How to Become a Singer & Start a Singing Career - Careers in Music
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Singer

Last updated: Jul 3, 2020
Reads: 441,953

Career Overview

A Singer performs the lead vocals of a song. Although he or she may have a backing band, the Singer is the star of the show.

Alternate Titles

Vocalist, Pop Star

Avg. Salary

$46,571

Salary Range

$17,680 – $185,000,000

Career Description

A Singer sings the main vocal line of a track. He or she is the main focus of the performance, in contrast to a band, which has regular members who tour, record, and generally play equal roles in a performance together. Some Singers back themselves up on piano or guitar, whereas some focus more on dancing and performing, and leave the rest to a backing band.

Singers record albums of songs that they have written or that have been written for them by a production team, and then tour to promote the album. Their days are spent in studio, on tour, and practicing vocal, instrumental or dance skills.

A Singer works with Booking Agents, Club Promoters, Managers, Talent Agents, other Singers and Session Musicians.

Salary

On average, working Singers earn approximately $46,600 per year. The salary range for Singers, however, is vast, ranging from $17,680 at the low end to $185,000,000 at the top.

In general, a Singer is paid per event. Clubs will give the Singer a percentage of the door fee. Other Singers have contracts to play certain venues or to tour.

The majority of a Singer’s income comes from touring and performing. Selling merchandise is a secondary source.

Making money off of albums is difficult, even for big names. The label will pay for Songwriters, star Producers, marketing efforts, promotion, etc., and the Singer will only start making money him or herself once the label has recouped their initial investment.

Career Outlook

The lifestyle of a Singer varies widely. For those just starting off, singing at open mics and talent competitions, income can be very limited. Most of these Singers do not earn the majority of their income from performance and instead supplement their earnings with a part or full-time job.

Obviously, on the other end of the spectrum are stars like Taylor Swift, who earned $825 million over the last decade8. Across the board, however, Singers work hard. They spend time writing songs, rehearsing songs, and working on their performance abilities.

Touring takes a lot of time and energy, and can mean that the Singer is on the road more than he or she is at home. Most Singers perform at night, so staying up late is par for the course. “I think the most stressful thing for me is balancing work and life,” megastar Beyonce has said.9

Slide Do You *Really Have What it Takes? Do You *Really
Have What it Takes?
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Career Path

Advancement in this career means making more money and performing in front of bigger crowds—so basically progressing from having a small local following to becoming a star.

Even Grammy winners start small. Singers can play their local club circuit, perform on cruise ships, and hold residencies at lounges or clubs. It’s an extremely competitive field, but there are opportunities for the creative Singer to find work, and to get his or her name out there to attract possible management or labels.

Like many careers in the music industry, getting work as a Singer is all about who you know. Networking is important; other Singers can invite you to perform on a bill with them or can spread the word about open mics. Sometimes a fellow Musician will know of a band or a Producer looking for a Vocalist.

It doesn’t matter if an aspiring Singer has a label backing her or if she’s just starting out; the most important element of having a successful singing career is building an audience. Without an audience, there’s no draw for a Booker to sign the Singer and search for gigs, or for a label to sign the Singer.

When a Singer is just starting out, most gigs won’t be paid, and if they are, they won’t be paid very much. Start by playing open mics and talent contests and contacting local Bookers to see if you can open up for another Band/Singer or be added to a bill. It’s important to have an online presence, whether it’s YouTube videos or a SoundCloud page, so that the Talent Buyer can check out your work and decide if you’ll be a good fit.

That’s how Billie Eilish got her start10. She and her brother Finneas originally released “Ocean Eyes” on SoundCloud in early 2016; before the end of the year, Interscope Records had given the single a wider release.

  • Get experience and build connections by performing at open mics, joining a choir, joining a band or entering talent contests.
  • Get an online presence so people can access your music. A SoundCloud or MySpace page is essential. YouTube videos can also generate a buzz.
  • Take voice lessons regularly, and consider learning an instrument.
  • Develop your own unique image so that you stand out from the pack.
  • Build and stay in touch with your audience through social media, newsletters, etc.

Experience & Skills

Experience performing and writing one’s own songs is essential. Before she was famous, Katy Perry performed at open mic nights3. Justin Bieber performed at local singing competitions, and his mom uploaded his videos to YouTube4. Carly Rae Jepsen fronted a local swing band and ran an open mic for Singer/Songwriters at the coffee shop where she worked.

Skill-wise, in addition to being able to write catchy, beautiful songs and sing well, a singer must be able to market herself. Charli XCX originally posted her music to MySpace, which caught the attention of a rave Promoter who asked her to perform at one of his parties, and in turn led to more opportunities to perform live5.

Lorde’s hit “Royals” attracted worldwide attention after she posted it on her SoundCloud page as part of a free download of her Love Club EP6. Since many Singers are considered to be all-around entertainers, dance skills can also be helpful.

A Singer must be adaptable and able to handle some uncertainty. Building a career is challenging and requires sacrifice. Katy Perry told Seventeen magazine that “It was five years of living in L.A. with no money, writing bad checks, selling my clothes to make rent, [and] borrowing money” while writing tracks and trying to get a record company to sign her7.

Above all, a Singer must be perseverant and passionate about their career. Even top performers spend extremely long days in the studio and rehearsing for tour. And whether they’re touring in minivans or private jets, a Singer must be flexible enough to handle life on the road, an experience that can be as grueling as it can be exciting.

Education & Training

Further education isn’t a requirement for a singing career, although it can lead to better opportunities through training and networking, and vocal performance majors are available at many colleges. Carly Rae Jepsen honed her skills at an arts college in Canada1 and John Mayer attended Berklee College of Music2, where he discovered his strengths as a Songwriter after initially enrolling to further his skills as a Guitar Player.

Of course, music education is essential. Not every Singer has taken years of voice lessons, but to further a career, make one’s voice stand out, and to keep vocal abilities strong, lessons are a must. A Singer can also benefit from learning a musical instrument and honing dance skills.

Additional Resources

Resources for Singers include the American Federation of Musicians and the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences.

Some Singers are eligible to join the Screen Actors’ Guild/American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA). The New York Singers Collective lists Singers online so that anyone looking for a Singer can easily search for the right fit for their project.

FAQ

How can I improve my singing voice?

Alison Stolpa (Careers in Music Staff)

“Having regular singing lessons will improve your voice. Good vocal hygiene, drinking lots of water, and avoiding too many spicy foods and dairy foods will also help. Listening to artists live and in recordings that you admire can be a positive thing, too.” –– Grace Davidson, Singer

Is singing more of a talent or a skill?

Alison Stolpa (Careers in Music Staff)

“Singing is a combination of talent and skill. Everyone has a voice and some people are able to sing with natural talent to an extent, but if they are able to have lessons and learn singing technique, that can also enhance their singing voice.” — Grace Davidson, Singer

Is singing a good career?

Alison Stolpa (Careers in Music Staff)

“Singing is an amazing career. It is wonderful to earn money from doing something you love, but it is a tough career and there is no protection if you find yourself unable to work as it is generally a completely self-employed status. The highs and lows of being a musician are not for everyone and if it’s stability that you seek, perhaps being a freelance singer is not an easy choice.

“From my personal experience it is has been a good career but it’s hard work and you have to be prepared to work hard and travel around the world doing auditions, performances, and recordings.” — Grace Davidson, Singer

  1. 1Greene, Andy. "I Want to Do Justin Bieber Proud". Rolling Stone Magazine. published: June 10, 2012. retrieved on: Feb 17, 2020
  2. 2multiple. "John Mayer". Wikipedia.org. published: . retrieved on: Feb 17, 2020
  3. 3Seventeen Magazine. "Katy Perry's Advice On Getting In the Music Biz". Seventeen Magazine. published: Feb 15, 2013. retrieved on: Feb 17, 2020
  4. 4Greene, Amanda. "10 YouTube Success Stories". www.womansdays.com. published: 2010. retrieved on: Feb 17, 2020
  5. 5Nostro, Lauren. "Charli XCX Talks Debut Album, Internet Haters, and Writing Icona Pop’s “I Love It.”". www.complex.com. published: Mar 6, 2013. retrieved on: Feb 17, 2020
  6. 6Weber, Lindsey. "Lorde 101: Who Is This 16-Year-Old New Zealand Singer Everyone’s Talking About?". www.vulture.com. published: Aug 19, 2019. retrieved on: Feb 17, 2020
  7. 7multiple. "Katy Perry Biography". Biography.com. published: 2010. retrieved on: Feb 17, 2020
  8. 8Greenburg, Zack O'Malley . "From Taylor Swift To Dr. Dre: The 10 Top-Earning Musicians Of The Decade". Forbes. published: December 23, 2019. retrieved on: March 3, 2020
  9. 9. "For Beyoncé, Creativity Is the Ultimate Power". Elle. published: December 9, 2019. retrieved on: March 3, 2020
  10. 10Prahl, Amanda. "Billie Eilish Didn't Just Come Out of Nowhere — Here's How She Got Her Start". PopSugar. published: April 28, 2019. retrieved on: March 3, 2020
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