Help me figure out how to look for singers!

April 29, 2009 6:32 PM

I want to get perspective from anyone who's recorded and produced an album with local artists.

My ultimate goal is to produce a disco/pop funk album. Think Jamiroquai-ish grooves with insane live basslines and orchestrated string runs, and the like. I can write all the music, play all the instruments, record and mix everything, and I have access to a great local studio, all the gear I could ever want. My weakness is that I can't sing for shit. So if I want my songs to have lyrics (and I do) I need to team up with a really good vocalist.

I'm in the Champaign-Urbana IL area, and there are tons of indie rock-type singers looking to start bands, but I'm looking for more of a soulful pop singer, and not really a band. I don't even know where to start looking. University music department? How does a townie even get access to that world?

Further, should I be setting my sights lower at first, like offering to produce demos for local singers, and seeing where that leads? I don't know quite how to approach the singer / producer roles -- am I hiring a session singer, or is a vocalist hiring a musician? Or is it best as a 50/50 collaboration, an "act" if not a band?

I'm almost ashamed to admit that while I make a living as a videogame musician and have been writing music for a quarter of a century, I am COMPLETELY baffled and frustrated by the whole "producing albums with real artists" thing. Grateful for any insight.
posted by jake (8 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

I should add that I'm not opposed to online collaborations, but it does complicate things and remove a lot of opportunities for spontaneous studio magic to occur, and synergy to form, and all that stuff. Though there is the novelty factor if we manage to do a totally badass album over emails and stuff.
posted by jake at 6:39 PM on April 29, 2009

I can write all the music, play all the instruments, record and mix everything...

Hey, are you The Artist Formerly Known as jake?!

But seriously... are there any publications in your area with classifieds? I'm thinking community papers, arts weeklies, that sort of thing, that might have a "musicians wanted" category. If so, I'd try putting up some classifieds that say something like "Music producer/multi-instrumentalist seeks soulful singer for disco/pop funk recording project. Indie production, no big budget, but room for creativity/collaboration".

Printing up some posters with a similar message for tacking up on bulletin boards at the university music department might not be a bad idea as well.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:31 PM on April 29, 2009

As for getting into the college music scene, maype put up fliers in music departments? Or go to open mics, small-time performances, or recitals and see if you find anybody that's right.
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:49 AM on April 30, 2009

Hey, are you The Artist Formerly Known as jake?!

See, if I could sing worth a damn and were not a fat Jewish dork, I'd be totally set. Prince is amazing because he can be his own frontman. I'm resolved to a life as a producer, just gotta find people to produce.

But yeah, I'm starting to think college bulletin boards are the way to go. Maybe classifieds in the local paper, and on local sites. I kinda have to make it known that I'm looking, and I have a feeling people who know people who know people will surface. That's how it usually works with things.

Just never applied my networking skills to this particular problem domain, so I'm not sure if there's a "way it's usually done" or what. Thanks for the tips so far, guys. I'll thank you in my liner notes if they ever come to pass.
posted by jake at 11:34 AM on April 30, 2009

But yeah, I'm starting to think college bulletin boards are the way to go.

Specifically go for the bulletin boards in buildings where musicians will be hanging out. There are tons of flyers in the quad, but most people are just going to walk past those. Also, specifically for the Champaign-Urbana area, you might want to check out this forum.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:44 PM on April 30, 2009

Are you totally sure you "can't sing for shit"? Hope none of what follows sounds patronising - not intended to be at all.

Thing is that you're not really in a position to judge. If you mean you can't hold a tune, that's clearly a problem. But if you just don't like the sound of your own voice, well that's quite another. Everyone has a "favourite" singer, I suppose, and if you don't sound like them, you think you're crap. You're in good company - lots of singers can't stand listening to themselves - John Lennon was well known for it. I don't like the sound of my voice - I f*cking hate singing - but some people, amazingly, do like it. And I genuinely am amazed because I'm basically a guitarist who can write melodies, and singing is about the last thing I'd put on my musical CV. And I only started singing because I had no-one else to do it. This is the kind of situation that brings forth originality though. See - you don't want to sound like Jamiroquai because there's already one of him around (and he sounds remarkably like Stevie Wonder to my ears anyway). So, my man - go for it!! You might just come up with a sound that's fresh and different........
posted by MajorDundee at 1:16 PM on May 10, 2009

Thanks for the encouragement, Major, it was anything but patronizing; it's healthy to have perspective. I've actually done the same thought exercise, and it's easy to conclude I'm just being hard on myself. I can so confidently adapt my musicality to other styles that having such an inflexible, distinctive, untrained voice makes me cringe.

I have good pitch sense and am useful in a Barbershop quartet or a choir, or as a backup singer. But the tone, the essential character, is pretty thin and nasally. And since I have no training, my enunciation and intonation blow.

You can hear what I'm talking about here. I tried to take vocal lessons after that, but eh. Singing just isn't my forte. I'd much rather find someone else who makes it seem effortless, takes passion in it, and has a strongly developed style than try to force my own voice to do something it can't.
posted by jake at 1:42 PM on May 12, 2009

Update: God damn it.
I broke down, first vocal lesson is next Monday.

Music will be made, whether I do temp vocals and continue searching for a singer, or get good enough to do everything myself. I'm banking on the former, but time will tell. Thanks for the advice, everyone!
posted by jake at 11:36 AM on May 19, 2009

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