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That time the singing talent didn't show up



Once upon a time, I had to compose a piece of music in the style-vibe of "Money for Nothing" by Dire Straights. The client was a large national chain back in the day. Composing the music and making it sound similar in style to Money for Nothing was the easy part. Getting the lyrics to work in this style was a bit of a challenge. Getting the right vocal talent was a challenge. I typically don't sing on my work. I keep my singing to the shower unless all else fails. In this case, all else failed.


Being the responsible, professional that I am, I had lined up a talented male vocalist to sing on this track. I had prerecorded all the music in my studio and then headed out to a bigger and more expensive "recording studio" for the vocal talent recording. Everything was lined up, me, talent, session, studio time, client, and ad agency. Good to go.


The big day comes, and my team has prepped the lyrics, music, and Pro Tools session. The session was an evening session, I believe around 7. I was there at 5:30 to ensure everything was good to go. I expected the singing talent to show up around 6:15 so we could review the material, direction, etc. 6 'o clock rolls around, no talent...remember what I said in a prior blog post about if your not 10 minutes early, your 10 minutes late. 1st red flag. 6:15 rolls around and no talent. 2nd red flag. I am starting to get a little "annoyed", I really wanted the talent there for 6:15 BEFORE the client and agency showed up. I called the talent and got voicemail (answering machine!). It's ok I told myself perhaps they are stuck in traffic. 6:30....no singing talent. Last red flag. The client and agency start rolling in.


Lots of smiles, meet and greets, oooh and ahhs of the first time being in a big studio, etc. I am having my assistant frantically try to track down the vocal talent. No luck. The engineer is getting the session up and ready and keeps looking at me as if to say "where's your boy"?. I am still talking with the client and agency and it's 6:50....no talent! I start to realize I am going to have to sing this frigging piece of music. Did I say I don't consider myself a singer and I don't sing on my work? Further, this song, like Money for Nothing has the low Mark vox and the high Sting vox styled parts and harmony arrangement. Now I am really pissed, plus I had already had 4 cups of coffee so not good for singing! I am going to wring this guy's neck if he shows up.


6:55...the engineer asks if I am ready with a sarcastic smile. At this point, I am hosed. I have to sing....on a national client music project...heard by God knows how many people...in front of the client and agency, and did I say, I am not a singer? I am also very pissed off and not in the mental frame of mind to sing...and sing well.


7:00 show time. Much to everyone's surprise...including mine, I step into the vocal booth and start laying drown the vocal tracks. First the low parts, then double, then the high parts...double, then the harmonies, yup, double. By 8:00 the track was finished and the client was thrilled. I was happy they were happy and relieved to just be done. Especially with the client not knowing I wasn't the planned talent! I was so pissed off at being screwed over with the vocal talent, I really didn't think about vocal until we started mixing it and you know what? It wasn't half bad. I had no intention or delusion of hanging out a shingle promoting my vocal chops, but the client was happy, the agency was happy, the vocals were in tune and worked, and thus I was happy. But why am I sharing this?


Well...there are two lessons from the story...maybe three. The most important one is if you are lucky enough to be a working musician and get booked for a gig, especially a well-paying national gig, SHOW UP in general and show up on time! I can assure you I have never hired that person again. In fact, I never heard from them again. Not sorry got in an accident, my calendar was jacked up, etc. Nothing. Just simply vanished into the dustbin of shitty talent.


The second lesson is you never know when you are going to be asked to do something you have never done before or rarely do or maybe you are not proficient at. I have sung background vocals on pop songs, background vocals on Jingles, etc. but I typically restrict my "real" signing to the demo so the vocalist...the professional vocalist, knows what I am looking for. But in this case, I had to step up...big time. So it's a good idea to maybe polish your vocal skills or other "secondary" skills. You never know when they may come in handy.


Lastly, I think the third most popular lesson goes back to being a professional. Our industry is small. The expectation and demand of quality are given, and your ability to deliver on time, on budget, and on target is one of your superpowers...assuming you can do that. If you can't, well you have some work to do. But being a professional is in some cases even more important than talent. Like our vocalist, the one that never showed up...lots of people are talented..very talented, but not everyone is a professional. Be a professional and show up. People know the difference.


I am pretty sure I still have a DAT Tape of the master of the music somewhere in my vault of music from yesteryear. It might be fun to find it and listen but then again, maybe not. I will leave you this, like the Scout's oath says, "always be prepared".


- DF

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