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Music Production and Promotion Tips

How to Make a Living as a Singer

Posted on | December 20, 2012 | No Comments

How to get started as a Singer

Making a living as a singer can be tough and it requires a lot of hard work and determination. I have been a full-time professional singer performing in function, party and tribute bands for the last 7 years and based on my experiences – I’ve put together some tips to help newcomers figure out what they need to get started.

Record a great demo CD

First things first, you need to make a demo that really showcases just how fantastic you are. This is the most important weapon in your promotional arsenal so it’s worth spending a bit of time and money on this.

If you are part of a band, then you can share the cost of a few days studio time by pooling your resources together. Expect to pay between £150 – £350 a day for reasonable studios.

If you are just starting out as a solo singer and don’t have a collective of musicians to help you put your demo together – then here are a couple ideas on how to approach recording a demo CD:

i) Many studios offer a service where you can perform to pre-recorded instrumental backing tracks. You can pick the songs in advance, and then they will record your vocal over the top and mix the two together. This method is very quick and easy but the recordings can run the risk of sounding a bit plastic and generic.

ii) If you want something a little more authentic – but still quick and easy to produce – consider recording with a solo pianist or guitarist. Many studios will have an in-house engineer or producer who is also a musician and who might be able to help with this as part of the studio hire fee. Although you won’t get a ‘band’ sound – it could be a better way to showcase your vocals as they’ll be the main focus of the mix.

iii) You don’t necessarily need to go into a professional studio to create a demo. If you already have a reasonable quality PC or Mac, then with a decent microphone, an audio interface and some recording software – you can record your own demos at home. If you plan to records lots of your own music – a home studio is a worth while investment, though it’s worth remembering that for a top quality job – you’ll still need to go into a professional studio at some point. Check out the ‘Dummies guide’ book to get started: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/111810689X

Get promotional photographs taken

A great set of promotional photographs are just as important as a great demo recording and its definitely worth investing a bit of money in this if you can afford it.  Have a look online for a local photographer, and have a look through their portfolio to see if you like their style. You should also ask your fellow musician friends for recommendations, or check local artists websites whose photos you like, to see who took them (it will often say on the photographs themselves).

Make sure you spend some time thinking about the image you want to create and pull together some strong outfits. Girls, its definitely worth paying someone to do your hair and makeup for that really professional look, and many photographers work with hair and makeup artists on shoots and can offer a complete package at a reduced cost.

Try to think about who your target audience are and what they’ll want to see (or what preconceived idea they might have in their heads about what an artist like you should look like). If you hope to getting work singing at private events it’s really important that you look the part as this will influence the customers decision as to how suitable you are. If you sing jazz for example, but your photos make you look like a pop singer, then customers will have a harder time identifying with you and you might well lose the gig to a lesser singer who’s nailed the ‘look’.

Get a web site

Having a web presence is vital as it’s the easiest way for people to find out about you and for you to showcase yourself. This doesn’t have to cost you a lot of money. There are the social media sites such as Myspace and Facebook which are easy to set up, as well as sites like Wix or Moonfruit where you can design and host your own website for free. If you would like someone to design a more professional looking website for you, then there is a fantastic site called PeoplePerHour where you can post a project and then have designers compete to win your business – often offering unbelievably competitive rates. You could also get someone from a site like that to design you a logo.

Once you’ve got a web presence, make sure you keep it up to date with all your most recent recordings, photos, repertoire lists, testimonials and news.

Audition

Once you have your own web presence it’s easy for you to advertise yourself as a singer. Look out for web sites that list auditions and apply for everything that catches your eye. For starters, try Starnow, UK Music Jobs, Singers Pro and Bandmix. You might need to create your own profile listing on these web sites – but make sure your profile page is kept up to date and log in regularly as this helps to keep your profile at the top of the listings and you’ll get more interest that way. You should also keep an eye on Gumtree, which often lists ads for bands looking for singers.

Showcase yourself

Your next best friend is ‘open mic’ nights. This kills two birds with one stone. Firstly, you gain much needed experience performing with a band in front of a live audience (you cannot get enough of this experience when you are starting out!), and secondly you get the chance to network with other musicians. Make sure you talk to everyone there, find out if they are looking for any singers or even deps for their current singer, and hand out your details. It would be worth getting a few business cards printed to help with this. Don’t always expect to get paid initially – it’s more about networking and getting yourself some experience.

Joining a band

Being part of a function band is an excellent way to make a regular income, and again provides you with invaluable experience performing on stage and working with a live band. If you haven’t been able to join an existing band, why not set up your own? Simply advertise on the audition sites I mentioned above and see who responds. There are always musicians out there looking to join new bands. Once you have picked your musicians, start choosing and rehearsing a repertoire together, then get out there and gig wherever you can! A tip – there are an incredible number of function bands out there, so use your initiative and come up with a fresh approach, something unique that will grab people’s attention and make them choose you!

Join an agency

If you are an experienced performer, whether you perform as a soloist or in a band, you should start to approach agencies such as Alive Network, and for this you need a great promotional pack.  Agencies only want to work with the best bands and artists so you need to make sure you have a high quality promo pack that competes against the best other musicians out there. You’ll need decent photos, audio, possibly a video and a biography. Anything else you have such as testimonials, press clippings etc, add it in too. Agencies get hundreds of applications – so make sure yours stands out by packaging it up nicely, writing a good covering letter – and generally making sure what you’re sending looks good enough to be taken seriously. Follow up with a polite phone call and make the effort to ask the agency what they’re looking for in an act like you. Not all agencies have the same kind of client base or working methods – so you need to figure out if you’re well matched to work together. Sometimes generating a good relationship with one good agency is far more beneficial than getting listed on 20 who can’t even remember your name.

Local promotion

The less you have to travel the better as fuel is expensive – and to compete for gigs out of your area – you need to be the same price as other musicians who are based in that area who therefore have no travel to cover.  You should take your demo CD to local restaurants, wedding venues, bars and clubs and see if anyone is looking for live music. A local residency is a great source of regular income, and gives you the chance to be seen by the general public, some of whom might be looking for a band for their event.

Keep your options open and find multiple income sources

One last piece of advice I would offer is keep your options open, and try to have a few musical projects available to you. As a singer you can accept solo gigs, band gigs, dep gigs, maybe duo work – what ever you can find to increase your chances of having regular work. Never rely on one thing to keep you afloat, because if that falls apart, you need to know you have something else to turn to.

Good luck!


Louise Dodds is a professional musician performing in both the Fascinating Rhythm Jazz Quartet and The Daiquiries both available to hire through her agents, Alive Network – www.alivenetwork.com

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