Dive into the vital world of vocals
Take a minute and close your eyes. Imagine you’re on a packed dance floor. The DJ has the crowd completely hyped and there’s an incredible energy to the room. The next track has lyrics you know by heart. The words take you back to a special time and as the vocals pierce through the night, you sing along. Maybe just in your head. But you smile because in that moment, that track is speaking directly to you.
Herein lies the power of a good vocal. But a bad vocal is equally as powerful and can kill a buzz the DJ may have worked hours to build. This is why, if you’re going to work with vocals, you have to do it right.
There are a few reasons why producers ask for a vocal.
1) to collaborate with a specific vocalist, plain and simple.
2) to make an otherwise average track have more appeal.
Or my favourite,
3) to tell a true-life story or experience through sounds and words, to create an art piece.
No matter the reason why a producer wants a vocal or a vocalist agrees to do it, there are some basic things both parties can do to make the collaboration enjoyable, inspiring and keep things friendly but businesslike.
When asked to collaborate, the first questions I ask are:
1) What’s the deadline?
2) What label is it going to?
3) What’s the budget?
But before I even answer someone’s message that I don’t know, I do my research!
Do Your Research
To avoid mishaps and miscommunication during collaboration, it’s always good to do your research beforehand. Learn about the vocalist or producer you’re thinking of working with. Learn about the label you may be signing to. Learn everything you can so you can make an educated choice if this is a person(s) you want your name beside for all eternity. It’s easy to ‘read’ people online just by going back over a few weeks of social media. You can see how they react, how they speak, what’s important to them, how they share information, what they stand behind. If you feel like you’re likeminded, this is a great way to start a collaboration. You’ll know immediately too if you don’t see eye to eye. Listen to your gut. As a vocalist, I can tell within the first notes of a track I’m sent whether I want to work with it and the producer or not. Personalities come out in people’s art.
You’ve done your research, you like the vibe you’re getting. So the collaboration is a go! Now what?
Establishing a Deadline
By establishing a deadline, this allows the vocalist to be honest if they can have it done in the given time frame. Set an exact date and try and stick to it. When you don’t and you leave it to ‘it’ll happen when it happens’, let’s be honest, life gets in the way and it doesn’t happen. Deadlines set everyone’s expectations and relieve pressure on both parties, it also holds us accountable to our commitments.
Establishing an End Goal
The reason I ask what label it’s going to is because I want to know if the producer’s vision matches mine as far as sound and branding. Sometimes producers aren’t sure what label they want it on until the final render is done. At this time, and throughout creation, both producer and vocalist can decide on which label works best for both. Vocalists beware though; many a producer will drop a big name as encouragement to get you to agree to work on a track. You’ll know whom you can believe and who is just name-dropping. If you do your research, you’ll already know the producer’s connections.
Budget and Realism
We hate to talk about money. But we hate to work for free too. When coming together, both the vocalist and producer must have a mutual understanding and respect. The producer could be creating the track for free and hoping for it to be snapped up by a big label. Even still, the benefits of this are more marketing and proliferation of one’s music versus monetary kickback. A vocalist may have a fixed price. Some work for free initially and ask for a percentage of royalties. A tenured vocalist knows the business and can easily state his or her terms.
Being realistic when it comes to money means appreciating that marketing and promotion are very valuable and do not come free. As a vocalist, you may go by a project-by-project basis and forgo a fee if you know the track is going on a huge label. The royalties will end up covering your fee and the exposure is irreplaceable.
Everyone Gets A Contract
One thing I should mention, and I am pretty strict about it, is that both parties should have a contract. Even if the vocalist agrees to 0%, anyone who has his or her name on the release should have a contract. Why not? Would the track be the same without the vocal? Unlikely. So why would a vocalist not get a contract? If anything, it just shows the producer to be respectful of the vocalist’s time and agreement to work with their vision.
Respect Each Other
There have been very few experiences where a producer has disrespected me. One in particular stands out; he resorted right down to name-calling. It was when I was new and had just done some vocals for him. I complimented him on a remix someone did of his track just simply because I liked it. He got so angry that I didn’t understand that remixes were other people’s tracks and he didn’t want the accolades. For a few days, I’d open Facebook ready for his missiles. I still don’t understand what the big deal was but he reacted like a raging bull. And now, my name is stuck beside his for all eternity on all online stores. Oh, and I didn’t get a contract for that one, go figure!
Respect is KEY in any collaboration! You are working with another person’s creativity and input. You asked for it and agreed to do it. It’s ok to disagree but there are ways of keeping it real with everyone’s esteem staying in tact. Respecting deadlines and time zones, respecting different tastes and how they make one final masterpiece, respecting the person on the other end of the file exchange…
We are in this music business together.
We are artistic people united by our love of music, need to create and translate our inspiration into something tangible. Vocals add a certain irreplaceable ‘je ne sais quoi’ to any track and the journey to the honey pot is never foolproof. My tips come from my years wheeling and dealing in the vocal business, something I’ve come to love and am known for. I’ve had the privilege of watching my vocal career grow and working with some of my favourite names in the scene. Yes, I’m lucky. But it’s been more than just luck.
When you agree to join someone on a music journey, you agree to whatever comes along with it. You live and breathe the release together and share in the joys it brings. We are so serious about our art but we should never forget to have fun, open up and be vulnerable. It’s a gift to have someone to share this with. We will all have our ways of doing things that work for us. I think the main tip in all I mentioned was respect because with respect, anything is possible and communication is clear. This will translate into the sound, the vocal, permeate the entire final product and onto myriads of unsuspecting eager ears.
That’s where the magic is.