12 July 2012

Singing careers in popular music embraces many different styles including pop, rock, jazz, RnB soul, blues and folk.

You need to be ambitious, self-confident, determined and resourceful.
You need to be ambitious, self-confident, determined and resourceful.

What is the job like?

Most singers specialise in a particular style of music, whilst others, such as backing singers are usually more diverse. You might sing solo, or as part of a group or band. Some singers provide backing vocals for solo artists

You need to be ambitious, self-confident, determined and resourceful.

You might work in a wide variety of indoor and outdoor venues, such as pubs, clubs, cruise liners, restaurants, hotels, church and community halls, larger concert halls and outdoor settings including parks and festivals.

The work includes:

  • Looking after your voice including developing the quality and tone of your voice – singing lessons are a great advantage
  • Learning and practising the music and lyrics, and attending rehearsals and auditions
  • Sometimes performing your own compositions, or other original music written for you
  • Having a knowledge of microphone technique and some understanding of PA systems
  • Developing your repertoire and listening to other artists’ performances and recordings, e.g. live concerts, You Tube and CD/MP3 recordings
  • Making demo recordings to demonstrate your singing ability and vocal range, which can be used to publicise your work
  • Sometimes playing an instrument, such as guitar or piano, as an accompaniment to your singing.

Performances are often during the evening, or at weekends. The work can involve extensive travel to venues, particularly if you are touring.

You will also need to organise performance bookings or gigs, with the help of a manager/agent if you become successful. Singer-songwriters compose and perform their own music.

How do I become a singer?

Singing is a very competitive career, and talent is not the only ingredient for success. You also need to be ambitious, self-confident, determined and resourceful. Becoming a successful singer is all about making contacts and establishing a reputation, and being someone that others can rely on.

Singers need to be able to learn music and words quickly, so a good memory is important. Take every opportunity to perform in front of others, in choirs, bands and other groups at school and in your local community. This will help to establish your reputation and you even might be spotted by Artists and Repertoire (A&R) people looking for new talent. You may also want to approach record companies and music publishing companies (if you are writing your own music) with demo recordings of your music.

The ability to sight-read music puts you at a distinct advantage.

Graded singing examinations include:

Preparing for graded examinations will help not only your singing, but also your sight-reading.

Established singers often use agents to help them secure work.

Building up a reputation as a singer is important, and you can use social media such as Facebook, Twitter and You Tube to help you. If you want to become a recording artist record companies expect new artists to have achieved a considerable following on social media. Record deals are now increasingly hard to come by.

What training and qualifications do I need?

Some singers in the popular music genre do not have any music qualifications at all – just talent and the necessary skills acquired by experience. However, there are lots of courses available which provide training and the opportunity to perform, and all this will help you. Music at GCSE, AS and A level is an advantage.

Courses include

  • BTEC Level 2 Diploma in Performing Arts
    Entry with two GCSEs (A-D)
  • BTEC Level 3 Diploma in Performing Arts
    Entry with four GCSEs (A-C).
  • HND Courses in Performing Arts or Popular Music
    Entry with at least one A level plus three GCSE (A-C) passes
  • Degree Courses in Performing Arts or Popular Music
    Entry with 2 A levels and five GCSE (A-C) passes or equivalent
  • Foundation Degrees may also be available
    Courses usually last two years and can lead onto a degree.

Entry requirements can vary and it is vital to check with individual colleges and universities. Most courses include an audition as part of their entrance requirements.

Some singers have also attended stage schools from an early age, or other performing arts schools.

The BRIT School offers 14-19 year olds free training for the performing arts. It is based in Croydon, and takes people from Greater London and some parts of Kent and Surrey.

What can I earn?

Very few people make a full-time living as a singer, and therefore have another job in order to survive financially. If you want to succeed you must be willing to take unpaid gigs, at least in the early days. If you use a booking agent, they will take a percentage of your earnings as their fee.

It is very difficult to quantify the earnings of a singer as these vary widely. If you are singing with a band in a pub you might earn £50 an evening. A backing vocalist on tour could earn £500 a week for a lesser known artist and up to £1200 a week for someone more established. Fees for solo singers can very considerably, and for signed artists are negotiated between the record company and the artist. Rates in London are often higher than the rest of the UK.

The Musicians Union have set minimum rates. The National Gig rate applies to musicians performing in groups in pubs and clubs and the rates are per musician. Before midnight for engagements of up to two hours the rate us £68.00 and rates after midnight are £20.50 per half hour. The rates are higher in London.

There is a Casual Stage rate for performances on stage in theatres, stadiums, outdoor events and concert venues. The single performance fee per musician for up to three hours performance (plus three hours rehearsal) is £139, or £125 for venues with a capacity of 300 or less.

The rate for musicians working for a week of six sessions (including rehearsals) in London region hotels, restaurants and nightclubs is £601 per week.

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