Collaborate and Listen Part I: Guest Vocals

Hey there! Welcome to the first of a three part series on how musicians can/do use collaboration to their advantage. This first post I’ll be focusing on collaboration in the context of individual songs. In other words, when two or more musicians are featured on the same track.

It goes without saying that musicians try their best to reach bigger audiences. Many different techniques have been employed, one of the more exciting ones being collaboration. When I get a new album, if I see a song that says, “Feat. ____,” that’s one of the first ones I want to listen to. Even if I don’t know who the featured guest is, I’m always excited to see how two musicians will work with each other. Also, I expect that track to bring something different than the others, seeing as how there is an additional member with additional inspirations.

So what are the significant advantages of having guest musicians?

  1. Two or more musicians means two or more fan bases tuning in to the same song: It’s a simple concept, the more contributing artists, the more receptive fans. When Justin Timberlake collaborated with Madonna in 2008 in “4 Minutes” it is likely that a lot of Madonna fans and a lot of JT fans listened to it. Maybe JT got some old school Madonna fans, and maybe “4 Minutes” was what was needed for Madonna to receive some younger fans. The same goes for any collaboration. Who you work with will increase the likelihood of you gaining some of their fans.
  2. It’s a good way to get discovered: This follows along the same lines as 1, but if you aren’t well known yet, and you get a reputable singer on a track of yours, it can help you out a lot. One of the immediate examples that comes to mind hails from the world of post-hardcore. Australian natives Hands Like Houses got not one, but two powerhouse vocalists to feature in their song “Lion Skin”. Jonny Craig (ex Emarosa and Dance Gavin Dance) and Tyler Carter (Issues and ex Woe, is Me) laid down some vocals on the track. When I Google search “Jonny Craig and Tyler Carter” that song is the first thing that pops up. Thus, I discovered a new found affection for Hands Like Houses. They aren’t the sole case either. It doesn’t take but a short search on the internet to find the plethora of collaborations that have occurred between newcomers and respected stars.
  3. It encourages competition and growth of identity: If you’re singing side by side with someone who’s got some skills, you won’t want to slack off and write something good enough to get by. When Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy had Elton John sing along side him on his new album’s track “Save Rock and Roll”, you can bet he sang his lungs out to keep up. Aside from trying to be your best, it also forces you to figure out what your musical identity sounds like. Someone like Elton John knows how to make a record, and while Fall Out Boy have been around for a little over a decade, you can bet Patrick Stump was tailoring his own musical persona when he was on the same track as Elton John.

K. Thor Jensen from Ugo, who calls the guest vocal one of the most powerful tools for a pop star, states “…by recruiting a performer who can lend your track their own little something something, the resulting whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

In a time where it is so easy to share music, collaborating on singles is a relatively easy way to quickly increase who is listening to your music. Of the three different collaborative means I will be discussing, this one lends itself most directly and fluidly to increasing a musician’s audience. Even if you hate the guest vocalist, if you love the other musician you will still probably listen to the song. It is nearly impossible to avoid hearing one half of the musicianship in a collaboration.

While it may be fun to pair up with another vocalist, it is also beneficial. On the Billboard Top 100 singles, 34 of them feature guest vocalists. That’s over a third of the biggest singles that are collaborative efforts. There is some undeniable truth that working with other musical artists is a successful way to promote. And guest vocals is only a little piece of the collaborative pie.

Thanks for reading.


2 thoughts on “Collaborate and Listen Part I: Guest Vocals

  1. We’ll be discussing in class how lists can be a problem because they fall in to the advice trap (“Hear my brilliance” and so forth), but you use a strategy I’ll be suggesting: Each post includes evidence/source/illustration from elsewhere via a link. That makes it bigger than you, and that’s what we’re looking for.

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