Become a Professional Singer: Education and Career Roadmap

Oct 20, 2021

Learn how to become a professional singer. Research the education and career requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career as a professional singer.

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Should I Be a Professional Singer?

Professional singers perform songs in front of live audiences and record music in recording studios. While some singers are part of bands or sing with orchestras, others perform solo or play their own instruments. Auditions are often required, and travel is usually a part of the job. Intense competition may exist between performers for singing contracts. However, successful singers can see lucrative incomes.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree (recommended, required for opera singers)
Degree Fields Music theory, music performance
Experience Often begins before adulthood with lessons and recitals
Key Skills Natural singing talent, perseverance, stage presence, physical stamina, adept at handling rejection, good at memorizing, and demonstrate strong interpersonal skills
Salary $28.15 is the median hourly wage for musicians and singers (May 2018)*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), O*Net OnLine.

How to Be a Professional Singer

Preparation for a career as a professional singer begins long before adulthood.

Step 1: Practice from a Young Age

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that many professional musicians, including singers, begin practicing their craft at a young age. Singing opportunities may be available with school choirs or in musicals. However, young singers can also join a band with friends. It's important for singers to develop a familiarity with a variety of styles. This kind of development can begin at a young age by exposing oneself to many different kinds of music. Both popular and classical styles should be considered because employment opportunities exist in each.

Success Tip:

  • Take private lessons. According to the BLS, some experienced singers and musicians provide private lessons to young singers. This could be an option prospective singers could consider for individual attention and to improve their skills and abilities.

Step 2: Consider Enrolling in a Formal Training Program

Bachelor's degree programs in music with a vocal emphasis can help singers develop their voices in a variety of performance atmospheres. These programs emphasize various aspects of the craft, including theory, performance, and history. Though a degree in music isn't required for a professional singing career for popular music, the knowledge it imparts can be of great use to aspiring musicians.

Prospective singers entering a music or vocal performance degree program likely need to audition as part of the admissions process. While the process differs by school, it can entail singing musical selections of different genres in a live audition or submitting an audio or video portfolio. Some schools don't allow popular music for auditions, but instead seek arias of classical composers. You may also be allowed to sing along with a recorded track or a cappella.

Success Tips:

  • Perform as much as possible. Colleges and universities may offer numerous performing opportunities. In addition to choral ensembles and formal recitals and shows, performing in coffee shops or in local musical venues may be beneficial for a prospective singer. Singers can audition for concerts and theatrical performances to build their vocal skills.
  • Take advantage of school facilities. Many schools with music and vocal degree programs have resources such as studios, practice rooms, or reference libraries. These options can help singers learn more about music and exercise their singing abilities.

Step 3: Look for Professional Singing Opportunities

Musicians typically advance in their careers by seeking an audience for their craft. The process can be arduous and involve a lot of time spent searching for opportunities to perform and receiving compensation. While performance opportunities may be offered all over the country, the BLS noted that many musicians relocate to hub cities for the entertainment industry like New York, Los Angeles, Nashville, or Chicago.

Step 4: Obtain Professional Representation

As a professional singer, you may want to hire a personal manager or agent to help find work, negotiate contracts, and find connections. Singers should seek a registered and/or licensed talent agent. Many states like California and New York regulate talent agents. Managers and agents take a commission on the singer's money earned on a given job.

Professional singers may build upon childhood and young adult years spent taking lessons, practicing, and performing with a relevant bachelor's degree program and continued practice and performances. They seek out opportunities to sing professionally and may seek professional representation to obtain higher visibility work in bigger cities like New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago.

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