In my experience, the single most important part of any songwriting demo is the vocal. The vocal carries your melody and lyric which, for all intents and purposes, is your song. And for my money, a great demo singer is the best way to guarantee that your demo will be well received. That being said, knowing what to do and what not to do when it comes to working with demo singers will go a long way towards a great-sounding demo and an enjoyable recording session.
You can make things easier on yourself – and your demo singer – by being prepared in advance of your session. Sending an mp3 of your rough recording (generally a single instrument and vocal recorded into your smart phone) can help your singer not only select the ideal key for the song but also will allow them to learn your song in advance saving you time – and money – in the studio.
Providing a finalized lyric sheet with the exact right lyric to your studio vocalist not only allows them to mark up the song in advance but prevents them from having to unlearn older versions of your lyric if you haven’t kept it up to date. This makes things easier on everyone and will also allow you, as the songwriter, to take notes on your own copy to make the process even more streamlined and efficient.
It can be stressful in the studio but it’s just as easy to politely ask a singer to review a snippet of melody from your rough recording that they may not have sung correctly as it is to say “that was wrong. Do it again.” Being blunt or even rude in the studio is the fastest way to kill the goodwill of a session. Professional demo singers want nothing more than for you to be thrilled with their work so relax and ask for what you need in a thoughtful manner.
There will always come a time in a session where the producer or vocalist will ask you what needs to be fixed or if you’re happy with the way things are going. That being said, it usually takes a singer a pass or two through the song before they’re ready for those comments. Stopping the proceedings to correct a singer before they’re warmed up can slow things down considerably. As I mentioned above, take notes on your lyric sheet so that when you’re asked what you need, you can offer clear and detailed requests.
As I mentioned, the studio can be a bit stressful, so hoping you’ll remember your song well enough to go to a specific section and play or sing it correctly is often unwise. If you’ve made a rough recording – which I highly recommend – simply have the engineer play the appropriate section of the song to the vocalist so they can learn or fix the spot in question. It’s a much simpler and more efficient way of getting what you want.
It can be intimidating sometimes working with an exceptional vocalist. So much so that you might find yourself accepting something that doesn’t match your original melody. In these situations, it might help to remember that it’s your song and the singer works for you and wants you to be happy. Feel free to politely ask for what you want and know that the only appropriate response from a demo singer will be to happily give you what you’re requesting.
My intention, here, is to set your expectations so that you can make the absolute most out of your experience with a professional demo vocalist. The reality is that there’s nothing quite like hearing a world-class vocalist singing your song. Keep the above dos and don’t in mind and you’re in for a great session.