Getting Your First Pro Gig—5 Rules for Playing with The Big Kids

Session singer
You’re the newbie among those who’ve been around the block a few times? Never fear – says Jamie Babbitt.

You got the call! Congrats! You’re singing backup for a high-profile artist, or doing your first jingle session, or entertaining as the lead vocalist in a party band.

Hey, whatever you’re doing, you’re doing something right! Here are some pointers for you.

1. Be punctual, pleasant and purposeful

Plan accordingly. Get wardrobe and makeup together the day before. You have a 12-noon start/call time? Get up at 8am, eat, shower, work out (if possible), and leave enough time so you’re there 30 minutes early. Yes, you heard me.

Greet everyone warmly, whatever that means for you: hugs, handshakes, etc. Remember peoples’ names; this is SUPER IMPORTANT.

Visit the rest room before starting. Bring your water with you. Set mic stand, lyrics, headphone mixer, etc.  Remove jingly jewelry and uncomfortable earrings (you’re welcome).

2. Take direction like a champ 

In the studio, check the mic level for as long as the producer/engineer asks you to. Know where you’re standing and don’t vary too much.

Sing louder, lower, with more grit, more ‘sparkle’, less spit…do your best to interpret what’s being said to you but don’t play the “I’m an idiot if I don’t understand them!” game. You aren’t an idiot. I once was told to “sing it more…pink!” So, I sang it happy, young and buoyantly.

If you’re in a live situation, watch the bandleader, artist or BGV section leader like a hawk. Smile more, move less, back off, blend better, introduce the bride and groom–whatever is needed. You’re serving a greater good and you can still be great.

3. Accept your position with humility

You may be new, but you’re on the gig, so own that. Be respectful and do your best to earn respect from the others and that means be a nice person and sing your butt off.

When you’re the newbie, it feels like you’re a little golden retriever puppy standing among a pride of lions.

Keep breathing deeply; lots of good happens during deep breaths. When you’re the newbie, it feels like you’re a little golden retriever puppy standing among a pride of lions. You aren’t a puppy and they aren’t lions. You’re you, exactly where everyone else in that studio/concert arena/bar mitzvah reception hall has been.

Do you tell ‘em it’s your first time? Maybe…I have. And some folks, if not all, will be lovely to you. Maybe you’ll have a not-so-lovely person there; I did, once. However, they taught me a huge lesson about singing that I carry with me to this day (that’s another article!)

4. Stay cool no matter what 

Are there technical difficulties? Do you have a headache? Is the drummer keeping crappy time? Did a hailstorm hit and blow the power? Are you forgetting lyrics?

Remember: this kind of stuff happens all the time, to the best of us. So, listen here: only concern yourself with the things that are in your control. Recite the serenity prayer (Go look that up. You’re welcome!)

Headache? That’s you. Take something. Hailstorm? Not so much. Drummer? Also, not so much, and as a newbie, I wouldn’t go to the bandleader or say anything. Let someone else do that; if it’s that bad, trust me, they will.

Lyrics? ALL YOU. Make sure you have a notebook/iPad/tablet if you need it. See? That just cut your worrying in half!

5. Be gracious and grateful 

This is perhaps the most important rule because grace and gratitude go a loooong way, both in life and when people are deciding whom to hire again.

Grace is: accepting a compliment from a colleague or superior with a “thank you”, not with a contradiction or deflection (“Oh, noooo, really?”), laughing at yourself even if you make a boo-boo, complimenting others or thanking them for any helpful tips they gave you, not having a potty-mouth (well, at least until you know people!), not gossiping about anyone at all ever not even if someone gives you lots of chocolate or money.

musical colleagues

And we all know what gratitude looks like: saying thanks for the gig and maybe following up several weeks later with an email or text to the appropriate person/people, speaking highly of the folks on the gig to others and recommending them if possible, giving positive reviews or shout-outs on social media…you get it.

And guess what? Now you’re not a newbie anymore! Congrats! And pay it forward to other newbies when you’re ready…kapish?

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