So you want to become a singer? Well, let me tell you now, it’s not an easy ride. We’re talking about going through a whole lifestyle revamp just for your career, you might even be living on a very VERY small income and making huge sacrifices just for your art. Still interested? Read on!
This is the first part in a 5 part blog series covering the ins and outs of being a professional singer. I’m not talking about becoming a famous singer, although that could always happen! Instead I’m going to be focusing on other avenues in your singing career rather than this being a ‘how to be a pop star” blog post.
Gigs and career
As a singer you will be lucky enough to have such a range of diverse options throughout your career. For an outsider they might presume singers can only have one type of gig, but in fact there are many different avenues for revenue. Obviously, gigs will be an integral part of your career, but you don’t have to be in the spotlight for every gig.
The definition of a gig is:
“Gig is slang for a musical engagement hired. Originally coined in the 1920s by jazz musicians, the term, short for the word “engagement”, now refers to any aspect of performing such as assisting with performance and attending musical performance” Taken from Wikipedia
So in essence, it’s basically any kind of hired musical job that involves performance. As for not being in the spotlight, gig types could include being part of a choir, band, vocal harmony group or even a backing singer. Of course however, there’s always the solo gig with backing tracks, popular among local establishments but hated by other musicians. Backing track gigs are frowned upon so much by the musician community as it is seen as deterring away from live music and putting real playing musicians out of pocket. (I will probably write a blog post about this issue at some point).
If your goal is to make a full time income through singing then you might need to establish yourself in a host of different groups or “musical projects” to earn a decent living. A lot of singers make their living as part of choirs, a couple of different bands and of course the good old backing track gigs. This is a great way of adding more income as you may need to rely on the availability of people within these groups. Sometimes those people might not be available for certain dates whether they are doing music part time or just in another band, which is why it is always good to have a couple of different projects going at the same time. If you stick with one function band but the guitarist is always unavailable because they have to work nights on Saturdays then you’re in for a problem if you want singing to be your career.
Once established as part of a group, or if you’re going solo, the next step is to get some promotional material together. This can be in the form of photos, MP3s and of course videos. Making your promo material look like you are an interesting performer and can captivate an audience is always a plus, so try and get a very high quality live performance show reels if possible.
With a fantastic promotional pack you can start finding and applying for gigs. There are many many gigs available for singers including parties, weddings, pubs, clubs barmitsvahs and even house concert. Gigs can happen outside or inside, at hotels, festivals, holiday parks, restaurants… you get the idea.
You could decide to go on tour with your group, which could be very lucrative but also challenging if people have families or jobs back at home. I know a couple of singers who go on tour for a couple of months around the UK doing tribute shows like ABBA, dirty dancing and Motown evenings. If you are going to do these kind of gigs then you need to make sure you have a well polished show as these evenings are more likely to have the audience seated.
If touring sounds appealing to you then you might like to consider being a backing vocalst for an artist. These tours are mostly larger and longer, and you could end up being in a different country every other day! The work wouldn’t just stop at live stage performances as artist’s are normally required to do special promotional performances during the days too.
If you are lucky enough to look like a certain famous singer, from both past and present, then you may be able to create a tribute to that artist. Please remember that you must look AND sound like the artist, trying to create an authentic representation of the person you are impersonating. I’ve seen many terrible Elvis impersonators, and only a handful of absolutely amazing tribute artists.
If you’re adamant on travelling gigging around the world the gigs abroad may be your call. There is lots of work outside of the UK, via cruise ships and also holiday resorts. Of course, these might be “season only” based, but the majority of work for seasons is around March – November, meaning you could work for 9 months, come home for 3 and then back out to work for another 9 months. In certain holiday resorts and on almost all sea based contracts your food and board are paid for, meaning you wont have to spend a penny while working. You will have to pay for essentials though like toiletries, clothing and medication, possibly water depending on which country you are working in.
A non live based gig you could land is in the world of session singing. Now a niche and closed off path of singing, this career area is all about connections. You could be able to sing backing vocals on an Ellie Golding songs or sing a lead guide vocal for a famous artist, a radio jingle singer or even a voice over artist for adverts. You could also be constructing the backing vocals and melody entirely for a song which means you will ned to have a good ear for harmonies. The perks of the jobs could be that you are always working behind the scenes, however you will most likely will be expected to sight read on the spot leaving no room prior rehearsals to your session, so being able to sight read is to your advantage. You could be able to work from home if you have a good home studio and know how to use all your own equipment, or may have to travel to a studio.
Trying to find gigs could prove difficult especially if you are unsure how to start so I would recommend becoming friendly with local agents who would be able to get your foot in the door. There are thousands of agencies in the UK, and you can search for some brilliant wedding agents online. If you really want to make as much money as possible doing singing then you can’t limit yourself to just one agent. Some artist’s may think they lose value by spreading themselves among a huge array of agents… they are also the artist’s who are only making a part time income from their singing career. You will be required to give an agent a cut of your profit normally around 12 – 20%. Performer directories work just as well as agents, however instead of paying a commission percentage, you will often be required to pay for an anual membership for being on the directory.
Lastly, another avenue that is open to all musicians is teaching in your chosen instrument. Of course I would expect that if you going to use this to subsidise your income then taking up basic teaching qualifications and also singing and vocal coaching courses are an absolute must! Please do not try to teach someone if you do not have the basic knowledge because you never know the damage you could be doing to a budding singer. I have so many stories of absolutely awful singing teachers I’ve had in the past, I could probably write a book. The kind of “advice” and “training” they gave me in the past made me develop a cyst on my vocal chords, causing permanent scarring on my vocal chords even after the cyst had disappeared.
I hope you’ve found all of this information useful to you in your quest to become professional singer. If you have any questions then get in touch. In the next blog post of this series I will be talking about Money!