There are many ways in which a singer can earn a living although the wages vary considerably depending on style, experience, competence and the performer’s popularity. A singer may earn anything between nothing to £30 an hour and upwards. Latest average rates are usually available from organisations like the Musicians Union. Whilst many performers are happy to sing for pleasure rather than pay it is always nice to be paid for something that you enjoy doing.
The following information is a guide to various types of vocal styles plus singing and voice-related job opportunities. Competition is high, therefore any singer needs to be proficient and the majority of experienced singers will diversify by performing a variety of musical styles depending on their vocal capabilities and educational training. For many singers, live performance is a secondary form of income.
1. A cappella
A cappella is the term used for singing without the aid of accompaniment and takes far more skill than the listeners realise. All styles of music can be performed in this manner, (although some are more suited than others) and artists must be extremely competent to be able to start (and stay) on pitch, in time and where applicable, harmonise in exact tandem with their fellow singers.
For instance, Barbershop Singers, Gregorian Chanters and choirs are a formation of several singers who perform in harmony completely unaccompanied by any other instrument than the human voice. Pop music has also had it’s share of vocal acappella groups the most notible of which are the Flying Pickets who had hits in the 80’s with ‘Only You’ and ‘When Your Young and in Love’ and probably the most well known acappella song is ‘Mercedes Benz’ performed by Janis Joplin. Whilst this form is not the current ‘flavour of the month’ singing without the aid of any backing means the performer can demonstrate their abilities anywhere and are popular in folk, blues, alternative and early music circuits. Wages are usually low and many singers choose this more for pleasure than pay, however it is not as easy as it sounds!
2. Backing Singer
Backing Singers are the vocalists who provide harmonies and vocals complementing the melody performed by a Lead Singer. Used in many forms of music including Rock, Pop, MOR, Soul, the backing singer has played an integral role in song production.
There are many types of backline vocalists ranging from the band member who sings a bit to dedicated Session Singers who are employed by major touring artists and recording studios. A good backing singer should be experienced in harmonizing and keeping in time with both the lead vocalist and fellow backing vocalists, sight reading isn’t essential but the ability to ‘hear’ yourself and learn songs quickly is!
Many vocalists start their careers as a backing singer as it also presents possibilities of being noticed by A & R!! Examples of this are ‘Sam Brown’ and ‘Alison Moyet’ both of whom had hit songs in the 80’s. Read more about Backing Vocalists
3. Blues Singer
Blues has been a huge influence on modern music with artists like the Rolling Stones, Led Zepplin, Eric Clapton and Gary Moore combining the old-style feel with a rock edge. Whilst there will always be heated discussion on the validity of modern blues compared to the old style, blues music still continues to be popular with established circuits throughout Europe and the USA.
Personally, I feel that whilst the basics can be learnt by anyone, a true ‘Blues’ singer is one who has a full life experience usually filled with tragedy and hardship!!
A full-time career is possible although many performers combine their love of the blues with a second source of income.
Busking has been performed by musicians of all styles worldwide. Ranging from Acappella singers to one-man band complete with his multiple instruments, they perform at fairs, fetes, subways, shopping centers and street corners for whatever the general public are prepared to donate into the hat.
In the last few years it has become more regulated with performers requiring licenses to publicly entertain on designated pitches. Favourite areas for buskers include Covent Garden and underground stations where a high amount of walking tourists and travellers may be persuaded to stop and listen for a while. Visit the Buskers page complete with licensing information and resources.
5. Cabaret Singer
A large percentage of professional singers make a career in Cabaret. Venues range from the local working mens club to the grand casinos in Vegas. The standard ranges considerably and relative amateurs can be found working the circuit to gain experience. Wages vary in comparison with competence and popularity with cabaret artists earning anything from £50 to £500+ per show.
The Cabaret artist is expected to know a wide range and style of songs to cater to audiences ranging from teens to OAPs with the ability to work equally well with backing tracks, reading musicians, the resident compere and cope with in house P.A. systems. Most cabaret artists prefer to use their own equipment and engineer although this depends entirely on the type of venue and quality of equipment provided.
Artists like Sheena Easton and Tom Jones started their careers using this route and there are many cabaret singers who become internationally acclaimed in their own right.
6. Carol Singer
Fun for all ages and standards, Carol Singing started as a form of church choral singing which appealed to all ages. The types of song performed include hymns and Christmas songs of all styles, usually performed Acappella prior to and during the Christmas period.
Small groups of singers can be found raising money for their local church or charity by performing at their neighbours doorsteps, functions and charity events. The participants are usually unpaid volunteers although the choir master and organiser may receive a small amount of expenses.
7. Childrens Singer
Performing for children can be a rewarding experience. Patience, tolerance and a good sense of humour are more important than a great voice and technical ability!! The childrens singer ranges from those who entertain at parties, functions or corporate events to singing actors employed on childrens programs and include session singers who would overdub a cartoon caricature to teenagers and bands who visit schools to gain experience and build a following.
This is also a good way to introduce an eager youngster to performing live, most schools will encourage their pupils to participate in small shows for their friends, parents and teachers.
8. Choral Singer
The school choir is often one of the earliest experiences of singing with a large group that a child has and is certainly an area of performance where age is not an issue.
Religious institutions use the concept of group singing to it’s fullest with the use of acappella, accompanied, solo and group vocals co-ordinated by a Choral Director. Young boys are popular for their unbroken sweet voices, 9. whilst older singers ‘fatten’ the sound with their deeper vibrant tones producing an overall rich sound.
Whilst the majority of choral singers are local unpaid volunteers, there are a some choirs who perform at major venues and produce albums for their devotees. Soloists have also had chart hits, like Aled Jones with the title song from the cartoon film ‘The Snowman’ and several RnB/Soul/Pop artists like ‘Whitney Housten’ and ‘Aretha Franklin’ started their singing careers performing with Gospel Choirs.
10. Chorus Line Singer
An essential part of musical theatre is the Chorus Line. The term describes a group of individuals who are competant at singing, dancing, acting and co-ordinating with others.
The type of songs performed range considerably in style so a versatile voice and ability to learn quickly are necessary requirements. Preparation time is usually limited and competition is fierce as singing actors and dancers are also keen on getting the part!
Amateur productions at local theatres are an excellent introduction for beginners whilst professional shows like ‘Cats’, ‘Miss Saigon’, ‘Buddy’ and ‘Oaklahoma’ demand high standards but provide decent wages and the opportunity for recognition.
11. Country Singer
Country & Western is a popular form of music with a wide circuit of venues mainly in the USA. There is a thriving albeit smaller country circuit in the UK, with some opportunities for performance at ‘Themed Events’. Line dancing has become a big craze requiring country bands, singers and dance step callers.
Constantly in and out of the charts, country singers are varied in style with some artists like ‘Shania Twain’ crossing over into pop and dance artists like ‘Whitney Houston’ performing versions of songs written by country singers. (I Will Always Love You was written and originally recorded by Dolly Parton).
12. Cruise Ship Singer
Jane McDonald has became one of the most recognised Cruise Ship singers after the broadcasting of a BBC TV documentary series following the lives of on board entertainers and personell. The musicians and entertainers are expected to be of a professional standard with the ability to read music and work long hours.
Being confined to a ship (no matter how large) means that all crew are expected to be on duty 24/7 ……. in other words, be nice to the passengers even if you have a sore head, runny nose or bad day plus be prepared to cover a variety of other duties when staff are off sick. Staff are usually contracted for the duration of the cruise and can expect good wages with accommodation and meals included.
Advertisements for these positions can be found in The Stage Newspaper (UK), Variety (US) and major newspapers. Enquiries can also be made direct to the cruise line and many Entertainment Agents run showcases for cruise ship bookers. Read more about working on cruise ships.
13. Disabled Entertainers
Certain physical or mental handicaps may cause some difficulties for people who wish to pursue a career in music or singing… but that does NOT necessarily mean the individual will be unable to pursue their dream! There are many artists who have achieved successful writing, recording and performing careers despite their handicap. So wether you stammer like pop singer Gareth Gates or are more severely physically challenged like country singer/songwriter Reba Schappell, winner of the 1997 L.A. Music Award for best new country artist (who is conjoined with her sister Lori), there are opportunities to pursue.
Young people with special needs can apply to the Chicken Shed Theatre Company which integrates children with special needs into community theatre and music. A collection of physically challenged professional performers can be found at the Paisley Wheelchair Experience.
The term ‘Diva’ is used to describe a great female singer or prima donna whose voice and style are considered to be unique. Many singers aspire to be like their favourite ‘Diva’ and whilst the term was originally used for for temperamental opera singers it is now used to describe female singers of any style that fit the criteria.
To become a ‘Diva’ takes dedication and hard work which may never produce the recognition required…….. the term is granted by their peers and public opinion and not by the singer themselves (as much as they would wish otherwise!!).
15. Folk Singer
Folk singers have been around for centuries and were probably the first ‘Bards’ who travelled the country translating events into stories which would be sung in return for lodging and food. Old folk songs like ‘Greensleeves’ are still in use today.
There was a big revival during the 60’s which provided a platform for artists like ‘Bob Dylan’ who continues to influence artists of today. Folk singers can find performance opportunities at folk clubs and festivals worldwide although like ‘Blues Singers’ the gigs may be scattered and wages low, folk music is generous in its acceptance of beginners who are encouraged to practice their art regardless of age/ability.
16. Gospel Singer
Gospel is a form of music used by certain religious establishments to praise God and encourage positive feelings in their parishoners. Many singers who perfected their art performing in gospel choirs have since become successful recording artists like Aretha Franklin and niece Whitney Houston but the majority of singers are unpaid volunteers from the local community.
Gospel singing has been somewhat ignored by the music industry but in the last couple of years it’s popularity has increased in the UK with a recent nationwide search for the best gospel choir/vocalist being broadcast on ITV last September.
17. Holiday Camp Singers
Working as a redcoat for holiday camps are a great way to learn about the entertainment business and get paid! The hours are very long as staff are expected to do pretty much everything including learning dance, comedy, dj’ing, comparing and singing to entertain the holidaymakers, organising games for the children and taking care of the clients.
The amount of experience required depends on the job applied for as holiday camps also employ resident bands, entertainers, solo singers, tribute artists and named bands during the course of the season. Wages vary according to age and experience although most residential staff receive a relatively low wage (between £100 & £200 per week) plus shared accommodation.
18. Jazz Singer
Jazz has developed considerably from the traditional form with musicians and singers incorporating ethnic rhythms and modern sounds to produce offshoots like ‘progressive’, ‘modern’ and ‘acid’ jazz. Extreme competance and control are required from a jazz singer who is expected to vocalise with and around the music whilst restraining power and energy, it is rare to hear a loud jazz band who unlike rock bands prefer intricate syncopation and understated technical expertise to volume.
Jazz clubs, festivals, radio, record companies and televised events worldwide provide vocalists with performance and recording opportunities.
19. Karaoke Host
Karaoke nights produce a host of amateur singers of varying standards and are a good introduction to performing in front of a live audience. The host is responsible for encouraging participation, comparing, co-ordinating tracks to singers and filling in whilst the locals are getting up the nerve to have a go.
If you love singing but recognise that your voice is not going to make you a living then this is an ideal job! Popular karaoke hosts are usually those whose voices are less than perfect but have great fun personalities. This encourages the audience to participate far more than an excellent singer whose voice is likely to make the listeners feel uncomfortable at participating. Visit our partner site KrazyKats Karaoke for more tips and articles for karaoke jockeys and singers.
20. Lead Singer
Frontman (person) or Lead singer is the term used to describe a vocalist who sings the lead melody in front of a band regardless of the type, style or standard of music played.
Any vocalist competant in their field of music can become a lead singer although wages will depend on the ability of all the musicians. A good covers band can work practically anywhere from local pubs, clubs, festivals and sight readers could find themselves employed as resident bands or session artists.
Bands performing original material can expect little or no initial pay unless they can build and retain a following, produce their own album or get signed by a record company. Read more about Lead Vocalists.
21. Music Librarian
Working in a library music department requires a sound knowledge of music and organisation. Singing may not be part of the job description but the advantage of being able to browse a roomful of sheet music, music books and records is a bonus of the job!!
There are also opportunities to perform as many local councils recreation departments organise acoustic and semi acoustic live music evenings.
There are many ways in which a singer can earn a living although the wages vary considerably depending on style and competance. Whilst many performers are happy to sing for pleasure rather than pay it is always nice to be paid for something that you enjoy doing.
The following information is a guide to various types of vocal styles plus singing and voice related job opportunities. Competition is high, therefore any singer needs to be proficient and the majority of experienced singers will diversify by performing a variety of musical styles depending on their vocal capabilities and educational training. For many singers, live performance is a secondary form of income. Other types of jobs available in the music industry and information on self-employment is available in the Music Careers section at the Electric Blues Club.
22. Opera Singer
Opera is considered to be one of the most demanding forms of singing as the standard is exceptionally high and pupils are expected to have extensive vocal training. A popular form of classical singing which many vocalists aspire to achieve proficiency in, singers are expected to pass examinations which are graded by presentation as 24. well as performance technique.
The scene is highly competative and many excellent singers never receive the recognition they deserve, however there are a myriad of competitions, venues, educational establishments and grant funded groups to encourage, employ and promote all standards and the possibility of worldwide recognition for successful artists.
23. Pop Singer
Pop is an abbreviation of Popular. The term describes music having wide general public appeal, usually with easy to sing melodies and repetative choruses so any age and standard can sing along.
The standard varies considerably from the local pop pub singer to famous pop idols.
24. Professor of Voice and Vocal Pedagogy
Those with a love of teaching and interest in vocal pedagogy can further their education to become qualified as a professor of voice.
Professors are contracted by educational establishments or work as freelancers hosting lectures and demonstrations to vocal students and teachers. Vocal pedagogy specialists research the science of teaching.
25. Pub Singer
Throughout the ages, public houses have used live music to entertain their customers. The type of material performed and equipment used may have changed with the times but the role remains the same. A wide variety of material in a range of genres is required with the most popular singers being those who are versatile in several styles of music.
Solo’s, Duo’s, Trio’s and cover bands can find paid work anywhere in the UK. Pubs have diversified considerably and there are performance opportunities for original and covers acts with wages ranging from nothing to £500 per show depending on the popularity and size of the act.
26. Punk Singer
Punk music was introduced in the mid ’70s by bands like the Sex Pistols, The Jam and The Damned whose songs of rebellion were loud and full of energy.
Punk bands still find work and attract record companies and although the popularity of the music has waned it continues to influence todays new artists.
27. Rap Singer
Rap singing is a rhythmic form of speech that the artist performs with or without musical backing. The musical accompaniment can be of any style although hip hop, house, reggae, soul and rock music tend to be favoured.
DJs and singers perform at nightclubs to promote themselves but most successful rap artists record their tracks then distribute them through the underground and dj networks.
30. Recording Artist
Recording a single or album used to be the sole province of artists signed to a record company or with the finances to afford professional recording studios. With today’s technology a professional sounding recording can be achieved by anyone who is prepared to learn how to use the equipment effectively.
This has led to the rise in small independent record labels who are often owned by singer/songwriters and bands who are frustrated with major labels producing and distributing their own records. Signed artists are expected to produce several recordings for release and there are many singers who make a career of providing backing and guide vocals for producers and songwriters.
31. Rock Singer
The term Rock Music covers a wide section of musical styles including Gothic, Heavy Metal, Punk, Progressive and Rock n Roll with a variety of ‘flavours’ in between! Rock is a popular form of music and whilst venues for heavier stuff is more limited there are still plenty of performance opportunities in bands at festivals and on radio and television.
Most rock acts like pop artists aim for a publishing or record company to promote their music but rock singers can also make a living by working the pub and club circuits to supplement their income.
32. Session Singer
A session singer is a vocalist who is hired for a contractual period, usually one track, one performance etc., of any style of music. Sight-reading and the ability to work well with other musicians without rehearsal is essential although some session singers work by ‘ear’.
Many singers start their professional careers by deputising for bands and providing backing/harmony/guide vocals for studios and songwriters. This can also open the door to a solo career as shown by artists like ‘Sam Brown’ whose no 1 hit ‘Stop’ is still performed by female rock covers artists in pubs & clubs nationwide. Read more about Session Singers.
33. Singer Songwriter
Writing and performing your own material is a satisfying career that many vocalist aspire to achieve. Whilst many write original material there are few who manage to make a career from their efforts. Competition is fierce and most record companies are wary of using material that does not follow established formats, however, successful singer/songwriters like ‘Carol Bayer Sager’ and ‘Paul McCartney’ can continue their careers indefinitely by writing songs for other singers.
The introduction of the internet has allowed all styles, ages and abilities to record their masterpieces for downloading by surfers worldwide. The limitations in musical style imposed by the vagaries of the music industry no longer apply to make a far wider range of styles and artists accessible to anyone who possesses a computer and internet connection.
New venues, acoustic and showcase nights have increased providing new acts with a platform where they can perform to a mixture of general public and music industry personnel. Wages are usually non-existent unless the artist is signed to a publishing contract or record deal or chooses to promote themselves and their work by producing and marketing their own CD’s.
34. Singing Teacher
A vocal coach or singing teachers job is to provide voice training and encouragement to clients who want to learn how to sing. There are many types of teachers, some of whom are professionally qualified, others who do not possess educational qualifications but have gained their experience through working as a semi-professional or professional singer.
A good teacher should be competent in communicating and demonstrating correct techniques, in the areas of breathing, posture, vocal and microphone techniques, music theory, timing, phrasing and pronunciation. Lessons for individuals last between 30 minutes and 1 hour which can be charged at £10 to £50+ per hour depending on time allowed, competence and professional reputation of the teacher.
Opportunities are also available for qualified voice tutors at schools and educational music establishments. Browse the Singing Teachers Database.
35. Solo Singer
Soloists are singers of any style who perform as individuals, either with their own equipment or as a session singer. Opportunities are only limited to the competence and determination of the singer who can find work in pubs, clubs, cabaret, nightclubs, radio, television or as a recording artist.
Non-writing solo singers often team up with songwriters and producers who share their aim for a deal. Other popular and lucrative avenues for solo singers include live performance of covers and production of a Tribute Act. Read more about Solo Artists
36. Soul Singer
The term ‘Soul Singer’ can be used to describe any vocalist who sings from their soul. Typical examples are Tina Turner who has more of a rock voice and the godfather of soul ‘James Brown’.
Opportunities for performance are available in pubs, clubs, cabaret, radio, recording and television.
37. Theatrical Singer
A combination of acting, dance and singing is required of vocalists wishing to pursue a career in theatre. Plays with songs range from classical to modern with songwriters like Andrew Lloyd Webber providing musicals for all ages.
Successful shows can run for years with showtunes becoming chart hits like ‘Memory’ from ‘Cats’ performed by Elaine Paige, who has since recorded several albums.
38. Tribute Artist
Tribute acts have become very popular with everyone from Elvis Presley to Kiss being copied by singers of all standards in talent competitions to corporate functions.
The ability to look and sound like the artist/band you are portraying is essential…….. go on….. swivel those hips Elvis!! Read more about Tribute Acts.
39. Voice Doctor
Probably not the correct terminology but ‘voice doctor’ will have to do until some nice medical person tells me otherwise. There are doctors who specialise in treating ailments common to singers and other voice orientated professions.
So if you’re seeking an alternative voice-related career do please consider this as an option……… Singers in the UK will be most grateful!!
40. Voice Over Artist
The voice-over artist is similar to a session singer providing their vocal talents to backing track producers, jingles producers, advertising agencies, radio stations and television stations.
A wide variety of voices are required for all sorts of projects both spoken and sung. Various short courses for the spoken voice are available (I recommend Kit Carsons 1 day course, usually advertised in The Stage Newspaper).
Both In-House and Freelance voice-over artists are employed for different projects and a demo cd showing your full vocal and spoken versatility will be required by potential employers. Community radio stations offer a good way to gain experience and provide an essential service at the same time. Click Here for more information on Voice Over Artists.
41. Voice Therapist
There are different types of therapists that specialise in aspects of vocal therapy. Some are also qualified singing teachers and combine their skills to aid people in regaining their voice after throat and vocal chord operations.
There are also voice therapists who concentrate on using music and voice as a means to communicate and encourage mentally and physically handicapped people. Whilst some medical knowledge is required, vocal therapists are not always qualified doctors.
42. Wedding Singer
The role of the wedding singer has evolved significantly over the past 20 years. With the most talented and respected session musicians performing in live wedding bands, performing at functions is often a staple part of the modern singer’s income.
43. World Singer
World music is a general term that covers bangra, african, oriental and other forms of music. Popular in their country of origin, ethnic rhythms, sounds and styles have been successfully combined with pop, rock, dance and other genres.
The crossover into western charts has opened up possibilities for singers worldwide in live performance, radio, recording and television.