The 2 Sides of a Singer

The 2 Sides of a Singer
One of the greatest moments a singer can experience, is when your artist and business sides triumph at the same time. –says Paul Kirby

Have you ever felt that being a singer requires you to split your personality? If yes, you are in good company.

Professional singer, Paul Kirby, is in the middle of writing a research paper on management styles within artistic organizations.

Singers need to be both an artist and a business person

If you are all artist and not enough business OR you are all business and not enough artist, you will really want to hear what Paul says:

Singers need to be both an artist and a business person. A healthy professional singer will give both “jobs” equal weight in their lives – but finding this balance is not always easy.

Most singers are fired up about one side more than the other side – an imbalance that can lead to stress and frustration.

The Business Side

The “business person” in you must be in constant pursuit of your next gig or career accomplishment. I call this process “the hunt.”

Being able pay your bills via your singing work is obviously the main target of “the hunt,” but it goes beyond that.

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You have to be a good enough singer to get gigs, but that’s not always enough on its own

Recognition, prestige and greater financial reward – these are all things that feed and satisfy the business part of your singing life.

For singers who are naturally strong in the business arena, “the hunt” is enjoyable and motivating.

They are particularly good at performing at a high level (being their best) in almost any situation – even stressful ones.

Singers who are weak in this area, on the other hand, may feel uneasy and stressed when tackling the business-related tasks.

The strong business types often manage to land more gigs – and more prestigious ones – than other entertainers do – even those who are more skilled than they are.

Sure, you have to be a good enough singer to get gigs, but that’s not always enough on its own.

Strengthen Your Business Side

If you are not naturally strong on the business front, try extending the same creativity that you apply to your music, to your financial pursuits.

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The first step is to get a clear idea of where you are now and where you want to go

By tackling the business side of your life as a creative task, you can tap into a part of you that is already strong.

Some singers work with life coaches to develop strategies to bring that part of their personality more into focus.

You can always read “success literature” but it may take time to sift through the throngs of books and find the ones that make sense to you.

The first step is to get a clear idea of where you are now and where you want to go with regards to business acumen. The rest is strategy and discipline.

Most singers are “people people,” and it can be helpful to make contact with others a part of your journey. Try build a support network of kind and supportive colleagues.

The Artist Side

The artist part of you is fed by the enjoyment of singing.

Natural curiosity, love of beauty, wonder at the complexity of the human story as told through singing music of all kinds – these have to be nurtured.

You may be surprised at the kind of music that feeds your singer-soul. Throbbing dance tunes, angry thrash metal, or jazz standards may find a home in you at unexpected times.

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I sing professionally in the classical world, but my high notes didn’t really start working consistently until I gave in to a long-suppressed love of bluegrass music – the music I grew up with. I couldn’t deny my inner barefoot country boy any longer.

It unlocked a whole new dimension in my singing. I can’t fathom how I survived without this music for such a long time.

For a thousand years, singing has been something that feeds us – it excites a very specific part of our brain. All arts for that matter serve a crucial role in society: they remove isolation and connect us to our humanity.

I believe singing is holy work. Singers are a conduit – bringing help for people that need something.

Singing serves people, and serving – whether through singing or other activities – gives your life meaning.

Strengthen Your Artist Side

To feel satisfied as an artist, you need to sing music you love.

If you are not naturally strong on the artist side, your life will only become richer by re-connecting with your will to sing.

Yogic cleansing breathing exercises are effective because they put us back in touch with our need to breathe.

Just like our deepest need for inhalation, singers have a need to sing, and this quote from George Orwell: 1984 Part II sums it up perfectly:

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Why was the bird singing?
Because birds have to sing. Singers are no different.

“The music went on and on, minute after minute, with astonishing variations, never once repeating itself, almost as though the bird were deliberately showing off its virtuosity.

Sometimes it stopped for a few seconds, spread out and resettled its wings, then swelled its speckled breast and again burst into song.

Winston watched it with a sort of vague reverence. For whom, for what, was that bird singing?”

Why was the bird singing?

Because birds have to sing. Singers are no different.

Finding the music that excites your need to sing is absolutely crucial in restoring your natural curiosity as a singer.

All Artist, No Business

For a singer who is strong on the artist side but weak on the business side, the same prestigious gig that inspires other singers could be highly stressful.

Singing constantly under stressful circumstances can lead to vocal health problems over time.

Symptoms of the all-artist and no-business singer could be, among other things, a stifling perfectionism, a wildly swinging level of self-confidence, a high level of difficulty in networking, audition-terror.

It is important to remember that while we do highly important work as singers, it is after all, only singing.

Knowing yourself well will allow you to figure out how to feed both sides in a way that works for you.

You are not performing heart surgery or flying a passenger aircraft. No one is likely to die because you did or did not do a good enough job singing.

Know What Kind Of Animal You Are

Self knowledge is one of the most important things a singer can have. It is up to singers to know themselves well enough that they can give both sides of their life the investment it needs.

Knowing yourself well will allow you to figure out how to feed both sides in a way that works for you.

Ultimate Triumph

One of the greatest moments a singer can experience, is when the artist and business person triumph at the same time.

They triumph not just because of the money, but rather the audience accountability that the money implies.

When you sing at a gig that is well-paying or prestigious AND allows you to sing music you love in a way that touches people – both the hunter and the singer in you will be on cloud nine.


Paul Kirby

Paul Kirby is an American singer living in Oslo. His classical training is from Boston University Opera Institute, and he has performed throughout Europe during his 30-year career. He soon earns a Masters in Management from BI Oslo, coaches/consults on profitable creativity, and fronts Oslo bluegrass band Moving Day!, which he founded in 2008.

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