piz

Becoming a Professional Singer

61 posts in this topic

Ever since I can remember, I have loved to sing, but for some very specific psychological reasons (not stage fright) I never sang in public, except for two times doing backup vocals in high school talent shows. (I would sing all the time when I was alone.) About three years ago, my son asked me to go to a karaoke show a friend of his was starting. That night, in the nearly empty bar, I got up and sang Elton John's "Your Song," my first ever public solo. Afterward, my son's girlfriend came up to me and said, "Wow! Where did that come from?" My son said to her, "I told you." I asked what they meant, and they said my song was "amazing." All I knew was that I have always at least been able to carry a tune, and that for whatever reason I was no longer afraid of singing in public. More than that, I was hooked and wanted more.

That started a kind of karaoke addiction that lasted almost two years. At the bar where I sang that first song a large group of regulars formed, and I even wrote my own lyrics about them, which I called "Karaoke Man" (to the tune of Billy Joel's "Piano Man"). Huge hit for everyone in the group. :) I went to lots of different karaoke shows, I entered contests, I even worked briefly as a karaoke DJ. It was a blast, but it still wasn't enough.

About a year ago I started going to jams and open mic shows, singing with whatever musicians were there. That has been quite an education - I have no musical training except for some lessons in bass guitar when I was 15. But they all "took me in" and accepted me, and the live singing has been the most enjoyable of all.

Over the course of all that, I have received a lot of encouragement. I have been told many times that I'm a "great" singer, but as that came primarily from karaoke friends (most of whom, frankly, can't sing at all, though that's not what karaoke is all about) I didn't make much it it. However, I have talked with a number of working musicians who have told me that I sing well enough to do it professionally. I was even invited to "guest" at some shows, although I never had the confidence to go through with it.

Anyway, after much consideration I have decided that I would like to give the professional singing a go. The problem is that I have no idea how to go about it. I was part of some "garage bands" in high school, but that's all. So, I'm looking for advice on how to get started singing for money. I'm not expecting to earn a living at it, I just want to get out there and sing. Any ideas?

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Maybe you could do some auditions, and perhaps produce some demos (rent some studio hours?) that you can send to the right people.

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If you say you didn't have the confidence to go through with some "guest" performances you first need to shed that problem. I sang in a rock band for about 5 years off and on - lead vocals. I used to sing alone growing up. I'm a guitarist (rarely get to play anymore) and decided about 9 years ago to try taking the mic so that I could play more guitar at blues jams. If you can sing at a blues jam you get more stage time, while guitarists are a dime a dozen and often lined up for their chance at playing a couple tunes. My first singing performance sucked compared to my later efforts because I decided to get some formal voice training. I'd suggest that for you to. It's amazing how much you can learn from a good pro voice coach. I learned in training that I have a 4.5-octave voice and learned how to start using it for rock and blues. I never would have found or developed that if I had just limited myself to getting in front of a mic and letting loose. Just last night at a kiddie music session at the local Gymborie I was singing a Shania Twain song, "I Feel Like a Woman" (lol). I love singing stuff like Foreigner, etc - high-range rock stuff. If feels so good!

As far as becoming a "pro" I think you might want to figure out a couple of genres that interest you and that you can get work in. The choices are really varied as are the techniques and styles that go with them. I hate to say it but churches are often looking for singers and there are some paid pros in that arena. Ugh. So - think about getting a little formal training, perhaps narrow it down (at least for a while) to a couple genres, and get out and network (blues jams, churches, local bands who are advertising for a singer, etc). Have fun with it. I like your story.

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Hey, Piz! What Abaco says makes good sense. But my suggestion, given what you've told us, is to find a good group whose music you like to sing and who likes your singing and try to book some gigs. (Or you build your own band and post your own ads). You can advertise online and in trades (now almost the same thing) for a band looking for a singer in your area. I say this because you like to sing, want to go pro, but don't play an instrument and don't read music. That hasn't stopped lots of great singers in the past, but you need accompaniment and I think the band social thing could be encouraging and fun... Or, you could all end up hating each other, crashing and burning, falling into drugs and crime, get into rehab, and make a mint off your Behind The Music segment on VH1 and front a reality show, exposing your wife and children to harrassment and ridicule.

But I extrapolate. Professional choral is probably a long-shot until you at least learn to sight-read well, and not very remunerative. Church gigs, as Abaco says, are not bad, 1 rehearsal, Sunday performance, collect check. I did that for awhile. It's a rite of passage for classical singers, but many are not. But, then you get to sit through the most stultifyingly, crushingly boring sermons, intoned by people who could not be employed to screw in a light bulb, with the occasional comic relief, when they something really really stupid. But then you have to choke on your program, or you'll be looking for another Church of the Miserable Congregation.

If you can play guitar or piano and I maligned your skills, a - I apologize, and b - go ahead and do open mics at clubs that might be interested in hiring you for a few bucks and tips.

All the best. I love to sing and I'm glad that you're finding it rewarding a taking it further.

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I ditto what L-C, Abaca and Alann have already written -- all great advice! I would add one thing: the well-made demo recording (CDs now) is a must-have for anyone entering the professional arena today. Many artist reps, managers, casting directors, talent scouts, etc., will make their "first cuts" on the basis of demo tapes submitted as part of audition requests and applications. Which means: they won't even listen to you if they haven't first sampled a recording. So, when you've determined what you want to focus on and have determined the kind of accompaniment and/or backup you'll need, get thee to a recording studio and put together a really great CD. Be sure to include the purchase of a lot of copies as part of the recording contract too. You'll need to have them at hand.

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I would add one thing: the well-made demo recording (CDs now) is a must-have for anyone entering the professional arena today. Many artist reps, managers, casting directors, talent scouts, etc., will make their "first cuts" on the basis of demo tapes submitted as part of audition requests and applications.

What about YouTube videos?

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I forgot to mention something worth mentioning. By being a singer, you'll find that you're taking the spot of "front man". This brings up something I was never fully comfortable with - your "look" counts. As the most exposed musician on the stage you are actually judged by your appearance. This is very true in rock, and somewhat in blues - the two genres where I've been. A paying audience (especially the non-musicians) expects a product that includes visual entertainment. It's strange and something I never fully embraced. I often joked that I needed an ugly hat to play guitar at a blues jam and long hair to play rock. But, if one is serious about being a pro singer they must evaluate thier physical appearance and clothing in terms of what is expected.

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I second what V and Abaco say -- a CD demo is essential. And, if you do go the band route, I agree with Abaco that the look is part of the deal (depending on where you plan to perform and how far you plan to go -- Pat Benatar was just cute and folksy in Greenwich Village, before she retooled in spandex for her rock career) -- and, of course, the type of music you'll be performing. With a band, you'd want to get at least a set together, well-rehearsed, with all the performance bits worked out, before you go to the studio. And, if it's a video, that means a director, editing, and the money to do it right, even if low-budget. As Betsy suggests, Youtube is good for viral marketing of your act, but that's really just a distribution outlet: product first, distribution second.

Getting on Oprah, is good, too, as is dating Hallie Berry. But you're married, so nevermind the last suggestion.

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I second what V and Abaco say -- a CD demo is essential. And, if you do go the band route, I agree with Abaco that the look is part of the deal (depending on where you plan to perform and how far you plan to go -- Pat Benatar was just cute and folksy in Greenwich Village, before she retooled in spandex for her rock career) -- and, of course, the type of music you'll be performing. With a band, you'd want to get at least a set together, well-rehearsed, with all the performance bits worked out, before you go to the studio. And, if it's a video, that means a director, editing, and the money to do it right, even if low-budget. As Betsy suggests, Youtube is good for viral marketing of your act, but that's really just a distribution outlet: product first, distribution second.

Getting on Oprah, is good, too, as is dating Hallie Berry. But you're married, so nevermind the last suggestion.

lol - yeah, Oprah.

The current singer for Journey was discovered by Neal Schon (the guitarist) when Neal was eating Chinese food one night and surfing youtube. Arlen Pineda - an amazing rock singer. Neal saw him singing karioke (sp?) on a Survivor song (another band with an amazing singer) over in a bar in the Philippines. The rest is history.

I normally don't watch American Idol but caught a few minutes of it last night. A couple of the guys, and several of the girls on this season are really, really good. Some of these kids are really gifted and have really worked on their craft. It's good stuff.

I got to sing for one of my favorite rock star singers last year - Eric Martin (of Mr. Big fame). My band took the stage after he performed and I spoke with him that night. It was wonderful chatting it up with a rock star I've listened to for decades. I sure miss performing but my son's medical condition took me away from music. (big sigh)

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Getting on Oprah, is good, too, as is dating Hallie Berry. But you're married, so nevermind the last suggestion.

No thanks on Oprah, but in point of fact I'm not married, so I'll definitely look into the Halle Berry thing.

And thanks to everyone for all the advice. :)

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What about YouTube videos?

Well . . . as you know, I think YouTube is a treasure-house! :) I'm not sure how music/recording industry insiders actually view it, however. I would advise approaching YouTube with a certain degree of caution, not least of which with an eye toward copyright law, etc. Even more important, I should think, must be the quality of the video one wants to put up: it had better be really, Really, REALLY, REALLY good especially considering the fact that your performance will be seen around the world. If I were a music industry exec, and came across a video that generated lots and lots (a potentially good indicator. . . ) of hits but lots and lots of negative reaction (. . . of something not very good), I might not be inclined to pursue it. I'm just sayin' is all . . .

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Getting on Oprah, is good, too, as is dating Hallie Berry. But you're married, so nevermind the last suggestion.

No thanks on Oprah, but in point of fact I'm not married, so I'll definitely look into the Halle Berry thing.

And thanks to everyone for all the advice. :)

Not married? Well, be careful if you sing rock or you'll either end up married or black and blue from being hit on. :)

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I have an audition tomorrow night!

It's only a local church production of Jesus Christ Superstar, but I'm up for Judas, a huge part. I might end up with a different part, or no part at all, but it's a start.

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I have an audition tomorrow night!

It's only a local church production of Jesus Christ Superstar, but I'm up for Judas, a huge part. I might end up with a different part, or no part at all, but it's a start.

Good luck! If you get a good part, great. If you don't, keep auditioning. Persistence is as important as talent.

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I have an audition tomorrow night!

It's only a local church production of Jesus Christ Superstar, but I'm up for Judas, a huge part. I might end up with a different part, or no part at all, but it's a start.

Best of luck to you, Piz! The role of Judas in JCS is one with which I was once intimately acquainted and I agree: a huge part (with lots of high wailing!!).

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Yeah!! Congratulations!

"Tell me what you think about your friends at the top. Who'd you think besides yourself's was the pick of the crop?"

:)

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Call me Judas.

Congratulations, Piz!!

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Thanks everyone! :)

I spent a couple of hours looking at YouTube videos of various productions of JCS, and I was pleased to find that even though it's been at least a couple of decades since I'd last seen the show, I recognized and pretty much already knew all the songs (the melodies if not all the lyrics).

On the other hand, this is a huge part, the show is April 17th, they've already been rehearsing for at least a month (the part was open because they hadn't found anyone for it), and rehearsals are only every other week (next one is on 3/27). So I'm asking myself, "What have I done?!?!"

My answer? A simple "Of course I can do this."

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On the other hand, this is a huge part, the show is April 17th, they've already been rehearsing for at least a month (the part was open because they hadn't found anyone for it), and rehearsals are only every other week (next one is on 3/27). So I'm asking myself, "What have I done?!?!"

My answer? A simple "Of course I can do this."

Of course you can . . . and you will! Enjoy yourself.

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On the other hand, this is a huge part, the show is April 17th, they've already been rehearsing for at least a month (the part was open because they hadn't found anyone for it), and rehearsals are only every other week (next one is on 3/27). So I'm asking myself, "What have I done?!?!"

My answer? A simple "Of course I can do this."

Of course you can . . . and you will! Enjoy yourself.

Piz,

Since this is a first big outing for you, I would recommend that you approach it as a professional would. In a professional opera principal role, you are usually booked a year ahead, but I've had some last-minute assignments, in fact my very first opera role was taking over just before rehearsals for a no-show Schmidt in "Werther," a small, but challenging role for someone who'd been studying singing for all of 3 months. In a professional company, you are expected to come to the first rehearsal of a 2-3-week rehearsal period off-book, i.e. knowing your music(*). So you need to book private coachings in-between the rehearsals. Be on top of your music and your blocking (write it down before you forget it), consider yourself a pro. It takes time to get a role into your voice and into your body; make that time. If you want to be free onstage to be relaxed and focused on the action, you need to automatize the rest of it. If you have a good memory and know the lines, great. I'd still write them down to burn them into your brain; multimedia learning is more lasting than just memorizing by ear. But just determine what your weak points are and drill them until they're not.

Over-preparation is not a problem, under-preparation is nerve-wracking and a waste of an opportunity.

(*) Amateur productions are not so demanding and people often don't learn their music until dress rehearsal (or never really learn it), but I treat them as a professional gig and I've found that the people around me who don't already do that often raise their level of committment and the whole show gets more intense, engaged, dynamic as a result.

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Since this is a first big outing for you, I would recommend that you approach it as a professional would. In a professional opera principal role, you are usually booked a year ahead, but I've had some last-minute assignments, in fact my very first opera role was taking over just before rehearsals for a no-show Schmidt in "Werther," a small, but challenging role for someone who'd been studying singing for all of 3 months. In a professional company, you are expected to come to the first rehearsal of a 2-3-week rehearsal period off-book, i.e. knowing your music(*). So you need to book private coachings in-between the rehearsals. Be on top of your music and your blocking (write it down before you forget it), consider yourself a pro. It takes time to get a role into your voice and into your body; make that time. If you want to be free onstage to be relaxed and focused on the action, you need to automatize the rest of it. If you have a good memory and know the lines, great. I'd still write them down to burn them into your brain; multimedia learning is more lasting than just memorizing by ear. But just determine what your weak points are and drill them until they're not.

Over-preparation is not a problem, under-preparation is nerve-wracking and a waste of an opportunity.

(*) Amateur productions are not so demanding and people often don't learn their music until dress rehearsal (or never really learn it), but I treat them as a professional gig and I've found that the people around me who don't already do that often raise their level of committment and the whole show gets more intense, engaged, dynamic as a result.

That's excellent advice, thanks. That's pretty much what I was thinking, although I don't have a vocal coach (or at present the money for one). I'm planning to go into the next rehearsal off book since time is so short, although I'll keep my lyrics sheets with me. I'm studying other performances to get ideas for how to "act" the part. Naturally the director will give me the blocking he wants, although I have some suspicion that there's not a whole lot of detail in that area for this production, so I'm already thinking ahead on that front.

When I was in high school, a friend was in this show, and for a church production it was really impressive. They even rigged Judas up with some kind of harness for when he hanged himself - it looked for the world like he really did it. There's nothing anywhere near that for this show, according to the woman I auditioned for (she's not the director). Not even any choreography for any of the songs, including "Superstar." (This is a good thing for me, as I can't, and so don't, dance. I'm very well coordinated from lots of sports, so I could learn well enough if I had to, and I'll surely have to if I ever want to do a musical, but I'm glad I don't have to for this. :))

So I'm going to practice the hell out of all the songs and get off book ASAP so I can get everything else automated. It'll be difficult with so few rehearsals, but I'll make the best of it.

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To add one thing to Alan's great advice -- watch HOW you practice this part. It can be a voice-breaker if you're not careful. Resist the urge to practice everything at full tilt for hours on end every day, particularly the high-lying stuff. You need do only enough to "set it" in your voice and ensure that you have the stamina to do it "for real". Once you're confident of that, save it for rehearsals on stage and the actual performance.

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