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Singer

Singer

Professional singers perform in front of an audience or make recordings for broadcast, CD or download. They may sing as a soloist, work with a group, or sing in a choir. They might also do session work for backing tracks, adverts and films.

A typical week might involve:

  • attending practice sessions and rehearsals
  • playing in front of live audiences
  • composing songs and music
  • participating in recording sessions
  • promoting themselves, including making demos and contacting agents
  • arranging performances and tours, sometimes with a manager or agent.

Most combine singing with other types of work, particularly at the start of their career.

Singers generally work long and irregular hours, practising, rehearsing and performing. Evening and weekend work is normal, and the work often involves a lot of travel.

Indoor performance venues can be hot and noisy. Playing outdoors means coping with hot, cold or wet weather.

Pay rates vary enormously depending on the venue, the experience of the singer and whether the performance is live, recorded, on radio or television. As an example, a BBC radio chorus singer might earn around £70 to £105 an hour. Solo singers could earn around £150 to £900 a concert.

A singer should have:

  • outstanding musical talent
  • a reliable voice, health and stamina
  • self-discipline and determination
  • self-confidence and the ability to handle criticism
  • commitment to working long hours in a very demanding profession.

Singing is a highly competitive area of work, and very few people work as full-time singers. They may have to be prepared to work for little or no pay to gain experience.

There is no standard training programme and no fixed career path for singers. Singers may have to gain music qualifications to demonstrate expertise, but these don't guarantee work or success, and experience of singing in choirs or amateur groups, at 'open mic' spots or talent shows, and musicianship is generally more important.

Classical singers usually have extensive formal musical education and training. Most learn an instrument, usually the piano, including graded examinations.

There are many full- and part-time courses at colleges, academies of music, fee-paying performing arts schools and at adult education institutes and local community organisations.

As well as gaining formal qualifications, singers need to make a name for themselves by entering competitions, applying for bursaries and awards, attending auditions, participating in special schemes for young artists, joining amateur groups and giving free concerts. Most singers continue to develop their voices and their repertoires with practice, voice training, workshops or lessons.

Some singers move into different areas of the industry, such as teaching, writing songs, or producing their own music.

What is the work like?

Professional singers perform in front of an audience or make recordings for broadcast, CD or download.

They may sing as a soloist, work with a group, or sing in a choir. They might also do session work for backing tracks, adverts and films. Musical styles include:

  • classical - including opera, light opera, oratorio and choral, either as soloists or members of a choir or opera company
  • musical shows - ranging from classical to pop music, usually requiring acting or dancing ability too
  • ballads - easy listening, jazz, folk or country and western, generally in cabaret-style performances, either in groups or as soloists
  • pop - as solo artists, lead vocalists, backing vocalists or session singers

A solo artist may work with an orchestra or an accompanist. They may also work alone, using backing tracks or a musical instrument. Pop singers may pay session musicians to play for them, or perform at venues that have a house band or musicians.

A typical week might involve:

  • attending practice sessions and rehearsals
  • playing in front of live audiences
  • composing songs and music
  • participating in recording sessions
  • promoting themselves, including online promotion, making demos and contacting agents
  • arranging performances and tours, sometimes with a manager or agent.

Most combine singing with other types of work, particularly at the start of their career.

Hours and environment

Singers generally work long and irregular hours, practising, rehearsing and performing. Evening and weekend work is normal, and the work often involves a lot of travel.

Singers may work in indoor concert halls, nightclubs, pubs, hotels, restaurants, theatres and recording studios, or outdoor venues such as parks, pop festivals or stately homes.

Indoor performance venues can be hot and noisy. Playing outdoors means coping with hot, cold or wet weather.

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay vary depending on the venue, the experience of the singer and whether the performance is live, recorded, on radio or television.

  • Chorus singers on BBC radio may earn between around £70 and £105 an hour.
  • A session singer may get around £120 to £350 for a three-hour recording session.
  • Solo singers may earn around £150 to £900 a concert.
  • Rates for London West End performances start at around £450 a week.

Equity produces a singers' rate card that gives suggested minimum rates. Singers rarely receive a fixed salary and are usually paid on a performance basis.

Skills and personal qualities

A singer should have:

  • outstanding musical talent
  • a reliable voice, health and stamina
  • self-discipline and determination
  • the ability to work with musicians, conductors or other singers
  • self-confidence and the ability to handle criticism
  • commitment to working long hours in a very demanding profession.

Interests

It is important to:

  • be passionate about music
  • enjoy performing for an audience.

Getting in

Singing is a highly competitive area of work, and very few people work as full-time singers. They may have to be prepared to work for little or no pay to gain experience.

It is important for aspiring singers to build up confidence by singing at every opportunity. This could include joining a choir or entering talent contests.

Opportunities for full-time classical singers are limited. Most opportunities are in opera, or with one of the small number of professional choruses or chamber choirs.

Classical singers can gain experience by entering festival competitions. Singers of ballads and pop music may get advice from a talent agency or agent. Performers of all kinds should take voice lessons at an early stage.

Although many singers develop and work regionally, major success eventually depends on working in London at least some of the time.

Jobs and auditions may be advertised in the music and entertainment press. Networking sites such as MySpace have become important for singers wanting to get themselves known. Record companies may view these sites to find new singing talent.

Entry routes

There is no standard training programme and no fixed career path for singers. Singers may have to gain music qualifications to demonstrate expertise, but these don't guarantee work or success, and experience of singing in choirs or amateur groups, at 'open mic' spots or talent shows, and musicianship is generally more important.

There are many courses and qualifications available in music, some with specialist options in vocals, including:

  • GCSEs and A levels.
  • BTEC qualifications, including music, music technology, performing arts (musical) and music practice (performing). Entry to a BTEC national diploma is usually with at least four GCSEs (A*-C) or equivalent.
  • Degrees in music - minimum entry requirements are usually five GCSEs (A*-C) and two A levels, or equivalent. Some universities may require music at A level or up to grade eight in music theory.
  • Higher national certificate or diploma (HNC/HND) courses or foundation degrees in a wide range of relevant subjects, entry usually with at least one A level and four GCSEs (A*-C), or equivalent.

Most courses audition applicants. Entry requirements can vary, so check with the individual schools and colleges.

Classical singers usually have extensive formal musical education and training. Most learn an instrument, usually the piano, including graded examinations. Classical singing is generally taught as a specialist subject at universities, music conservatoires and colleges of further education, supplemented by summer schools, music competitions and festivals. Singers can take postgraduate courses in either opera or oratorio, depending on their repertoire.

Theatre singing is usually taught at drama college.

There are many other full-time and part-time courses at colleges, academies of music, fee-paying performing arts schools and at adult education institutes and local community organisations.

The Musicians Benevolent Fund provides funding through a range of awards schemes to talented young musicians, usually in their final stages of study.

Training

As well as gaining formal qualifications, singers need to make a name for themselves by entering competitions, applying for bursaries and awards, attending auditions, participating in special schemes for young artists, joining amateur groups and giving free concerts. This may take many years and, even after establishing a reputation, it can be difficult to maintain a successful career.

Most singers continue to develop their voices and their repertoires with practice, voice training, workshops or lessons. Opera singers may take stage craft and movement classes to develop specialist skills.

There is a wide range of colleges and training organisations that specialise in courses and qualifications for vocal artists and performing musicians.

Getting on

Voice quality, stamina, determination, reputation and contacts are all vital factors for success.

Some singers may perform in the theatre, on cruise ships or as support acts for other musicians. They may also move into different areas of the industry, such as teaching, writing songs, or producing their own music.

Further information

Access to Music, Lionel House, 35 Millstone Lane, Leicester LE1 5JN. 0800 281842. Website: www.accesstomusic.co.uk

Conservatoires UK Admissions Service (CUKAS), Rosehill, New Barn Lane, Cheltenham GL52 3LZ. 0871 468 0470. Website: www.cukas.ac.uk

Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM), 10 Stratford Place, London W1C 1AA. 020 7629 4413. Website: www.ism.org

Musicians Benevolent Fund, 7-11 Britannia Street, London WC1X 9JS. 020 7239 9100. Website: www.mbf.org.uk

Musicians' Union, 60-62 Clapham Road, London SW9 0JJ. 020 7582 5566. Website: www.themu.org

Rockschool, Evergreen House, 2-4 King Street, Twickenham TW1 3RZ. 0845 460 4747. Website: www.rockschool.co.uk

UK Performing Arts, The Prince Partnership, The Depot, 3 Catharine Street, Cambridge CB1 3AW. 01223 570380. Website: www.ukperformingarts.co.uk

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

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