First up, here are some of my key tips for vocalists who are preparing for live or studio sessions. Remember the 3 P’s - Punctuality, Preparation & Politeness!
The famous saying - If you are on time then you are late - always arrive in good time for a session, time is money and quite often the Producer will be working to a strict timeframe with various session players booked into specific slots throughout the day.
Working effectively to this plan to meet deadlines can be very stressful!
In an environment such as this, preparation is key, undertaking a session for a Producer who is under a lot of pressure to complete to working deadlines requires a singer who is efficient, responsive and well knowledgeable in their approach to different styles & theoretical understanding/terminology. Always ask for the tracks and any top-line ideas in advance - learn all parts (Inc. Lyrics) and develop ideas just in case they ask you to ad-lib… (There is a good chance they will)
Do not underestimate the impact of manners, being courteous, supportive and polite within your role can carry you forward in this industry. You can have all the talent in the Universe, but if you present yourself badly or act in any way aloof or disrespectful this could damage your reputation as a session singer & aspiring industry professional. The Music Industry scene is smaller than one might perceive, people talk, a lot of work comes from word of mouth.
Whether you’re taking to the stage or a studio session, it is important to warm up - why?. A session may only be scheduled for 1 hour, it can take around 30 mins to warm up your voice to reach its optimum potential, therefore if you haven’t prepared and warmed up before the session you are compromising your performance, and vocal ability and this may impact on whether you are hired or not again in the future!.
It is likely you will have 1 to 2 hours to record multiple takes and parts, and sometimes you will be required to record vocal lines for 2 to 3 songs in this time and must be warmed up and ready to go. It may be you are getting ready for a gig, your set time may (most likely) in the early stages be a short set, I’ve learnt from past experience that warming up not only relaxes and prepares your instrument, but can be great for moral as a band before going on stage if you undertake some warm ups together!.
Fatigue can be a real limiter in a high pressure environment, be sure to hydrate well before your session and have a bottle of water to hand. Avoid foods with Dairy and Acidic properties as these can cause a horrible reflux. Important to note: Water has to travel around the body and hydrate your vital organs before eventually reaching the vocal folds & larynx. Even when the rest of your body is hydrated it can take around 20 mins to work through your system to then fully benefit the voice, so a quick sip just before you sing is not going to be very effective. If you have hydrated but suffer from dry mouth, a splash of fruit juice to your water can help to get the saliva glands going… A tired voice can cause swollen vocal folds; again water can really help with this, soothing the lactic acid built up from over working vocal cords. Moral of the story - Water to a Singer is like Fuel to an Engine. We will not run efficiently and optimise our instrument without it, so be sure to hydrate efficiently, this is your linctus.
This allows us as singers to tune into our instrument, body scanning, identifying areas of tension, especially around the neck and shoulders, try working through the following exercises to warm up physically:
• Neck rolls
• Shoulder rolls and shrugs
• Spine roll
• Jaw rattle
• Jog on the spot (if it’s good enough for Beyoncé then it’s good enough for us, right?!)
• A one minute group power stance before going on stage can help you feel super charged, connected as a band and ready to entertain your audience.
This is a great little tool for warming up your voice, without putting too much strain on your vocal cords. Start by simply humming a static note through the straw moving through different pitches, then use hills and sirens - squeezing your diaphragm to create bursts of airflow through the straw - like an starting an engine, finally hum a siren through your straw - work from the lower end of your register up to the higher end and repeat. (See if you can find a metal straw, this is not only kind to the environment, but is the straw that keeps on giving)
Start with something simple like:
Major Arpeggios: 1 3 P5 3 x 3
The 5 tone scale - 1 2 3 P4 P5 P4 3 2 1
Ascend & descend chromatically on a Hum, lip roll/lip bubble (To achieve a lip roll/bubble - press your lips firmly together and blow through, like blowing a raspberry but without sticking out your tongue!) and… remember to relax!
Octave repeat and / or 1.5 octave - Some effective sounds to get started: Woof, Mum (Dopey - Think Disney’s Goofy), Bup (helps secure cord closure) & Nay (Nasal).
Focus on the way your voice responds to each sound i.e Dopey VS nasal, Aspirate (breathy) VS harder attack - feel the difference?! Pay attention to your technique - if you feel strain reduce volume and work with the lip rolls, humming and perhaps sounds like Woof & Mum for now.
When developing such exercises it is important to seek professional advice to monitor and develop effective technique in relation to your natural singing voice. Read Amba Tremain's blog - ‘Vocal Health Tips for Singers‘ for some great tips on how to look after your voice! https://www.waterbear.org.uk/vocal-health-tips-for-singers/
You should now be ready to sing through your parts with ease - you can always start by humming the melody to gently warm up your vocal cords.