This post is designed to share my experiences as a vocal performer but also to show you that there is a way of life as a professional singer without necessarily needing to be a famous star.
So define professional singer. Technically it is a person with singing abilities, using/selling their singing abilities as services in exchange for money.
Did you know there are so many production companies, production shows, musicals and random events that need strong vocal performers of all shapes, sizes and ages?
I know the cliché reactions when telling people you want to be a singer consist of “oh that’s nice but what will you do to actually pay the bills?” or “Yea. Right. Ok and I want to be a professional basketball player” or the classic “What’s your back up plan?” (PS..How the heck can one have a back up plan when they haven’t even tried plan A yet?!)
I understand the misconception because it’s true, not everyone can be famous but I‘m sorry parents; there is a way to make a living as a professional performer. It doesn’t have to be your worst nightmare for your child. I’ve heard SO many people say that being a professional musician or vocalist is a pipe dream and give up before even exploring ways to make their dreams work.
I’m here to tell you that it is possible and for the purposes of this blog I will specifically focus on opportunities for a singer in LIVE performance.
Live performance production companies can cover ALL things! This is important to know because once you know your basic top production companies you will be able to find out which companies hire for which specific jobs and locations. These companies are usually the ones that have complete creative control of the show (choreography, music, costumes) are in charge of all hiring/firing cast members and are usually the ones you would sign your contract with if you were booked. They usually have their own websites with audition dates listed for specific jobs/contracts or a general in house audition to keep you on their “books” for random one off events. Salary completely depends on if you book a 6 month contract with them, if you are hired to be in one of the party bands or are only hired for one job at one event (freelance). However the contract usually states all of that and often times transportation and room and board are covered. If you would like a specific job at a specific location be sure to DO YOUR RESEARCH. A lot of theme parks, some cruises and most corporate events outsource their entertainment through the production companies and the audition will ONLY be listed on the production companies site (vs the actual theme park’s site). Doing your research is important to understand who outsources for entertainment and which events, cruise lines or theme parks are all “in house” productions.
This is an excellent thing to do when you want to travel and meet many different people from many different countries. Most major cruise lines have their own in house production companies like Norwegian, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean and Princess Cruises. Their auditions will be posted on their websites and if you want to send in an online submission you will most likely need to record yourself singing one of their songs and follow their instructions for submission accordingly. The pay for a production singer on a cruise ship is decent and typically the entertainment is paid higher than the rest of the crew (with the exception of the some officers and the captain of course). As a general note, singers (principal roles) are also usually paid more than dancers which may or may not be fair but as of now it is the industry standard. All of your expenses are paid in terms of room and board (as you live on the ship) and singers typically get more perks than the rest of the crew onboard as well. Your rehearsal time is usually paid and your schedule in terms of performance varies but compared to theme parks you might have less overall performances and pay is usually higher. I would HIGHLY recommend this route to collect some savings, if you are interested in working with a diverse crew or if you are wanting to travel for free! 🙂
*QUICK SIDE NOTE: Being a guest entertainer on cruise ships is also an option but this requires creating your own show, usually preparing a promo package, pitching it to an agency and waiting to see if you get signed with agency before actually booking your first gig as an guest entertainer. However, this post is geared toward singers who don’t have their “own” material and just love to sing and perform.
Theme or Amusement Parks:
Like I said before some smaller Theme Parks will outsource for their entertainment and some bigger Theme Parks will have in house productions. Some of the bigger companies like Disney, Six Flags and Universal Studios are all in house productions. (This is a general statement there are ALWAYS EXCEPTIONS of course!) The bigger companies have more money to pay their performers and in some cases offer employment benefits after working there a while. For theme parks, you can sign a contract with them directly that contains the start/end date, total gross or net salary and/or wether or not you will be considered an employee with health insurance. These contracts are typically employee contracts vs independent contractor work (freelance). In general, on land contracts with a theme park or theater gigs tend to have more frequent performance dates and times and they tend to pay less than on a cruise ship. Of course it varies and it is always up to the company to decide their show times, pay and perks. Some parks offer room and board for free, some you might have to pay for employee housing and some don’t offer it all. Keep in mind that popular seasons for smaller theme parks are summer and Christmas time and bigger theme parks might offer you a contract for a year v.s. a season.
*PLEASE ALSO NOTE that musicals or dramas in a theater or on tour are a completely different set up and ball game. Again, I only want to speak from my experiences.
Corporate Gigs, Galas, Events, Parties:
Lastly, there are many one time corporate gigs or party bands you could join to be hired for one-time anniversary, birthday or holiday parties. Again some production companies specialize in these “one off” gigs. So make sure to DO YOUR RESEARCH and fully understand which production companies specialize in what. However, if you are in a place where you would like to join a party band. You can be put in one by a production company or you could start your own party band that specializes in weddings and parties. In this case, you could get an agent as a band or you could book your own gigs independently. Usually there is one bandleader who organizes the rehearsal schedule, books the gigs and discusses the payment per each client. If this this is your route be prepared to learn a LOT of CLASSIC cover songs and usually the events or parties can require 2-4 hour sets and go well into the night. However, once you have your party band and are gaining some popularity you can use it to book corporate gigs in international places or set sail on a cruise ship as a party band as well.
Singing Professionally IS Possible
Like I mentioned these are just a few opportunities for singers who want to make a living in live performance. I didn’t even mention the work singers could have as a studio singer, background vocalist, karaoke host, voiceover artist, having an independent solo artist career or even just being a songwriter.
Standard business practices can also vary from country to country and from job to job. One of the beauty and draws from this career path is that no one job is just like the other one so stay flexible and honor each job you book with whatever differences in directors or rules it may have.
Also remember I am primarily a pop/rock/soul/country vocalist with some dance experience. I am not a musical theater kid so I left out all the theater and musical opportunities one could have as well.
The point is! This is a viable way of life! You can do it!
You can make money as a professional singer without being a star. Like all ways of work, it just requires DOING YOUR RESEARCH, having self confidence, being professional (prepared and not a diva), being a motivated hustler and discipline to practice and perfect your skills.
SO if you want, sing your heart out!!!…and get paid for it. 😉 -Val