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How to Get Started as a Working Singer
So you have the talent, all you want to do is sing... where do you start?
This hub contains tips and advice for those with singing experience, who would like to earn some extra money doing what they love, and it is based on my own experience. If you want to be a singer, but don't yet have singing experience, that's another hub ;) But do in the meantime find a good singing teacher to start with.
* How can you get started immediately?
* What equipment can you use?
* What if you don't play an instrument?
* Where can you get backing tracks for a reasonable price?
* What is the easiest sound system to use that is still professional?
* What songs would be best to learn?
* How do you get booked for gigs?
* What will make your gigs a success?
I'll answer all these questions for you, and if you love singing, are willing to work hard, and are willing to do what it takes, you'll be able to get up and running, and doing your first gigs within months.
I've been doing gigs as a solo singer, in pubs and clubs for just under a year now, and not only do I love it, but it pays really well too! I am based in the UK, different countries may have variations on the information I provide, so do bare that in mind, and please do post a comment if you know of specific differences where you live.
If you have any questions, please do ask in the comments section, and I'll do my best to help. I'd also really love to hear from anyone who follows this advice - let us know how you're doing! :)
Sound System and Equipment
A friend of mine, who had been doing this (VERY successfully) for four years when I first came along, recommended to me, the system he was using: The Peavey Escort 2000, a mike stand, and an Ipod. That's it.
The Peavey Escort 2000 is all you need, and it's completely compact - as you can see in the photos below. On top of that, it's on wheels! So it's very easy to handle for a solo singer like me. :) It's also easy to opperate for those of us who are technically challenged (if I can do it, just about anyone can!), and takes around 15 minutes to set up! When I do gigs where there are other singers on the program, it usually takes the others at least 45 minutes to carry in all their heavy equipment, and to set it all up... I trot in with my entire system on wheels like I'm boarding a plane, and set up in under 15 minutes. :)
It comes with a microphone, all the cables, stands for the speakers, and compartments built into the sound desk to keep them in.
Despite being inexpensive, small and compact, the sound quality is professional and it has enough power for most pubs, and bars. For larger venues (over 100 capacity), you would need to get some kind of booster.
Prices vary, and you can shop around. On average, a new one will cost around $600 or £400 but I got mine second-hand on Ebay for just £200 - in perfect condition.
You can also pick up a mic stand second-hand or new on Ebay or look for ads in your local music shop. All your backing tracks will be on your ipod, which will be plugged into the sound system, and off you go!
You will need to get the cable to connect your ipod to the system - I got mine from a music store for about £6.
The Peavey Escort 2000
It's very important to have Good Quality backing tracks! You can find various places online from which you can buy and download backing tracks. The best one I've found - for quality and value for money - is selectatrack.com
Their tracks cost just £2 each, and you can download them directly to your computer, and then, using itunes, put them onto your ipod. To find a track, use the search box, and you will get a list of several versions (created by different people), of that track. Listen to the demo of each one to choose the one you think sounds best (and most like the original). You need to buy a minimum of three tracks at a time for download.
The best way to decide which songs to add to your repertoire is to do some research by attending live music at the kinds of venues you're going to be targeting. See which songs go down well with the patrons, and out of those, choose the ones you love, and of course that suit your voice.
Don't let gender stand in your way. If you're a male singer, don't avoid songs just because they're originally sung by a female artist. If it's popular, in your range, and you enjoy it - sing it! You can either leave the lyrics as they are, or even change them slightly (he to she etc.) if it still works for the song. I have a lot of male songs in my repertoire - from Elvis to the Eagles, Joe Cocker, to Robbie Williams - and they all go down extremely well. For some I change the lyrics, for example in the Queen song, "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" I sing "He knows how to rock 'n roll" - but for others, where it would change the song too much (for example in Elvis's "All Shook Up"), I leave them as they are, and people really don't mind.
I've found it's good to have as wide a range as possible - I include songs from the 50's up to the current charts, and when new songs come out that I like, are in my range, and that are popular with my target audiences, I add them in.
To Start With choose songs you already know, or are at least familiar with. Make a list of those first. The average gig (in the UK anyway) comprises 2 x 45 minute sets with a 30 minute break between, plus encores. So to start with you'll need to have a repertoire of at least around 30 songs (average of around 3 minutes per song).
Don't let that number put you off. I bet you know more songs than you may think ;)
Learning New Songs
Once you've established the songs you already know, it's time to fill up that repertoire with songs you don't know yet.
Start with ones that are Easy to learn - not too many lyrics, and not too complicated musically.
Once you have a list, if you don't already have a recording of the original, either buy it, or go onto YouTube, and find it there. Then search online for the lyrics (you'll need to check they're correct as you listen to the original - some sites do get them wrong!).
Listen to the original while following the lyrics. Do this over and over and over and over... This is what makes the difference between a professional.. and someone who just wants to "have a go". A professional will work on a song until it's perfect. Everyone else will give up after a few rounds.
Once you're sure you know it from listening to the original, go through the lyrics without the original, and see if you can remember them. I will create a separate hub on learning lyrics and lines effectively, and will post the link here once it's published.
Next, practice with the backing track on your ipod or computer. Don't under-estimate the time it takes to get it perfect. You need to know the song really well in order to not be easily distracted in performance.
When you're ready, set up your system, and practice with the mic. See the section below for How to Set Up Your System.
How to Set Up Your System
You'll need a small table on which to put the desk.
* Unclip the four clips and remove the speakers.
* Set up the speaker stands, which you'll find inside the system, and place the speakers onto them. (the top of the stand goes into the small hole on the bottom of the speaker) Make sure you've tightend the stands sufficiently, and that the pin is in place on each one.
* Plug one end of each speaker cable into the front of each speaker, and the other end, into the appropriate socket at the back of the desk.
* Plug the mic cable into the mic and one of the chanels on the desk.
* Plug your ipod into the chanel "CH. 4 INPUTS" (I discovered that the white plug needs to go into the "right" socket, and the red into the "left" one or it distorts - don't know if that was just for my ipod though).
* Press play on your ipod for one of the songs, and make sure that the volume on your ipod is up full. Then pause or stop the song.
* Make sure all the sliders are down, then plug in the power cable and switch the system on.
* Slide the Master sliders up to around the middle.
* Press play on your ipod again, and slowly slide the volume on that chanel up, to a suitable volume.
* Next, switch your mic on, and slowly slide up the volume on that chanel while speaking into the mic, until it reaches the appropriate level.
* Adjust the base, treble and reverb 'till it sounds good (most of us like plenty of reverb, and I have the reverb on my mic up to full).
Now you're ready to practice with your new system. :)
When you set up for a gig, you'll obviously do the same thing, but have the volume up much louder depending on the venue. Make sure you get there early enough to do a sound check.
When you're finished, slide the Master volume right down before switching off the system.
Make sure you switch the system off and unplug it before removing any cables!
Once you're ready, have some business cards made - I got mine from VistaPrint - you can order online and they're really very reasonable.
There are various ways to get gigs but you can expect it to take a while when you're first starting out as no-one knows you yet.
* If you are able to record a good quality demo, you can drop that off, with a covering letter and your business card, to all the venues in your area that have live music.
* Search online for singers in your area, and you may be able to find a directory site where you can list yourself - I've had a few gigs booked this way.
* There may be agencies in your area who book live music - they will probably want to hear a demo unless you've been recommended by someone, but if they're local, and you're playing somewhere nearby, you could invite them to come and hear you. Make sure you check that they are legit!
Here are the fastest ways I've found, to get gigs:
1. Find venues that have karaoke, go along and take part, then leave your card with the management.
2. Offer to do a free half-hour set for a venue on a Friday or Saturday night (make sure it's a busy night), with the understanding that if they like you, they'll book you for a full gig. Unlike many other singers and musicians, this is worth it to you because your system is so quick and easy to set up and pack away. :) Try to get friends and family to come along to support you.
3. Arrange for a friend or family member's birthday celebration at one of the venues you'd like to play. Ask the management if they'd mind if you did a short 20 minute set as a surprise for the birthday person. Make sure you leave your card with them when you leave!
Follow up on any contacts you do make! If you've left your card with a venue, make sure you call them a few days later to follow up.
Always be friendly and warm.
Make sure you have plently of business cards with you (I keep some in the car as well as in my sound system) for people who like you and would like to book you for other gigs.
This will depend on where you are. In the UK fees range from £100 to £130 on average, for a 2 to 2.5 hour gig. Having said that, I do go down to £80 for a couple of venues that are smaller. I've also done a couple of 4 hour gigs (4 x 45 minute sets with 3 x 20 minute breaks) for £250. My very first gig happened to be a four hour one. Heavy going - especially for the first one! But it was absolutey brilliant - Great fun!!
I don't know what the going rates are for other countries, so if you know, please let us know via the comments section below.
It's good to start out low until word of mouth gets round about how good you are! :)
- Peavey Escort 3000 Standalone PA System: Amazon.co.uk: Musical Instruments
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Preparing the Playlist for a Gig
Having visited a few of the venues you'll be playing, you will have gained an idea of what people like there. Use your intuition as well as your logic to decide what order songs should go in. Here are some points to consider:
Stamina and Voice: Take into account, if you're doing a couple of really energetic and/or vocally demanding songs... you'll want to make sure you're not going to run out of steam! Place a less demanding one between them.
Energy Flow: For most venues, I tend to start with something reasonably laid back, but well known - for example Hotel California, In the Air Tonight or American Pie .... and then build the energy from there, leaving most of the high energy ones for the second set when people have had a bit more to drink and are most likely to dance. However, it is good to balance each set to have a good flow of enthusiasm. :) It's also good to start the second set with a high energy, punchy number.
Remember to have a couple of encores ready as well!
Making Them Want You Back
There are several components to making a gig a success, in my experience...
1. Smile. It makes all the difference. Be friendly and warm - it affects people, not only consciously, but sub-consciously as well.
2. Make eye-contact with the audience. Sing to them, not just at them. ;) Most people warm to this - it makes them feel special.
3. ENJOY yourself!! And SHOW IT! :) Presumably you're doing this because you absolutely love singing - don't hesitate to express that. If you enjoy yourself, and share that enjoyment with the crowd by making eye contact with them, they'll love you. Never fake it though - they'll smell it! ;) Always find that enjoyment inside you, and then just express naturally. Think of your audience as your close friends.
4. Make sure you are thoroughly prepared - know your songs, have your playlist prepared, get to the venue in plenty of time, dress appropriately.
5. Be friendly and approachable - if people feel good around you, they'll want you around more.
6. You will probably get requests. A tip: If you don't have the song they're requesting say something like "Ah, sorry I don't have that one at the moment, but I'll learn it for next time." (I usually make a quick note of the song to remind myself).
Well, that's about it.
I hope this has helped, and I'm Really Excited for you!! :) Please do come back and let us know, in the comments section below, how it's going for you.
Don't hesitate to ask any questions here as well.