How 5 Real Singers Make a Living in Today’s Music Industry

How 5 Real Singers Make a Living in Today's Music Industry

No – they didn’t win a “reality” show. But they quit their day jobs – and they’re making it work.

Melanie Macro
Name: Melanie Macro
Type of Music: Soul/Pop/Funk/Jazz
Former Day Job: Banking/Account Manager for marketing-voice over agency
Main Music Income: Bands, solo cabaret, shows, teaching

When did you quit your day job?
2006

Biggest surprise about this change?
The amount of songs you need to know.

Hardest thing about this change?
The finances and self-employed implications. I didn’t realise I had to tell the Government I had become self-employed; I just thought you had to fill a tax return at the end of the year – as that is what’s advertised. They fined me 100.00. I did successfully appeal though.

How many gigs does it take to feel confident about your finances for the next few months?
I spend the high earning months taking everything I can, and that has always seen me through – but I don’t think any self-employed person in any sector feels 100% confident.

How did this change impact you emotionally – psychologically?
I’ve always found the highs are incredible and the lows are really low. I gained confidence and gained worries. I did contracts on Cruise Ships while performing in the shows which was amazing, but coming home at the end of 6 months was very hard – you don’t really have a home, and you have to start again in terms of finding work as you’ve been away so long so your ‘land’ contacts have forgotten about you.

Did this change help you musically? How?
Singing six nights a week gives you strength and stamina.

What did you do as preparation leading up to quitting your day job?
Nothing. I quit to go traveling and while I was away I met some contacts – so once back I went full-throttle into improving my dancing and going back to auditioning full-time, so it was almost accidental in the end.

Final word to singers thinking of making the plunge:
Start doing weekend gigs, get yourself in a band, or doing something solo. Sort yourself a website and get professional photos done. All that you can do in addition to a day job. Once you have some regular weekend gigs you will feel better about quitting your day job and the transition will be easier.
see: www.melaniemacro.com

Iain Sparks
Name: Iain Sparks aka Iain Roy Orbison
Type of Music: Metal, Rock & Roll, Soul, Jazz, R&B
Former Day Job: Chef (I’ve cooked for Royalty, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Junior, Richard Gere, Margaret Thatcher)
Main Music Income: Live Performance/Theatre Shows

When did you quit your day job?
1996

Biggest surprise about this change?
I never expected to be on TV, theatre shows or performing in Australia with a 20 piece orchestra! That did shock me.. it’s remarkable.

Hardest thing about this change?
Getting to grips with learning to promote, what is good promo, constantly reinvesting your earnings into more better equipment, learning to use the equipment effectively, how to format shows and set lists, costumes, mic technique, learning to play your instruments, stage craft, contracts, photos, press kits.

How many gigs does it take to feel confident about your finances for the next few months?
3 premium gigs in a month covers my base comfortably. The people who could afford me in the boom time could still afford me in the bust – and the people who couldn’t afford me in the boom, couldn’t afford me in the bust either! So, for a premium act – it makes no difference… it’s often easier to ask for more money than it is to find more gigs.. so the trick is to be the best.

How did this change impact you emotionally – psychologically?
I’ve pretty much always been self motivated and self employed. It’s who I am. I came into this business too old for a record deal and that kind of thing – but I am really glad I got to discover and use my gift at the best level I can manage. The booker in Australia said ‘they searched the world for the best Roy Orbison’ and chose me. That’s fantastic isn’t it? Well, if I thought that was actually true I’d be really disappointed because if I was THAT good I could’ve been the best ME.

Did this change help you musically? How?
It focuses you on not just writing or performing – but the application to which the song or show will be put to. I always try to follow my own desires and passions – otherwise your art has no depth or meaning – even with something as shallow as a trib show!

What did you do as preparation leading up to quitting your day job?
I did a performing arts course majoring in singing with intensive vocal training – classical – and pop with 2 of the best coaches in the country. I got some costume and photos/demos done, learned one set and sent it out to every agent I could find – I got some interest and a few of them took me onto the books.

Final word to singers thinking of making the plunge:
Be careful and plan as much as you can in advance – know that the plan will go wrong and need to be adjusted (constantly).
See www.royorbison-tributeshow.com

Kiki deVille
Name: Kiki deVille
Type of Music: Burlesque
Former Day Job: Organizational Development at an Aerospace Company
Main Music Income: Gigging, Presenting & Teaching

When did you quit your day job?
August 2009

Biggest surprise about this change?
That I hadn’t made it sooner!

Hardest thing about this change?
Financially we took a big hit as a family until I got established.

How many gigs does it take to feel confident about your finances for the next few months?
I teach weekly and do on average 1 masterclass per month. I try to limit to 1-2 Burlesque or Cabaret shows a month and charge a certain amount to be able to justify the limit.

How did this change impact you emotionally – psychologically?
I found being self-employed very isolating to begin with, as I get my energy from other people. However, being in a tight knit community of Burlesque and Vintage, I am surrounded by other self employed people now.

Did this change help you musically? How?
I gained a confidence in my musical ability being able to concentrate on music full time. Teaching also helped me understand that I do have a great understanding of technique.

What did you do as preparation leading up to quitting your day job?
I started gigging regularly and put together a marketing pack and a business plan.

Final word to singers thinking of making the plunge:
Have a plan. Decide what success means to you. Set yourself a financial goal and try to stay on plan to achieve it. Most importantly get some business skills. Planning, strategy and organization are key.
See: www.kikideville.com

Kevin Salyer
Name: Kevin Salyer
Type of Music: Classic songs familiar to older adults
Former Day Job: Clergy
Main Music Income: Performances in retirement, care, and senior-adult communities

When did you quit your day job?
December 24, 2012.

Biggest surprise about this change?
That I found a musical career that pays reasonably well, with most gigs on weekdays during normal business hours (I am actually home with my family most evenings and weekends!).

Hardest thing about this change?
Overcoming my insecurities – the little voice in my head that says “you aren’t good enough…who do you think you are…you’ll never make it!”

How many gigs does it take to feel confident about your finances for the next few months?
My goal is roughly 40 gigs per month (475/year), and this year I have exceeded that goal (481 and counting).

How did this change impact you emotionally – psychologically?
Just overcoming my fears, doubts, and insecurities took at least a year, and it still rears its ugly head from time to time (particularly when I get sick and have to cancel/reschedule gigs).

Did this change help you musically? How?
Singing EVERY day, for wildly different audiences, with set lists that stretch me vocally – my voice is stronger, my range has grown on the top and bottom ends, and my endurance is much greater.

What did you do as preparation leading up to quitting your day job?
In the four months prior to quitting my day job, with the blessing and support of my wife, I began building my market and started gigging as much as I could (about 60 gigs); I got my financial house in order, establishing what was needed to make this monetarily feasible for our family; and I put every minute I could into marketing, Marketing, MARKETING.

Final word to singers thinking of making the plunge:
Don’t go into this blindly. Know what you want to do and how you can do it. Ask and answer every question you can think of. If you are in a significant relationship, get their buy-in. Get an honest, unbiased assessment of your skills. And if your inner-artist is still screaming to break-free, GO FOR IT! (and welcome to the club!!)
See www.KevinSingsTheClassics.com

Suzi Woods
Name: Suzi Woods
Type of Music: from American Songbook/Standards through to current chart hits
Former Day Job: Nanny, a Temp/Receptionist, Barmaid, Promotions Assistant, Tomato Picker and television extra
Main Music Income: Live work in the private, corporate and club sectors

When did you quit your day job?
1999

Biggest surprise about this change?
I didn’t fail.

Hardest thing about this change?
Dealing with the responsibility, uncertainty and unpredictability.

How many gigs does it take to feel confident about your finances for the next few months?
I haven’t felt confident about my finances for the past 2 years at least. It would take a solid block of work over 4 or 5 months for me to feel that I was approaching stability again.

How did this change impact you emotionally – psychologically?
It is hard to avoid swinging between elation and despair at times; managing these extremes of emotion becomes the challenge.

Did this change help you musically? How?
Once I’d made the commitment, losing my nerve was not an option. I learned how to shape a set, relate to an audience, present myself and through doing it repeatedly, my voice and confidence has improved enormously.

What did you do as preparation leading up to quitting your day job?
I didn’t so much have a day job as a number of on-going part-time jobs and the biggest of these actually quit on me rather unexpectedly. So I was thrown in at the deep end and simply seized on the one thing I knew how to do – sort of!

Final word to singers thinking of making the plunge:
Don’t be fooled by the hype of television, because for the vast majority, it is a precarious living and is about so much more than the brief moment of performing. Having said that, I can’t imagine doing anything else.
See: www.suziwoods.com


VoiceCouncil Magazine thanks their fantastic Facebook community for sharing questions and concerns on this area – and for our 5 contributors who volunteered for this interview! Check out their work:

Melanie Macro

Melanie Macro is lead singer with the Prime Time Street Band and Star Party Band, she has also worked internationally on Cruise Ships and 5* Hotels and is also a very busy solo cabaret artiste.

www.melaniemacro.com | www.facebook.com/melaniemacrosinger

Iain Sparks

Iain Sparks is an international artist with tours of Europe, Canada, Asia and Australia with a 20pc orchestra.

SoundCloud | Roy Orbison tribute | Simply Red tribute | Van Morrison tribute

Kiki deVille

Kiki deVille found a new confidence after securing a place on Team Will-I-Am on Season 3 of The Voice UK. Currently the most high profile Burlesque singer and compere in the UK, Kiki recently won UK Vintage Personality of the Year at the National Vintage Awards.

www.kikideville.com | www.facebook.com/kikideville

Kevin Salyer

Kevin Salyer is a singer/entertainer in the Richmond, VA area with over 25 years of professional experience, currently performing over 450 shows per year under the banner “Kevin Sings the Classics.”

Website | Facebook

Suzi Woods

Suzi Woods works as Lead Vocalist and as Solo Performer wherever the occasion demands. For more information, please see Suzi’s YouTube channel, website and Facebook page.

YouTube | Website | Facebook


  • Linda

    ThankYouThankYouThankYou All ~

  • Diana Rosalind Trimble

    This article was a little bit of a bummer as these singers do not appear to be doing original music. It makes me sad that cover singers can make money while original artists suffer because the market is saturated with the same old radio stuff. Whatever happened to going out to hear new music?

  • Brad Holmes

    Really enjoyed this. Made me relieved that most of the singers feel the same “Elation/ Worry” as myself, and most singers I know, do throughout the year. No matter how busy you are, it’s hard to completely feel secure. On the other hand, it really spoils you for other jobs. Nothing compares with being a full-time singer!

  • Suzi Woods

    Hi Diana, I began as a Singer/Songwriter and it makes me smile when I remember the scorn I used to feel about people who sang covers. I had a lot to learn but thought I knew it all. Necessity forced me to take on covers work. However, doing covers taught me so, so much about how to deliver a song, how to handle an audience, how to shape a set etc. I’m not trained, so singing material that was outside my comfort zone was a steep and very important learning curve. I agree that there is a unique satisfaction in performing your own music but to cover great songs can teach you something about what makes an original song worth covering.
    By the way, I do regularly perform (sadly as you say, for free) at Songwriter and Open Mic nights. My own songs may be found on Soundcloud and Reverbnation and Myspace under my name: Suzi Woods. If you are a Singer/Songwriter every good wish and success, it’s where my heart lies, still. : )

  • Kathy Coneys Alexander

    So I guess the next article of this nature should be “How 5 Real Singers Make a Living with Original Music.”

  • Kathy Coneys Alexander

    Thanks for this thoughtful reply

  • Kathy Coneys Alexander

    Thank you to these five singers for being brave enough to put their musical lives on display. Best of luck to all of you!

  • Kiki DeVille

    Hi Diana. I am just about to go in to the studio to record an album of my original stuff. I perform a lot of it at vintage festivals as it is retro in style. I think the reality is that to make it work, you have to have a balance between covers and originals. Once I established myself and was making money, I was able to afford to do my own stuff. It’s incredibly important to support our original artists but the reality is that it is a very difficult are to make money in full time without a deal. So we h ve to compromise.
    Some of my stuff can be found in YouTube if you’re interested :)
    Xx

  • Friends – I was honored to be featured in this article last summer, and thought you might like an update “one year later.” Here’s a few highlights…

    I finished 2014 with over 500 gigs performed and the 2015 calendar booked at nearly 100% of my goal.

    Half-way through 2015, I am on pace to perform 550 hour-long shows, a 10% increase in bookings, and a 20% increase in revenue.

    I have found my performance tolerance “sweet spot” of a dozen gigs, with one or two days off, each week. Through the help of articles on VoiceCouncil and a local vocal coach, my voice is healthier and stronger, and my range has improved top and bottom.

    I am still finding new audiences, and networking with lots of wonderful musician friends in the region – many who I can recommend to venues when I am unavailable.

    My family life is healthier, time at home has increased, and I am enjoying the magic of SINGING and performing more than ever.

    A big “Thank You” to VoiceCouncil for playing an inspiring and educational role in my musical career. Cheers!

    Kevin Salyer
    http://www.KevinSingsTheClassics.com