5 tips for online session musicians, vocalists, and audio engineers

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Online recording sessionsEarning income through online recording sessions

[This article was written by guest contributor David Blacker from AirGigs.com.]

From Les Paul’s early experiments with Mary Ford, on down through iconic albums like Exile on Main Street and modern classics like Beck’s Odelay, great recording projects often move through different spaces, places and hands. And as recording technology and online connectivity have become more accessible, the trend is only increasing. Doing online recording sessions is fast emerging as a vehicle for business-savvy musicians to earn extra income.

With online sessions, clients get the talent, the engineer and the studio all rolled up in one, and, the talent pool is not restricted by location. So while it will never replace the magic that happens when musicians interact in a live setting, it does open up new music production possibilities for artists, and new streams of income for session players and engineers. Managing a site like AirGigs gives us a unique bird’s eye view into what makes a great online collaboration. So we’ve put together our 5 top tips on what it takes to be successful doing online recording, mixing and mastering sessions for hire.

1) Communication

Communication is perhaps the most critical factor when working with new clients online. Because your potential client base is global, you have to be prepared to overcome the language barrier at times. Communicating musical ideas and direction can be tricky even when you speak the same language, so before taking on a project you really have to spend time understanding what the artist is looking for. Presenting a quick rough (mp3 or watermarked) sketch of your vocal, instrumental part, mix, master, etc, for pre-approval before the client books the session will save you a ton of time and revision work down the road.

2) Setting fixed terms

Because you’re working at a distance, and with people you’ve likely never met, setting fixed terms is essential. This establishes a clear framework to work within, and avoids potential conflicts and misunderstandings. You need to be specific about things like: how many revisions and takes you are willing to provide; whether you will be delivering a mono file, stereo mix or a multi-track session; what is the maximum song length you’re willing to work with; do you offer a money back guarantee or not; and will your tracks be delivered dry or with effects.

If you’re a mixing engineer it’s good to be specific about how many tracks you’re prepared to mix for a given price, how you want files prepared and delivered to you, and which DAW session files you prefer to work with. Mastering engineers may want to specify things like acceptable file formats, maximum number of songs and whether they work from stems or just stereo mixes. Lastly you want to establish a specific delivery date for the completed work.

3) Interpreting the vision

The best session players are highly skilled at being able to intuit an artist’s vision for a specific part, or the song as a whole. They are used to fielding right-brained ‘artist speak’ requests like “I want to hear more BROWN in that bass…” or “it needs to sound more ROUND…” When working with new people it’s always wise to request a short playlist of popular songs that approximate the vibe of what they are looking for. Have them provide specific notes on what they like most about the production, performance and tone. Taking the time to get in tune with the artist’s vision will pave the way for the smoothest possible collaboration. There’s a real art to being a great sideman and session player, and it comes out of a commitment to the song and the artist’s vision, rather than just wanting to shine or do your own specific thing.

4) Marketing your strengths

If the bulk of your experience lies within a specific genre, then you’re going to want to appeal to artists seeking talent in that genre. It’s much easier when you have a language and set of references in common. If you’re heavy into a specific approach, like analog recording for instance, than that’s going to appeal to specific artists. You want to tell your story both in the form of your past work clients can listen to, and a really compelling description of what makes you unique, and how you can help take their track to the next level. Lastly, don’t be afraid to turn down a project if it’s something you don’t feel confident about. Recommending a friend or colleague is a great way to build relationships, and your reputation as an artist and service provider will only be strengthened.

5) Documenting communication

With any creative project you always have the potential for a dispute or disagreement. That’s why it’s a good practice to document client communication. Even if you discuss aspects of the project by phone, follow up with an email covering the main points and ask the client to confirm the understanding, so that you don’t find yourself somewhere down the line overextended and all mixed up. If you’ve followed all the steps above, you’re unlikely to have issues, but there are always times when a client will suddenly change the scope of a project on you. And if you have a clear paper trail, you can easily avoid confusion over what the job covers.

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BioDavid Blacker is a musician, multimedia producer and co-founder of AirGigs and Blacker Music Productions. His credits for original composition and production include projects for companies such as Dewars, Virgin Media, Fuse Network, Rounder Records, Starbucks, Carroll Music NYC, Truefire, QVC and more. He is passionate about American Roots music, music production and creating new opportunities for artists and musicians.

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  • Always look to build long-term relationships as they pay dividends over time. Occasionally, if there is an disagreement between you and a client, you are better off making a small loss in order to keep the relationship going forward. It will pay off in the future.

  • Awesome post! Putting everything in writing is key! And I recommend that you at least charge 50% up front or something. Serious clients have no problem with that.