So you want to be a professional singer with a healthy diary of paid gigs? -asks Hannah Northedge
Many aspiring singers think that if they’ve won a local contest or know someone in the music industry then they have a guaranteed career ahead of them.
It isn’t quite that easy.
But a regular & lucrative gigging life can be a reality IF you understand the biggest misconceptions about getting gigs:
If have a nice voice and am attractive / have a good image then I will just be “discovered”.
Many singers I coach reveal an all-too-common belief: “Given my vocal and physical attributes, if an influential person hears me sing just once, my career will be set.” Even those rare artists who get discovered would say they still had to work to be discovered after their first discovery was forgotten! A singer often has to act as their own agent and manager, spending more time online than onstage. “Why can’t you get someone to do all the promoting for you?” It’s a highly competitive field and that you need to be proactive in marketing yourself. There’s an upside to this. I am too impatient to wait for someone else to promote me and I would rather have the control over setting my own booking terms and rates. If you don’t have the publicity material yet and just want to get out there and sing, start by attending open mic nights, jazz jams to get yourself heard.
One band I know was frustrated with the limitations of playing in pubs and social clubs. So, they set their sights on getting high-end corporate gigs. However, they did nothing to update their publicity material; their demos consisted of dated songs and arrangements and cheesy, unflattering photos. They didn’t have a video or even a website. It shouldn’t have come as any surprise to them when they were still being offered the same calibre of gigs years later. Meanwhile, another band I know didn’t have a huge budget but researched the publicity of other bands doing the kind of gigs they lusted after. They decided to invest in a polished demo of contrasting songs, glossy photos, a well edited video of live singing and a sleek WordPress website. They knew the quality of bookings they would draw from this would more than pay for itself after just a handful of dates.
A friend of mine too readily handed thousands of dollars to a “manager” who he thought would make him a huge success very quickly. You see, he wanted to concentrate on composing and recording music and felt embarrassed boasting about his ability. Little came of this “investment” aside from a few promotions on social media sites that the artist could very well have done himself. Yes, it’s true that agencies can help some singers. However, if you have a website with good Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and are willing to spend a few hours each week blogging about services you offer (with appropriate key words attached such as “wedding singer” or “corporate jazz”) you can push your career forward.
I had a colleague that was very disparaging about my constant activity on social media, always reminding me how trivial and unnecessary it was, but he was soon perplexed when performing opportunities started to roll in for me. Yes, social media can rob you of so many hours of precious time if not used with a clear objective in mind, but it can also give you a platform to interact with venues and clients directly – and give you a huge presence to your fan base. If you Tweet witty sound bites or update Facebook and LinkedIn statuses in an engaging way, using photos, competitions and offers and also use the search facility to seek out performing opportunities being offered, you may find your gig list expanding. Having a You Tube channel is a very easy way to connect with fans as they often prefer home made videos from a phone or iPad that make artists seem more accessible.
I once had a residency with a pianist at a new high-end casino in central London. He was earning an unusually high rate several nights a week from this engagement, so he promptly decided he was going to move to one of the most swanky neighbourhoods of London! Alas: the residency screeched to a swift halt when the venue closed down (probably a result of paying the staff so well without enough wealthy clientele to warrant it!) The moral of this story: when a lucrative booking comes in, don’t blow all your money and don’t be too optimistic about it lasting forever. Count on dry patches when bookings are very thin on the ground (such as after the Christmas blow out). Try to secure yourself several residencies, make yourself available with several musical line ups, feature a unique selling point about your act, instrumental ability or distinctive image. Don’t take your eye off the ball in this very fickle industry. To generate a steady workload and repeat bookings, you have to keep things rolling yourself.
Hannah Northedge is a pop and jazz singer, vocal coach and director of www.voicecity.co.uk. One of her clients is currently supporting the band JLS and performing at the 02 Arena. Hannah has sung at Ronnie Scott’s, Wireless Festival and Abbey Road Studios. She has just conducted a choir in a film called “POSH”, has coached X Factor finalists and judged Live and Unsigned.