Session Singing – Being One Voice

Female Session Singer

A few weeks ago, I put together a few people to sing on a virtual choir video for World Voice Day. The day before WVD, I released a sneak peek of the video but didn’t really talk about it that much. (I had a few other things on my mind.)

Putting the video together was a new undertaking for me, and one I almost abandoned because I didn’t think I’d have the time to do – plus people weren’t really responding to my requests for participation. Ultimately, I had enough people to do it (although I did wind up laying down my own vocal tracks for soprano 2 and alto 2 because I was a little shorthanded, and also doubled the root of the chord in both the tenor and 2nd soprano lines just because we were a little out of balance). I have to thank my friend, fellow voice teacher, Speakeasy member, and Zumba instructor, Talia Zoll, for advising me on how to do it. I almost paid her to do it for me but then I figured it out for myself.

I sent everyone tracks to use, as well as the music, and gave very specific instructions on how to do the self-tape. Specific enough that everyone got them right! Then I compiled the videos and stripped the audio from them (much easier than I expected) and put the individual tracks into GarageBand to create one track. Which was much easier than I expected until GarageBand crashed right before I was about to add the final track.  Tears and a couple of calls to Apple later, I got it to work. I had the audio. I had to do some tweaking – cut off notes held too long, extend notes not held long enough, do a little careful splicing if someone was a bit ahead of the beat, but I was pretty pleased with the end result. Now on to the video!

I used the free version of DaVinci Resolve to put the videos together. The hardest part was figuring out how to get people to pop up at different times as they came in, but once I figured that out (thank you, YouTube!), it went very quickly.

I’m very happy with the final product.

And the value of it, other than acknowledging World Voice Day (and learning a few new skills on my part), is that this is a great preparation for being a session singer, which is a pretty lucrative skill to have.

According to Berklee College of Music, being a session singer (or a backup singer or a studio singer) is a valuable skill that may lead to future success as a solo singer or as a career in and of itself.  It involves a very special skillset, including:

  • Sight-reading – you often have to come in, read through something a few times and lay down the tracks in a very short period of time (studio time is expensive!)
  • Vocal harmony – sometimes it’s not written out for you
  • Vocal improvisation – see above
  • Knowledge of and proficiency in broad musical styles – pop, musical theatre, country, etc.
  • Excellent ear for pitch, tone – can’t be out of tune! While autotune exists, it adds to studio time and studio time is expensive!
  • Versatility – see knowledge and proficiency of styles
  • Phrasing – no swooping (unless you’re asked for it)!
  • Vocal technique – you need to be able to manage your breath so that you don’t have to breathe in places where they don’t want you to breathe
  • Impeccable sense of rhythm and timing – you can’t take liberties with the rhythm, especially if you are singing with other people
  • Ability to take direction – the producer or vocal arranger might decide to change things up quickly, and you need to be able to adapt (see versatility)
  • Not being a diva – if you are egotistical or unpleasant or argumentative, you will not be asked back (and the word will get out)

Some people might think of this kind of work as unglamorous, and it might be unless (or even if) you travel on the road with big-name artists. In 2013, the movie Twenty Feet From Stardom came out to celebrate some of pop music’s often overlooked (but not unsung) heroes. Here’s the trailer from that – I think the full movie is available on Netflix (figures that Mick Jagger is in the thumbnail instead of any of the subjects of the movie).

Even if session singing does not lead to stardom, it is a way to make a living and it might be something to consider. Like a lot of music careers, it depends on where you are and who you know. There’s more opportunity for this kind of work in places like NYC, LA, or Nashville than there is in, oh, let’s say, Milwaukee, but if you keep your eyes open and establish a reputation, perhaps it’s a side hustle that you can consider pursuing. (Plus the skills will help you be even more valuable in whatever your main hustle is.)

Figure out what skills you have already and what you need. Do you need to up your game in the realm of sightsinging? Intonation? How are you going to do that? What can I do to help you with that?

If you sang in the video I made, thank you and you should be proud of your participation in the video. I certainly am. Consider this your first time doing studio singing; and ask yourself – if I had done this live, what would/should I have done differently?

I am considering doing a workshop on being a session singer this summer, so …. stay tuned!


Summer lessons will be available for registration this Thursday,
May 13.
The Summer Singers Society (ages 8-11) will also be announced this Thursday, so look for that as well.
The free Ave Maria webinar is still open for registration and will take place this Saturday, May 15.
If you’d like to schedule a free Ask Me Anything Call with Mezzoid Voice Studio before committing to lessons, please contact MVS here.


Published by Mezzoid Voice Studio

Christine Thomas-O'Meally, a mezzo soprano and voice teacher currently based in the Baltimore-DC area, has performed everything from the motets of J.S. Bach to the melodies of Irving Berlin to the minimalism of Philip Glass. As an opera singer and actress, she has appeared with companies such as Charm City Players, Spotlighters Theatre, Chicago Opera Theater, Opera Theater of Northern Virginia, Opera North, the Washington Savoyards, In Tandem Theatre, Windfall Theater, The Young Victorian Theater of Baltimore, and Skylight Opera Theatre. She created the role of The Woman in Red in Dominick Argento’s Dream of Valentino in its world premiere with the Washington Opera and Mary Pickersgill in O'er the Ramparts at its world premiere during the Bicentennial of Battle of Baltimore at the Community College of Baltimore County. Other roles include Mrs. Paroo in Music Man, Mother Abbess in Sound of Music, Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutte, Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro, both Hansel and the Witch in Hansel & Gretel, and many roles in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Her performance as the Housekeeper in Man of La Mancha was honored with a WATCH award nomination. Ms. Thomas-O'Meally received an M.M. in vocal performance from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She regularly attends master classes and workshops in both performance and vocal pedagogy, and is certified in all three Levels of Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method. Her students have performed on national and international tours of Broadway productions, at prestigious conservatories, and in regional theater throughout the country.

2 thoughts on “Session Singing – Being One Voice

  1. Thanks for another thought-provoking post, Christine! I have often thought I’d enjoy being a session singer: I’ve got good sight-reading skills, and think I can sing in different styles pretty effectively. I don’t suppose there’s too much of this work in the DMV area.

    1. I’m not sure, to tell you the truth. My only experience with it was when Denyce Graves’ first husband wrote a song called “Welcome Home Desert Storm” as an attempt to be the first Iraq war’s version of “God Bless the USA,” back in 1991, when I did Rigoletto with her. They used a bunch of opera singers, and what struck me was HOW BAD THEY WERE AT READING. We rehearsed for 30 minutes and then the producer said, “Okay, let’s lay it down,” and everyone freaked out! I was used to that kind of thing from church jobs. And I wound up singing Soprano 2 because almost all the women there were mezzos. it wasn’t that high, so it was no big deal. We didn’t get paid anything and it never seemed to go anywhere, that I know of. But everyone else was used to working on roles with coaches, and this kind of format really threw people for a loop.

What do you think?

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