So for the next couple days i’m going to talk a bit about working with singers and play you an example a day of how a particular track, method or relationship worked out.
You’re a composer. You need vocals. How do you get the performance you need? Do you even know what you need? Do you even have access to capable people?
If you are starting out, poor and don’t have a network of excellent people, just, you know, other people your age who are trying to learn and hone their skills too, then not getting a super excellent performance is not your fault. You work with what you can.
If you are NOT starting out, have money (maybe it’s a paying gig like a commercial) and have a network to draw from, then it IS your fault if the vocals suck, even though you’re not the one singing.
My advice in a nutshell:
1. Get a voice you really like as best you can
2. Work with what you’ve got and Adapt As Necessary
3. Give clear direction
4. Do not slack off attention
5. If it sucks at the end it’s probably your fault because you messed up one of the preceeding steps.
There. It’s almost like any other relationship in the arts, this could be the same for getting other musicians to help with your project, working with dancers, you name it. I would also point out that i screw up any of these advice points at some time or another.
Let me just cover these one by one, but we’re only going to cover one a day.
1. Get a voice you really like as best you can
Maybe you make beats and work with MCs you know. Maybe you are really into making a certain genre and need the right voice(s) to bring the songs to life. Maybe you make ridiculously ambitious theater shows about utterly assinine things like steampunk and dead people (in which case you are an idiot). If you don’t hire the right voice, whose fault is that? If you have people to choose from and the person who’s chosen sucks, guess what, it’s your fault. You had the choice and you blew it so you better figure out what went wrong in your head so you don’t do it next time.
I make this mistake still. The only way one can be sure is through live auditions. For heaven’s sake, do live auditions. I often hire people who live in COMPLETELY DIFFERENT COUNTRIES based on a smidgeon of a sample and it sometimes goes very wrong.
This track i’m gonna play is from this commercial campaign for a bank. I was hired to make a 30 second song in a reggae genre (very upbeat, catchy, and like a very pop version of 1960s ska to be specific). I had just arrived in eastern europe where there are NO BLACK PEOPLE AT ALL. I had moved here from not only Manhattan, but HARLEM. So i went from lots of black people to a total white wash instantly. This wouldn’t be worth discussing except who are you going to hire to sing on a reggae track? NOT A WHITE GUY.
Now this is a paying gig, and i got a deadline and it’s with a new company i’ve never worked with so i want to look GOOD. I call my contacts in New York, i call this person, i call that person… Someone here says they know a guy here who sings in a serbian reggae band but i say no way. Come on, white serbian guy with accent? Nonononononono.
However it all goes wrong. The search is a disaster on every front. Every lead ends up not panning out for one reason or another. I got nothing. I’m also down to 48 hours before the submission is due for approval so i call this serbian dude and we agree to meet at his studio at 11PM to see if it’ll work.
The guy’s name is Minja and i could have married him and bore his baby. He was AWEsome. And yet, you know what? He did NOT sound authentic. He didn’t even TRY to sound authentic. He had developed a style of his own that worked and he owned it.
The commercial worked out so well the company hired me to make a full length version of the song to play on the radio. THAT was tricky because the commercial had revolved around loving the number 17, which was the low (high?) interest rate payment option thing that the bank was offering. Yes, it was a commercial for a bank showcasing some 17% deal on.. interest rates? Which they felt was best exemplified by an catchy upbeat reggae song saying “17 is the number we love”. Now explain to me how you write a full length song around that? What exactly IS your lyrical approach?
Well, that’s what they paid me to figure out. The whole thing ended up working out very well and the work i did on occasion for this company is how i paid for my wife’s pregnancy and birth. (But alas the company’s gone now…)
The singer Minja and i became good friends. He’s a music producer like me and we can talk shop for hours.
Here is the track in question, vocals by Minja Boskovic:
You can check out Minja’s band Zemlja Gruva here.