Maybe you always sang for your siblings before they went to sleep, or your shower performances are off the charts. If you’re hoping to make your singing part of your professional life, you may be wondering: how do I start a singing career?
Like many careers in the arts, a singing career doesn’t always follow a linear path. Even in the initial stages of someone’s singing career, there are different types of training, practice regimes and even first gigs. There’s no one way to become a professional singer — because there’s no one way of being a professional singer. Singing takes hard work and practice, but once you’ve got your skills down, there are so many career paths you can pursue. Depending on your interests and talent, you can have a singing career in a multitude of areas, from lounge singing to opera.
Wedding and party singers perform at private events for large groups. What’s exciting about this profession is that you’ll be singing a mixture of songs, often switching genre and performance type. You’ll be responsible for performing anything the client requests. This often includes covers of well-known songs that everyone will want to dance (and sing) along to.
Clubs, lounges and restaurants will often hire resident singers to perform at their venue on a recurring basis. Unlike at a wedding or party, these venues will often stick to a certain genre that fits the atmosphere of their establishment. Depending on the night and venue, you may be the main event or you may be singing more in the background.
Certain camps, venues and even cruise ships will hire a staff of singers to perform on special occasions as a part of a seasonal event. While you’ll get to perform, you’ll also be responsible for organizing performance events and socializing with guests. This is a great profession for someone who has experience working with customers but also wants to perform.
Every star needs their backup, and if you’re great singing in a group, being a backup singer is an incredible profession. You’ll get to work with bigger stars and even travel with them on tour to be a part of their performances. While you may not get solos, you’ll be responsible for working with the other background singers to create a flawless, often harmonized sound experience.
If you’re interested in singing your own words instead of someone else’s, becoming an original artist is the way to go. You’ll be writing your own lyrics and music instead of performing covers. While this profession relies on your creativity, it can be hard to break through the surface singing songs no one’s heard before. Luckily, songwriters have the opportunity to expand their work beyond solo performance and into writing songs for movies orTV or even radio jingles.
To perform professionally on theater stages, you’ll need a more than an incredible singing voice. If you’re hoping to find success in musical theater, you’ll need experience in acting and dancing. However, you don’t need to be a lead on Broadway to find lucrative work. Supporting and ensemble roles offer a great way to get your foot in the door and onto the stage. If you’re hoping to pursue opera, you’ll need specific operatic voice training; this requires a serious commitment to training, but there are great opportunities once you’ve mastered the art.
Now that you know many different types of professional singing careers, it’s important to understand how to get there. Where do you begin, even if you’ve never sung in front of an audience before or don't know anyone in the business?
Although there’s no specific requirement concerning what music training you’ll need, learning how to sing is the best way to start your professional journey. At the very least, commit to weekly music lessons. If you can’t afford a private tutor, you can practice using exercises online or sign up to Skype with a teacher online — which is often less expensive than working with someone in person. If you’d like even more formal, long-term training, many undergraduate conservatories help singers grow and prepare to perform professionally. While going to school will both train you and give you a network, it’s also a large financial investment.
Training will not only help develop your voice, but it will also strengthen your voice to ensure you can use it to your ability your entire career — not just for a three-month gig. You’ll need to train your voice to sing for multiple hours at a time, numerous times a week.
Practice might not always make perfect, but practice will make you prepared to take on any professional challenge that comes your way. Using the techniques and exercises you’ve learned in training, practice outside of your voice lessons whenever you get the chance — as long as you’re staying healthy.
You should not only practice your voice material but also performing. Depending on what type of singing career you want, practice performing songs from that genre in front of an audience (even if it’s just for your friends at a party). This will help build your stage presence to ensure you’ll wow every crowd.
Once you’ve trained and practiced, start promoting yourself. Start small and record simple YouTube videos or audio tracks. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have professional recording devices; make sure the sound is clear and that you’re performing your best work. The goal of these videos and recordings is to show off your skills to someone without you having to perform for them live. Create a website or a portfolio with all your information in one place. Unless you’re doing voice recording work or don’t have an interest in performing live, appearance matters — so include a photo of you singing or a headshot you love.
Even if you don’t live in a city bustling with artists, there will always be local music events around you. Go to open mics, seasonal performances and community events. You’ll not only learn from other performers, but you’ll have the opportunity to meet people in the local music scene — whether they’re returning fans or event organizers.
Going to local events is one aspect of networking, a crucial part of becoming a professional singer. The bigger your network, the more opportunities that come your way. Because professional singing is a business with many talented people, you’ll want to make sure your name is out there and you’re well-connected. You can start by talking to artists after their shows and flattering their egos but also getting connected with event organizers, agents and other people on the production side of the industry. Since you have your initial promotional content, make sure to share it with whoever you connect with.
One way to get your name out into the singing world is to start getting recognized for your work. The best way to do that is to start performing! Audition for anything you’re interested in that gets advertised, reach out to other musicians or even apply to work locally for a gig a few nights a week. You’ll not only get recognized for your work, but you’ll get good practice for when the bigger gigs start rolling in.
While it’s important to dream big, setting smaller, achievable goals can help get your career going. If you want to sing in front of millions of people, aim for a group of a couple hundred first. If you want to perform as the lead on Broadway, do your best in your community theater now. These achievements will act as stepping stones on your way to larger success.
The best way to achieve these smaller goals is by finding paid work. Getting paid work will boost not only your confidence but also your reputation as a performer. Although it sounds counterintuitive, you may need to sing for free before you sing for payment. If you know you may get an opportunity to sing for a client again, you can offer to do the first performance free — as long as they’ll pay you the next time around. The live experience will look great on your resume and give you a chance for some extra promotional material.
Just like almost any career, you’ll want to keep working at it — regardless of what stage you’re in professionally. This means you’ll keep training, practicing and promoting yourself at every level of your career. Keep working, and you’ll be able to reach your small, achievable goals one at a time. If you’re dedicated and don’t get discouraged, there’s no limiting the success you’ll have.
This question relates back to the time-old conundrum: can anyone learn to sing? Luckily, the answer is overwhelmingly yes. Singing does take practice, and you will be able to improve if you train and work at it. Yet while everyone can learn to sing, not everyone will end up being the Beyoncé we all know and love. Becoming a professional singer takes more than being able to sing; it means having a unique, talented voice that people love to hear. It also means having a powerful stage presence while performing and the business and networking skills it takes to market yourself to the top. With the right practice, dedication and contacts, anyone who pursues singing can be a singer. They may not make it to the biggest arenas or Broadway stages, but they’ll be able to share their music with the world.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the 2018 Median pay for singers and musicians was $28.15 per hour. While there’s no technical cost to becoming a singer, many singers get training and even schooling that requires initial costs. Over the course of the next 10 years, the BLS predicts little to no change in the singing profession. There will be more demand for singers, yet the rising popularity of the career will counter that, making competition similar to the present day.
After reading not only the types of professional singing jobs available but also how to become a singer and the job outlook, you may be wondering: is singing a worthwhile career? Is it a good one? There isn’t a universal answer. If you love singing and want to dedicate your life to it, singing may be the career for you — as long as you’re able to overcome criticism and rejection. Success takes time, especially in an arts career, so this isn’t a great career for someone who wants to find fame with their first track. While some artists win big and get lucky with their first few notes, not every singer will find success quickly or easily. This isn’t the career for someone who likes singing casually; this is a wonderful career for someone whose passion is singing who wants to bring that passion into their professional life.
Zoë Kaplan is an English major at Wesleyan University in the class of 2020. She writes about women, theater, sports, and everything in between. Read more of Zoë’s work at www.zoeakaplan.com.
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