Teaming up with a new producer for the first time can be a daunting experience for any vocalist, with lots of potential pitfalls. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to give you some advice on how to get ready for your next studio session.
Be clear on your objectives and be prepared
Make sure your collaborator knows exactly what you’re expecting to get out of the session. Send them any stems or reference tracks that you need for the session in advance and let them know if you have any specific requests with regards to equipment. Having a clear outline of what you want to achieve in the session will ensure that there’s no confusion — and, if you’re paying for their services, will also ensure that you get what you agreed to pay for.
Time in the studio is valuable both in terms of the financial cost and in terms of taking up your own precious creative time. Do as much as possible to hit the ground running so you can squeeze every last minute of productive time when you’re there. Make sure you have your lyrics printed out as a backup (dead phone batteries and awkwardly placed plug sockets are not helpful!) and that you have a backup of any music you need for the session in addition to having sent it to your collaborator in advance. Practice anything you are going to be doing on the day as much as possible before you get there.
Do your homework
If your collaborator isn’t someone whose music you already know intimately, make sure you do your research and get to know their sound and style. You don’t want any big surprises when you arrive and find out you actually don’t have much in common. Hopefully, you’ll already be well aligned with anyone you choose to collab with, but it can’t hurt to do some extra digging and really try and get under the skin of what they do.
If they don’t have much music online, ask them to send you some recent projects or other collaborations they have produced with vocalists so you can get a better grip on what they do. It might help spark some ideas.
Agree on writing credits
Make sure your producer is clear on the writing arrangement you’re looking for before you get to the studio.
If you’re asking someone to simply record and mix your performances, it’s likely you’ll pay them a fee for their time. If their involvement runs deeper and they are helping you tweak songs to the extent that they are producing full musical compositions to go with your vocals, or they perform an instrument on the recording or help you with writing lyrics, then a writer’s credit will probably be appropriate.
Of course, the nature of this collaboration may change as time goes on and over repeat sessions, but it’s worth discussing up top what you’re looking for. You can always renegotiate later if they become more intrinsic to the track’s creation.
Take your time
Although deadlines can breed creativity, make sure you have a long enough session booked in to give you enough time to work comfortably in. A rushed session with little time for retakes and warmups is unlikely to yield the best results, and if and when that creative flow starts gushing, you don’t want to have to end abruptly.
You should also make sure you take your time getting comfortable to perform. Make sure you are familiar with the equipment you’re using, the general set up, that the mic is at the right height, that you’ve got enough volume in your headphones, and that you have a clear idea of what you need to do when the producer hits that record button.
Don’t turn up late — it’s unprofessional and will get the session off on the wrong foot. No-one needs that negative energy at the start of a creative meet-up. And don’t freak out if you don’t manage to complete everything in the allotted time slot. It’s better to take your time over things than rush.
A great way to kick off a session is to listen to music that you and/or your producer love to get those creative juices flowing. As well as giving you inspiration, it gives you a chance to talk and compare notes before getting down to business.
There are countless tales of seminal records being created after a producer and an artist took the time to listen to music they love together in the studio.
“I remember playing Ray Charles’ ‘You Don’t Love Me Anymore’ in a completely dark control room. Having played that, Sade jumped up and flipped out the cassette and put on Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘Pieces of a Man’. We spent three hours listening and then we put on Marvin Gaye’s ‘Trouble Man’. Then, we put on ‘Strange Fruit’ by Billie Holiday. Then, we listened to half of a Nina Simone album. All the way through making the record we would play tracks to put us in a certain frame of mind.”
Warm-up your voice
This is an obvious one but make sure you get your vocal cords limbered up for the session ahead. Do your exercises, get your honey and lemon or throat lozenges down you and make sure you’re ready to go as soon as your producer hits that record button. Ideally, do this before the session starts if you can. There are few vocalists who wouldn’t benefit from a good warmup.
Collaborations can be an awkward social interaction at times, particularly with people you haven’t worked with before. But just remember that it’s crucial, to be honest, both with your collaborators and with yourself.
Was that the best take you can do?
Is something not sitting right with the production?
Are they trying to push your track in a direction you don’t want to take it?
Make sure you are on board with whatever is happening and that the communication between you and your producer is clear and transparent.
…but be receptive
While being confident in stating your opinion is important, it’s also wise to stay open to suggestions. You can always go back to your original idea, but sometimes you don’t know how something will feel or sound until you try it. So don’t close yourself off to new ideas and directions.
Any collaboration you doing should make you feel comfortable and happy. If after all of this you’re not feeling a connection with your new producer, don’t stick with them. Creativity is a fragile sort of magic, and you need to make sure you surround yourself with the sort of collaborators who will make you feel positive about the process.