need to use a “collaborator agreement” contract. I’ve included this contract in my book, How To Keep Your Dukes Up in the Music Business. This is one of 8 contracts that you need in your music career. You have to have this contract when you are doing deals with producers and collaborators. If you don’t, you can end up not getting paid, or having your vocals released without your permission because it wasn’t in a contract!
3. Warm Up Before Your Sessions. I don’t mean by singing the song that you are about to sing it in front of the producer to make sure you get the words right, that is a given. Every single time you open your mouth to sing, whether you are in a session, or at home singing in your kitchen, you need to make sure you actually warm up your voice! It can be a pain, and sometimes it won’t feel like you need to, but I found that my general performances in my vocal sessions are significantly better if I take time to warm up my voice. This could be as simple as 10 minutes. Figure out what works for your voice. Take the time to set your vocal cords and get them ready. For example, maybe not talking the entire day leading up to a session. Or, if you do talk, talking softly, not yelling. Respect your instrument! That is going to take you to that next level as a professional singer.
2. Get A Vocal Coach. I think by taking this step it is more of a commitment to yourself, that you are going to follow through, that you are going to continue to work and grow. As a singer, you always have the opportunity to get better and to be a stronger vocalist. Sometimes, the last thing you think about is working on your voice because you are still trying to figure out your music career. You are trying to figure out how to record yourself and tune vocals. Don’t get so stressed out that you forget to work on your voice. If you haven’t thought about it, think about it now. You want to get a vocal coach or a mentor to help you throughout your career.
1. Make Sure You Have A Music Attorney. Anything you do in your music career is going to require a contract. The good news is you can get a template, like the collaboration agreement, and you can use that when you do deals. The contracts end up being kind of the same thing over and over and over. Let’s say you knock it out of the park, and now a record label is approaching you because they want to sign you. Before you do any kind of deal that is going to impact your career (and let’s face it, every deal impacts your career) make sure you have an attorney help you. Your attorney is more important than even your manager or your agent!