What is a Dep?
Dep, Deputize or Deputise are the terms used to describe the act of ‘filling in’ or acting as an understudy for another singer in musical engagements.
This includes but is not limited to a one off gig to fill in for a friend who has become unable to perform to a contractual engagement as an understudy in a musical or opera.
Whats the difference between a Deputising Singer and a Session Singer
A dep is someone who stands in or acts as deputy for someone else whereas a session singer is specifically employed to supply a service for a particular project or length of time. Both types of singer can be interchangeable, the session singer may dep for a band or another singer, whilst a dep may do a session for a studio! In the majority of cases deputising refers to ‘live’ work whereas a ‘session’ refers to studio recording. Both are usually self employed and gain most of their employment through recommendation from fellow singers, friends, producers or session fixers and agencies.
So what does it take to become a Dep?
There are three types of singer who act as a deputisers.
1. A singer who is employed because their repertoire and style is similar or complementary to the singer they are standing in for. This can mean any standard and style, perhaps standing in for a friend whose double booked or asked by musician friends to dep when their lead singer is off sick or on holiday. Some popular artists keep a list of good singers in their address book who they use regularly when they need a back up.
2. A singer who is employed because their repertoire, range and experience is extensive enough to cater for any type of situation. Competent at singing a wide range of styles of music. They either possess their own ‘Pad’ containing a set list with keys in which they sing each song and sheet music for the musicians to read or are capable of sight reading and singing music that the musicians supply. It is not unusual for them to be professional Session Singers or Solo Artists.
3. A singer who acts as an understudy for a main character in an opera or musical. Expected to sight read and memorise the part for which they are understudying including any acting required. They may perform the part in rehearsals in the absence of the person who they are subsituting for. In some cases the dep or understudy rarely gets to perform in front of the audience. Their role is to fill in when the main singer is unable to do so.
Deputising is usually a ‘last minute’ booking – you could receive a call to be at a gig halfway across the country later that night. The work is extremely erratic which is why most singers who dep are actually solo artists, lead singers, session singers or tribute artists. The exception is of course, the singer who is contracted to deputise or understudy for the length of the show, or for a minimum period.
The singer must be competent to deputise for the person who has recommended or employed them. The standard to which they perform must be equal to (if not better than) the singer they are substituting for and they need to be comfortable and confident enough to perform with musicians without prior rehearsal, or capable of entertaining an audience using their own accompaniment.
Finding Work as a Deputising Singer
Although we have provided a list of session agencies and fixers, they usually find their clients themselves either through producer recommendation or by reputation. Success at deputising depends far more on the reputation you gain in the business and on the contacts that you make.
Create a publicity pack! Include an example list of your repertoire, recommendations from bands or artists you have deputised for (if applicable), current experience and 3 of your best songs on the demo showing your vocal range and variety of songs.
Buy music industry trade papers and music publications that run classified ads for singers wanted. You can even place an advert describing your abilities and offering your services.
Use the internet – many music websites offer a free classified ads section for singers, bands, musicians, music industry personnel. Take advantage of this by owning a website that highlights your talents and include the link in your advert.
Keep several Business Cards with you at all times. Don’t miss an opportunity, if a band, musician or producer approaches you at an open mic night, jam night, showcase etc., ask for their business card and give them yours!!
Ask professional singing friends, musicians, voice teacher, performance coach for an introduction or recommendation to a agent or management company. Also ask if they will allow you to do a few backing vocals at some of their gigs, you may not get paid but you will get seen by the venue, and/or agent who may offer you bookings.
Enter Talent Competitions and offer your singing services for Charity Shows to gain experience, gain exposure and meet other musicians and artists.
Opportunities are only limited to the competence and determination of the singer who can find work with bands or artists in pubs, clubs, cabaret, nightclubs, radio, television and as a session singer.