OK, so you want to be a professional singer/vocalist? As a part-time vocal coach I hear people telling me every other week that they want to sing for a living. When we get into the conversation, I usually find this means they want to be instantly famous, having done little or no ‘work’ to achieve this lofty goal.
Here I’d like to point out to anyone interested that there is a great living to be made from singing at weddings, functions and events, while remaining in control of your life and hitherto unheard of.
The job doesn’t involve being chauffeured around to media appointments and ushered about by managers, publicists and record company big wigs. It does however entail getting yourself to gigs on time, under your own steam and performing to the best of your ability regardless of your mood and general wellbeing.
If you can sing to a professional standard (and by that I don’t mean mum and gran think you’re great, but that you can hold an audience for a couple of hours) then there is well paid work out there for singers of most popular styles.
In my 20 or so years of singing for money I have been lucky enough to sing with some great bands, as a solo artist and in duos and trios. I have sung rock classics, indie, pop, Motown, soul and pretty much everything else. Always ready to learn I have recently added classical to the list.
What makes us jobbing singers different from the average want to be pop star is a great work ethic and the knowledge that, no matter how good you think you are, you can always improve. It pains me to see singers on reality shows well before they are ready for local auditions let alone national T.V.
So, if you can come down from the clouds and really do wish to work as a singer at weddings and function etc, my advice is as follows:
You will need a VERY well rehearsed set. In the age of the internet, recommendations and good feedback are essential to a long career so ‘blagging’ it just won’t do. Your song choices should be made with the customer in mind and NOT you. The trick is to find a happy medium between singing songs that you love and songs your audience will want to hear at their event. Don’t just pick all your personal favourites without a thought for the type of event and the demographic of your audience.
If it’s the well paid wedding market you wish to pursue then think about the 3 parts of the ‘big day’ you can offer your services to. In church at the service, if you can sing classical or other appropriate styles then offer to sing as the bride enters, as the happy couple sign the wedding register and as they leave the church. Similarly at a civil wedding ceremony. I find the bride and groom have a good idea in advance what kind of music they wish to hear at this all important part of the day.
During the wedding breakfast, couples often like to create a laid-back atmosphere so jazz and swing always goes down well. Be clear in advance as to whether you should be low-key and unobtrusive or if the bride and groom expect you to liven things up straight away.
If an evening reception is planned, it’s usually then that a party atmosphere is wanted so choose your ‘floor fillers’ wisely. Be sure to speak to the DJ if there is one present and ask them in advance if possible to avoid playing half of your set list before you go on.
You can charge separately for these performances or put together a few wedding day packages to choose from.
Corporate events are also great paying gigs but you will find it a difficult market to crack, especially for a beginner. The best way to get this kind of work is to get yourself a professional booking agent. Be sure to use a reputable firm and check to see who their list of clients are. You will be asked to sign an agreement before you start to get work so be sure to read the small print or better still, have an appropriate legal professional read it for you.
Avoid being tied down to an ‘exclusive’ arrangement with any one agent as they may hold you back instead of getting you the work they promised to. You need to be free to take bookings from more than one agent and find work yourself if you are going to get enough work to make a full-time living.
Expect to give 20% of the fee plus V.A.T. to your agent per gig. The agent will require good quality photographs of you, some excellent sounding demo audio tracks and possibly video footage. Write a great sounding biography about yourself and try not to exaggerate your experience too much.
There is also some remnants of a live music scene left in the bars, pubs and clubs of most towns and cities and this is a great place to start. Learning your craft in front of a rowdy bunch of revellers is the best way to get good quickly but it’s not for everyone and definitely not for the faint hearted.
Good quality backing tracks are available from audio stockists and via the internet. You will need a reliable playback source such as a laptop or iPad. CD players are too temperamental for live work so invest in something good enough for the job. Your P.A. or Public Announcement system should be of sufficient power to give a good, clear and audible mix of your vocals and backing tracks. Don’t feel you need to make peoples ears bleed but have enough power to fill the room in the types of venues you will be playing in.
Speak to an audio professional, don’t just buy gear from eBay that you don’t really know much about. Get the ‘spec’ list, take time to learn a little about what does what, then go shopping.
Your equipment should be regularly P.A.T. tested (portable appliance tested) by a qualified person to keep you and your audience safe from electrical faults. Be sure to insure your gear and insure yourself against public liability too.
So, you’re all set. You have the songs down, the gear ready, the act rehearsed, so DON’T turn up in jeans and a T-shirt and let yourself down. Think about the event and the type of venue and get it right.
Who knows, you may even get ‘spotted’ by that music industry mogul you dream about but if not, what’s wrong with being a wedding singer? It sure beats working for a living!
Good luck and see you on the circuit.
By Ian J Helm
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