Easing the process by which music producers acquire vocal toplines means recognising the obstacles which can slow (or even prevent) them receiving their desired outcome – a vocal that meets what they have envisaged in their minds.
One of these obstacles is in getting the vocalist/topline writer to take on or, more frustratingly, see a project through.
Producers often report vocalists they have engaged on a project going AWOL somewhere between agreeing to take it on and actually delivering. This usually seems to happen at the final hurdle, once the producer has already heard and approved the vocalists idea for the track. Or, even more last minute, once the track is finished but before agreed contracts have been put in place.
I’m sure most of you have experienced the disappointment and inconvenience this causes. But have you asked yourself, during the creative transaction, what’s in it for the vocalist?
Ensuring that those you are working with are incentivised, to the best of your ability, can only help deliver better results for you.
So with each approach you make to potential vocalists, here’s a short list of the incentives you may want to consider offering. Which of these are right for your circumstances will be dictated somewhat by the type of artist you choose to work with.
You may be happy to offer a reasonable share of both performing and mechanical royalties, but can you guarantee that the record will be exposed enough (either through performances, plays or sales) to make this worth their while? Vocalists (especially those who are not predominantly songwriters) often find it hard to see the benefits of this intangible and delayed form of commission.
Are you making an upfront payment to the vocalist/topline writer for their time in writing or recording a demo? For their time arranging the full topline for you? For their time rehearsing vocals? For their time recording the vocals? For their studio or engineer costs (if working remotely)? Travel to the studio?
There are many ‘hidden’ costs involved in the writing and recording process for vocalists. Payment for all/any of these are often reserved for the few, elite writers and artists only. However, just because your chosen vocalist isn’t known by name to you, don’t assume they don’t have better paid or higher profile work elsewhere – most established session singers worth their salt will.
Will you credit the featured artist by name on the project? For full toplines and distinctive hooks in particular, make no mistake that the vocalist/topline writer’s contribution to the track is as great as the producers.
Is there the possibility you will use the vocalist for your future live performances and DJ sets? What about if a music promo video is made for the record? Will they be paid for these appearances? Or will you be employing a different artist for these engagements?
Is the vocalist/topline writer already active in the genre in which you are working? Is this collaboration going to help them advance their standing in this scene? Gain them relevant exposure? Are they passionate about your genre/style? If the answers to the above are no, they may see this project as simply a commissionable gig for them (perhaps one of many).
Have you heard much of the topline writer’s previous work? Are they familiar with the style of writing required of this genre? Have you briefed them and provided guidance on structure, requirements, lyrics, arrangement etc? You don’t want your collaborator to end up feeling out of their depth or disheartened.
Have you liaised clearly and regularly throughout the collaborative (and administrative) process? Have you gotten to know, and built a trusting working relationship, with the vocalist? Feeling included and valued, with visibility over how the project is progressing, is key to your collaborator remaining invested.
The vocalist/topline writer you wish to work with may already have a busy schedule of paid work, plus their own creative passion projects – don’t just assume that they’re going to appreciate the ‘exposure’ you are providing them.
And don’t devalue their art. If they’re good enough for you to collaborate with, they’re good enough to be remunerated, even if you can’t yet do that in cash.