[Originally published on SoundBetter on 2/25/15]
If you’re considering hiring a lead vocalist for your most recent killer song, might I suggest you contact them to find out their preferred key (or keys) for your song, before you have the instrumental track recorded. In other words, have the singer “key” your song first. That can save you a lot of time, trouble and money later on.
Yes, session singers can often boast a wide vocal range. But every note of that range is not created equal; different parts of it have different color, different tone, different texture. Every good singer, who truly knows his or her voice, can attest to that. If you want a relaxed effortless feel, you wouldn’t want your singer to hover at the very top of their range. And vice versa, if you’re looking for power, angst, edge, you wouldn’t want to place your song in a low key where those qualities simply don’t physically live.
This is especially important if you’re a male songwriter writing a female song (or the other way around). Do not assume that the female singer can just sing an octave above the male singer, unfortunately it doesn’t work that way – unless the female sings very high or the male extremely low. Usually the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle, and if you get your song keyed in advance, perhaps you might be able to record a track in such a key that works for both genders.
This is a big deal, trust me. As a session female vocalist, many times I have had to turn away otherwise great projects, simply because the track was recorded in a key unsuitable for a female register. Do yourself a favor and have your singer “key” your song for you. Most professional singers do not mind doing that bit of advance work and do not charge extra for it. While it does take them some time to listen to your song and analyze it, in order to give you their best key, that scenario is usually preferable to dealing with a “wrong” key later. Of course, you in return would also have to be conscientious and serious about hiring this singer for the project, if you ask them to do this extra advance work for you.
So – tune that guitar, finesse that melody, polish those lyrics – and key your song well!