Renowned session singer and author Jaime Babbitt shares insights from the not too distant past.
Okaaaay, that was an exaggeration but still, back in my day, singers used to have to walk through the snow to their sessions, sometimes 10 miles, uphill, both ways…
Yeah…no. Not really. But things were different for us, sometimes easier, sometimes harder; you can be the judge.
Wanna hear about it? No? Too bad, I’m telling you anyway! Don’t disrespect your elders!
1. Singers had to be precise with pitch and time
What? No Auto-Tune? Melodyne? No ProTools to cut and paste vocals that were rhythmically incorrect? It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.
The best, because all the mistakes you made helped you become really good at singing.
The worst, because it sometimes took a really long time to understand that you get really good at singing by making mistakes. Lots of them.
Especially in the studio. When time is money. And people are snickering. Or condescending.
2. Singers had lots to overcome because becoming a singer wasn’t seen as an acceptable career choice
naturally, parents weren’t always very supportive of their singer kiddos. Mine were great…and in the audience every chance they got. Not everyone was so lucky back then, especially guys (parents put more expectations on them then, and probably now too, right?).
Some families would even forbid kids to pursue singing as anything but a hobby, and I’m sure that still happens. However, now there are high schools and university degrees offering specialized training, TV shows that reward great vocalists, and that certainly put becoming a professional singer in a different light.
So, you guys starting out now have it easier on that front – except, there’s more competition now, so you’d better get your act together!
3. Singers had more time to think in the studio because scrolling back took longer
Bet you young’uns never thought about that, eh? Well, it’s true. Show of hands: who has sung to tape in a studio? If you have, you know the engineer had to rewind the tape back to the cue point.
That gave singers time to collect their musical thoughts, which came in handy when you wanted to shake off a few crappy takes, sing a hard-to-hear note to yourself or solidify a difficult vocal melody in your mind’s ear.
With today’s digital wizardry, it’s a nano-second—a push of a button and voila, back to the cue point.
So you guys need to be ready to sing pronto, over and over—but that’s cool because you can’t miss what you didn’t really know about, dig?
4. Singers didn’t worry as much about vices because…peer pressure, ignorance, etc.
Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em—ah, didn’t we all? And what was better than sipping from a nice flask of blackberry brandy after (or before) a 3-hour rock and roll gig? Yum! And let’s not even bring up the stuff I’m not gonna bring up, yaknowwhatimsayin?
Those were the days, my friend, but I’ve been around that block many times and finally found a parking spot. Since I don’t have an addictive personality (and since my second rock band as a teen was led by my dear friend who had already been through rehab and insisted on a “clean” band), I didn’t indulge much.
But trust me, many did…and still do. I’m not your mom but I can tell you: if you’re serious about being a great vocalist, be great to your instrument. It will reward yoU – greatly.
5. Singers weren’t instantly captured on YouTube, phone videos, Instagram, etc.
So that meant way less scrutiny. Well, you’d scrutinize yourself and all the horrible notes you hit, but as for your performances, unless they were taped from the sound board (which sounded like crapola because instruments amplified from the stage like guitar, bass, were nowhere to be heard) or filmed by a professional-type outfit or proud parent, (thank you, wow, 90’s hair was really something, killmenowkthxbye), you had nothing but your memory to go on.
Of course, you’d have the accolades/critiques of the audience but did they love you to pieces and want you to feel good? Did they have more than their share of blackberry brandy?
Back then we took gig reviews from others with a grain of salt. Now, not so much. Sure, everyone’s got an opinion but bad rhythm/pitch/tone quality is, let’s say it together – bad. And when it’s on tape for you to view over and over…oof.
But, guess what? What doesn’t kill you makes you have better rhythm/pitch/tone quality! So, you have a tool that we old folks didn’t have – please use it!