So, you want to be a singer and start a singing career…
First things first, before you even think of a singing career, you have to answer one thing: what type of singer are you– a real singer, a singer-songwriter, or a performer?
Let’s get a little more specific–do you want to be a famous singer or merely sing professionally as a backup singer for a famous recording artist? Do you want to be known as a good singer or the next American Idol? Do you want to be as big as Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Olivia Rodrigo, etc.?
Is this a fantasy or is it a passion you’re willing to turn into reality? Have you developed your artistry to the point where people are excited, interested, and invested in you?
The answers to these questions really matter. If you’re really serious and want to become a singer, then you’re ready to learn a few valuable points on how to form a successful career path.
Be ready to learn and invest in yourself
We all fantasize that we are already “good enough” when in reality, being a “good” singer in today’s music industry means… wait for it… you suck. OUCH!
Those artists that you admire invest in themselves. Not past tense–they work with a vocal coach regularly. They will tell you that their vocal coach is one of their best investments and essentials for their singing success. For this reason, singing lessons should be viewed as an essential investment.
There are people who are concerned with the costs involved. The true costs may not be what first meets the eye.
For example, the most expensive singing lessons are not the ones that cost you the most cash. The cheap, $30 per-hour, organ player at church who doesn’t even sing….. is the most backward place to start a singing career. It may not be a lot of cash, but it can be the most expensive lesson in the long run.
Think about it. If you start at a young age, you are laying a foundation. The foundation will have to be rebuilt! I know because I learned the wrong voice technique and had to tear down almost everything I’d built. That is a very expensive lesson to learn.
The going rate for real voice training
People often remark, “Man, get to the point. How much will good lessons cost me?”
If I had a dollar for every time I heard this question, I’d have… at least a dollar 😉
In reality, you should be able to spend minimal money and still develop your talent as a local, artsy singer-songwriter. A really good coach is trained to give you the best return on your investment. However… you do need to know that you won’t find a serious vocal coach charging less than $75– dollars per hour. Experienced, knowledgeable, fast, effective, and reputable coaches typically start at $100 per hour and go up to $700 per hour, although there are exceptions.
Don’t let that frighten you! The sticker shock continues to surprise me, but it really shouldn’t. One important lesson I tell my children, my clients, and those seeking my guidance in building a career is “That which costs you nothing is worth nothing.” It is the same when investing in your singing career.
Professional singers in the music industry understand their singing careers depend on the quality and…yes, the quantity of their investment into the music business. I say this, but use wisdom and discretion. Professional artists often don’t take coaches seriously who don’t charge a premium.
Now, this can also be deceptive. Sometimes, pros foolishly pay $2000 an hour for some magic guru who speaks slowly, and cryptically, maybe has a doctorate in psychology, and has kept copious notes on the 150 self-help books he/she has read. This can be a mistake just like hiring that cheap, $30 per-hour, organ player at church who doesn’t even sing. The costs are immeasurable.
Let’s just fast-forward to where we see them in our studios–desperate to get their vocals leveled up rapidly or in need of vocal therapy after an injury that could have been thwarted.
Don’t just throw money around
If you’re a movie buff and like comedy like I do, watch Office Space. The boring job has a subtle perk if they are willing to pull off a dishonest scam and get a fraction of a penny off of countless transactions. This is money that can’t be easily tracked. The first rule was “don’t show off your money…no new house or condo, no fancy clothes, NO SPORTS CARS…. avoid suspicion.”
Suddenly, these unpopular office nerds run into an insane amount of cash. One of them shows up to work in an expensive sports car! Ummm… dude… that’s not conspicuous at all!
If you have a lot of money or come from a mega-rich family, beware! Sharks in the industry will overpromise, overcharge and underdeliver. I’ve actually been a victim of this myself…
Lesson learned…sort of
Nearly 20 years ago, I ran into an industry shark who was big on flattery, big on price tag, and scary as hell when I cut off the money supply.
I had warned people about snakes like this guy, but didn’t see it when if happened to me. I paid the guy and got a demo! Not a real produced song worth pitching…as I later found out. And the price tag…. 6 grand. $6K y’all. That’s a lot of buckaroos!
I’ve seen people brag about how much money they had and I warned them that it would NOT garner any respect in the music industry. Talent speaks. Not money.
Where to invest and how much
So, this brings us to the frank discussion of where to invest your money and efforts.
The first order of business is… (drum roll)… training. Your voice, your body, your instrument, your stage presence, and your personality. This means you must train the weakest area of your craft. For most singers, the greatest need is obvious… your voice.
Training at least once a week is crucial and can keep your vocal cords healthy, balanced, strong, flexible, and ready for any opportunity. Many professional singers have come to study with me for an entire week or twice a week or whenever they’re off tour and need to rehabilitate their vocal cords.
The importance of mentors
Famous singers aren’t merely lucky. Often, they have a team around them. Mentors who use their vast experience in the industry. To be a professional singer, you need to surround yourself with pros. Unfortunately, there are thousands of voices whispering in our ears telling us how to start our singing careers, and…. these people are just guessing.
I’ve seen some bold opinions from those who’ve had zero experience or exposure from inside the belly of the beast (pardon the expression) and yet they supposedly have all the answers. When a cook tells you how to increase your vocal range, smile and say “interesting” and then consult someone who knows.
To have a successful singing career, you need to surround yourself with pros.
A voice coach — or as tradition would name them, voice teacher– can often become the most important mentor in a singing career. Again, those artists that we all tend to admire work with a vocal coach regularly. They will tell you that their vocal coach is not only, one of their best investments and essentials for their singing success, but a personal mentor. For this reason, singing lessons should be viewed as an essential investment.
This starts way back at the beginning. Think about the singer who is training for musical theatre. Musical theatre has some of the greatest demands historically speaking. You have to project your voice when singing and speaking. The demands of musical theatre can be brutal. The intimidation. The competition of singing louder or with more vibrato and trills to win an audition. This is where a singer needs a voice coach to help learn subtlety. They need a mentor who will help them to resist the urge to “out-sing” themselves!
As a 30+ year veteran vocal coach, I tell singers to NOT get carried away showing ALL their vocal range or their vocal abilities. Instead, we let other singers— their competition (there’s that dirty word) show all their vocal abilities. A successful singer—in fact, most music professionals—learns to sing for the song. Instead of taking the opportunity to show off every facet of their singing style, they learn what every session musician or session singer in Nashville, New York, and LA understands: it’s less about ability and more about sensibility, dependability, and responsibility. These are a high priority of a professional vocal coach.
Character development can be seen in how many aspiring singers approach their music. Unfortunately, many voice lessons are merely opportunities to prop up egos instead of building great singers. A false reality won’t help you. You need honest benchmarks of your weaknesses so that you can turn them into strengths. Look for the vocal coach who will help you develop as an artist in all areas essential for singing success.
Songwriting teachers or mentors
This is another area where I see people writing songs so that they can sing their own music, but with no one guiding them or giving them proper song structure. Often I see singers writing with their parents who may very well have a gift for writing, but when they claim an authority that’s not been earned or recognized by the industry, The singer-songwriter is being held back!
If you want to write songs, start networking with local artists or come to our studio and we’ll get you started networking with other artists who write songs. Sounds kind of simple, but if you want to become a singer, you get a voice teacher immediately. Same thing with writing songs.
Guitar or Piano Lessons
Learning to play an instrument will rapidly speed up your progress on your path to becoming a professional singer. Learning an instrument will educate you on chord structure, melody, and where your voice can complement the song.
A good singer becomes only as great as their musical skills. Especially—and I mean especially—if you’re a singer-songwriter.
Learning an instrument is important whether or not you’ll ever play live. However, if you never play any instruments in live performances, your value as an artist is limited. It’s not impossible to have a career being a frontman/woman in a band who doesn’t play an instrument. Plenty exist. But most of them can at least play a few songs solo.
As a singer-songwriter, you’re more than likely going to be gigging in small local venues or any place in your local music scene with open mic nights. This gives you the opportunity to control the tempo, dynamics, and overall delivery of your song. YOU are responsible for performing live compellingly in ALL your upcoming performances. Be ready!
Learning an instrument is also needed when writing songs alone. Think Billy Joel, Rod Stewart, Taylor Swift, Sting, Ed Sheeran, and Sia for starters. They wrote a lot or almost every song by themselves. This will raise your worth and increase your likelihood of success.
Manager team as a mentor
Finding a great manager is tricky. It’s often said that truly great management is nearly as hard as getting a record deal. Many managers have never worked with a famous singer, so they are operating without experience.
If your manager worked under a successful management firm and most of their clients were famous singers either before signing with the management firm or after signing, then two assumptions are safely made:
- They found a singer they believed in, or a singer found them and believed in their abilities to break them into the music business.
- The firm was reputable for signing a professional singer and taking them to the next level.
A great manager doesn’t merely see you as a product, a dollar bill, or some ego booster. They should see you as a living, breathing soul and be more concerned with your overall life. They should encourage you to be your best self.
IF… if your manager doesn’t care what you do in your own time, chances are they are not in it for the long haul. Bad managers don’t care if you sabotage your success.
Getting a music attorney as a mentor
My long-time friend and highly sought-after music attorney, Jim Zumwalt has become legendary in Nashville as “the deal maker.” It’s been rumored that he’s put together over 1,000 record deals throughout his career!
This is because he’s winsome, connected, reputable, and has a great eye and ear for who looks and sounds like a famous singer. He’s sent many singers to me for private singing lessons to ensure their singing voice reflects someone with undeniable musical talent!
He’s got that tough yet extremely kind way of mentoring a good singer because he knows that the bigger your network of great music producers, skilled songwriters, and talented vocal coaches, the greater your chance of success.
Furthermore, MOST music attorneys can listen to your original songs and instantly know if your own songs are good enough, or if you need to hire the right music producer to represent you well. They have no time for BS.
Music producers who mentor
In 2015, I released my second record “Love Justice” which got some acclaim and tons of great reviews. However, I dropped the ball and forgot to continue my payment for iTunes and it all got deleted… whoops. So all those reviews were gone. 5-star reviews. Only 1 four-star review. Clearly, my haters didn’t take the time to rip me. So… back to the drawing board. Live and learn.
So, my point in talking about this record is this guy Malcolm Springer. He is a high-level producer with an extensive track record who’d produced some of my favorite singers that I’d worked with as well as legends I’ve adored for decades.
Being around Malcolm in the studio for several months was an education. A mentoring of sorts. He knows what sells a song, the difference between poor, average, and great songs, and knows how to inspire a singer.
If fact, Malcolm and many other Nashville producers are not shy about calling my studio to get a coach out to help get their artist’s singing voice prepped to deliver an iconic vocal performance.
Malcolm and many subsequent producers I’ve known typically have a learned or instinctive knowledge of music theory and can play several instruments. But they often model humility by bringing in other musicians to play a part in giving variety and tonal differentiation.
They also know the role of background singers to make a project have that transcendent listening experience.
Furthermore, most producers can hear that your vocal cords are swollen or inflamed because your tone will lose quality with each take. This is why they prefer artists who currently work with an effective vocal teacher. They are as concerned as you are (sometimes even more) about your vocal health.
Side note: much of the backing vocals are usually not sung by the artists, and that’s why I strongly recommend my ‘Mastering Harmony course (link below) and upcoming harmony courses soon to be released.
Steps to Prepare & Start Your Singing Career
If you haven’t scheduled any voice classes yet, that needs to be the first order of business. As mentioned earlier, you must be at the top of your game. Before you consider going on The Voice, AGT, American Idol, or any other talent shows on TV and, definitely, before you post music on your YouTube channel or Instagram or participate in a local musical theatre production… get your voice in shape!
I know a lot of singers I’ve trained from such a young age, like vocal phenom Hayley Williams of Paramore, who started with me at 12 years old and worked with me diligently for 9 years. She would tell you that your voice is the one place you cannot afford to skimp on.
How to know when your voice is ready
When your trusty coach and other respected peers say “go!”
As a coach, I’ve often been the singer’s EIC: encourager in chief. I don’t presume that the singer has a limited potential or the most potential because singers on both sides of the equation have disproved me.
Talkers and braggers are often the laziest. It’s the quiet musician who possesses a swagger that spurns curiosity. These are the ones who’d rather die than quit.
Your other peers could be the mentors I mentioned above. When people start a singing career, they often haven’t really paid the price of time and treasure to build their talents. When you finally count the cost to become a singer, you’re ready.
One of the most telling signs
I remember being part of the University of Utah’s Musical theatre troop called “Crimson Collage” where we’d go around singing at various public events as ambassadors of the U of U’s Musical Theatre program. I was hated by most of the singers in this small group (3 girls, 4 boys) because I was the least experienced. But I had those high notes and a lot of adrenaline in my voice.
I didn’t audition for this group. I was asked! That was telling for me. Someone I highly respected—my college professor and eventually my boss, James Prigmore—had invited me to sing for this group.
I would then be asked to be a lead singer for a rock band, sing in church, and do solos for the choir. I was practically invited to sing everywhere…. and even got paid. That was a telling sign, but not the biggest.
The main sign you’re ready to start a singing career is when people start asking you to sing. Whether an eager crowd at a Karaoke bar that’s excited you wandered in, church members tearing up at a performance, bringing the house down in a musical theater production, or getting Justin Bieber-type responses on YouTube.
Learn How to Do the Right Vocal Exercises
Yes! Be sure you’re doing the right vocal exercises
This one should be a no-brainer by now. Everyone who has or wants a lasting professional singing career should be doing vocal exercises that keep the voice agile, flexible, powerful, dynamic (controlled from soft to loud and back to soft), connected (no breaks from your lowest note to your highest), free from strain and great pitch accuracy. We offer help in two ways: vocal lessons with our Brett Manning Associates and vocal training through our line of Singing Success products (See them here: https://singingsuccess.com/programs)
Learn and Become Proficient with the 5 Voice Sounds
- Mixed voice: blending head and chest voice to produce the most pleasing, commercially viable, and yet safe tone.
- Breathy Singing: Using aspirated tones in music, usually in the quieter moments of the song.
- Hard Mixed: A mixed voice that uses more chest than head in your blend.
- Voice Break: Once you learn to connect your vocal range, you can disconnect or ‘flip’ into falsetto for a stylistic effect.
- Head Voice: This is misunderstood but typically is confused with falsetto. Check out our YouTube Channel for a deeper description.
Find a Famous Singer As a Mentor
Stick with me here on this! Read up on singers whose career paths you admire. And see which one aligns with your VGV–vision, goals, and values:
- Vision. How things would look if you knew you couldn’t fail.
- Goals. The realistic and achievable action steps others have taken that encourage you.
- Values. The artist who doesn’t compromise—sells their soul—but rather sticks to their core values. Someone you can look up to and admire their character as much as their music.
Choose Your Fashion Carefully
If you truly know who you are, you can wear what you’re comfortable with and look good. Imitation is key here. Find that artist whose style you admire and be influenced by them. Perhaps choose one you already admire enough with your VFV. But! Choose your fashion carefully.
Develop the Right Mindset
Tony Robbins, Denzel Washington, Katherine Hepburn, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Quincy Jones, Kate Winslet, Oprah, K Bach, Chopin, Beethoven (who became deaf and still wrote massive concertos), Serena Williams, Michael Jordan, and Kobe are just a short diverse list who are quotable. They are history makers and world-changers. They did not get where they are by accident.
Their mindset sets them apart.
Learn from them. Soak in their wisdom. Dig up their secrets to their success. I’ve posted plenty of motivating videos and blogs concerning this. They inspire me. I suspect that they will inspire you as well. Let me share a few quick insights into their collective influence on my career as a vocal coach and artist developer:
- Goals in the mind are not as powerful as goals you take the time to write on valuable paper, in your own handwriting.
- Speaking your goals out loud to peers, friends, family, and others you respect, holds you to what I call ‘enjoyable accountability’ that produces good fruit.
- Passion and purpose fuel drive and determination. If you’re driven, you’re hard to stop.
- Distraction is for quitters and losers. This sounds harsh, but the focused are the winners of this game.
- You cannot merely keep filling up your tank with wishful thinking that leads to motivation. You need something stronger than all the mindset coaches could give you and that is obligation! If you HAVE to do something, it’s more powerful than if you FEEL like or WANT to do something. If you get all three, that’s pretty unstoppable!
Can you sense how those thoughts shift your mindset? Can you sense how they inspire you toward reaching for greatness? Listen to people who are history makers and world changers.
Develop Professional Contacts And Relationships
Surprise! This isn’t as hard as you think it is. If you basically know me—or my coaches who know me— then you know the former manager of Taylor Swift, Rick Barker, Music attorney mogul Jim Zumwalt, up-and-coming music industry mogul Ryan McMahon, a ton of famous, respected, successful singers, producers and hit songwriters.
How is this possible? It’s the concept of Six Degrees of Separation. This simply means there are only 6 people in between almost anyone you’d like to meet, work with or know. Social connectivity is simply “I have a friend who knows a girl who has a cousin who knows this guy who worked with (fill in the blank). In the music industry, I believe there are only 3 to 4 degrees of separation.
The landmark book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is a must-read for anyone entering the music business. Though I admit I’ve only read about the first 4 chapters…. no wonder I’m not a billionaire. ;)
My summary of this and many other books I’ve read is super simple: care about people! Listen to them, study their lives and take mental notes (or even write them down) about the people you meet, and remember one golden rule: people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
To be a success in the music industry, networking is essential. This network can be other singers as well. If you share the stage with a fellow songwriter, treat them like they’re the next superstar, but do NOT shoot yourself in the foot and worship them or kiss their behinds. Show them respect and honor! Finally, command—don’t demand—respect by being great. And be gracious. Folks will always remember your contagious smile and your laughter. They’ll remember how you made them feel. Be intentional.
Expand Your Skills
How many singing courses do you own? How many do you think you need to own? Ok, how many guitar or piano courses do you own? Or, do you have a piano or guitar teacher? A songwriting mentor? Have you had performance coaching or live show production with the great Tom Jackson or his associate? Have you attended any boot camps? My boot camps?
My shameless pitch
At www.singingsuccess.com we have sought to be the most trusted resource for singers and performers with our courses. Our VIP membership gives you a virtual library of vocal exercises that are designed to take you to the “as good as you can possibly get” place in your career. Never stop developing as a singer…if you want a successful singing career.
Learn How To Read Music
This is a little bit of a controversial point in singing because I’ve coached thousands of singers who have Youtube Channels with millions of views, who’ve signed record deals, and some who’ve even won Grammy Awards. However, knowing how to read music can only increase your understanding of what truly makes music great and how great music is made… But only if….. you are ‘FIRST’ intuitive and creative with music. I believe you should learn to be creative and then learn what other creatives are doing so that you understand chord progressions and melodic structure.
Try this: when you get stuck, take a simple Bach piece like his Adagio in Dm and watch tutorials on YouTube. Suddenly, you’ll realize how many songs have this pattern of chords called the ‘circle of 5ths’ and you’ll write a song with those chords for the first time.
Hit the Gym
Getting in reasonable shape takes a certain amount of discipline, but be sure of this… you are seeking a career as a professional singer, not as a bodybuilder. The time dedicated to the gym can rob valuable time and physical and mental energy from your music.
Treat Your Singing Career As Your Business
If you don’t treat your career as a business, as my good friend and mentor Leah McHenry says, you will fail. Developing a good business plan of action is really simple. Several apps online provide you with this structure and all you have to do is fill in the blanks telling yourself in writing what it is that you really want for yourself.
People don’t usually fail because of a lack of talent or work ethic. They fail because they lack a plan. There’s no structure to what comes first or what will get them to their destination. It’s like throwing away your maps and turning off your GPS in a city you’ve never been to and driving in circles. I see this all the time in the industry.
For true singing success, you will need a plan for business. You will need to be intentional about planning and marketing. Don’t tune out!
Marketing is not just a business “profession.” Marketing is all about making relationships. In order to have a successful business, you will need to be very intentional about making relationships. For example, seek out music lovers more than other music makers. They are your main fanbase. Also, don’t merely ‘like’ someone’s post. Especially when they tell you their family member or friend just passed away. Take time and write something that will move them. CARE!
Treat your singing career as a business.
Establish Your Online Presence
This can imply your sound, your performance, your look, and your style. Really think this through.
Choose the suitable genre of music for your singing career. This can be the hardest part of your growth and development.
Set up your website and social media. First, by networking. Make friends online and don’t get off track. Like other artists’ music and tell them. You’ll be surprised at the number of artists who reciprocate and follow you back. Although there are huge egos in the entertainment industry, follow and imitate successful accounts and get inspired by how they load content.
Upload your music to YouTube and Spotify. Of course, this is after you have followed all of the other steps! Film a dozen different songs on your phone. Post 1. Repeat. This assumes you’re ready to post. Only post what you’re proud of and then interact quickly after you post. This will boost your algorithms.
Submit your songs to playlists. And… seek out pro musicians and producers who’ve had success with this before.
Do your part to establish a strong online presence.
Get Discovered By The Music Industry
Your manager or producer (sometimes they’re the same person) can submit you to radio, Spotify, iTunes, and other DSP’s but you need killer music before you try this.
Don’t be rigid in your plan. Having a plan keeps you moving, but be ready to pivot whenever an unexpected opportunity comes your way!
Become A Professional Singer
Get help. We can help. Book a session with one of our coaches to mentor you. The advantage comes through coaching! Become a VIP member today and start plowing through our extensive, massively library and voice-transforming exercises!
Contact us at:
www.singingsuccess.com or 615-866-1099