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Singer Job Description, Career as a Singer, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: Varies—see profile

Salary: Varies—see profile

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Singers use their skills to entertain. Some perform on stage in front of live audiences; others record their voices for television, films, and CDs. They interpret music by using their knowledge of voice production, melody, harmony, and rhythm. Many singers teach voice either through private lessons or in school programs.

There are as many fields for singers as there are kinds of entertainment. Classical singers are categorized by their voice range, usually as soprano, contralto, tenor, baritone, or bass. Most often, they perform in operas or musicals and may be part of a choral group. Classical singers sometimes perform in concerts or nightclub acts, movies, television, and radio.

Popular singers perform different types of music such as jazz, rock, blues, folk, ethnic, or country and western. Some are lead singers or members of a group. They may accompany themselves on an instrument such as a guitar or piano or sing with a band or orchestra. Popular singers perform on stage, in musicals, on television, in nightclubs, and in television commercials. Most singers of sacred music sing in religious institutions, either solo or in a choral group. They may also perform on television or radio or in concert. Besides performing, singers spend much of their time taking lessons, practicing, and rehearsing.

Education and Training Requirements

A good voice and a strong musical sense are the most important requirements for a singer. Although some singers have naturally good voices, most are trained Singers commonly start out by singing in a church or with a small band. Although the field is competitive, those with a good voice and musical sense can often find work. (© Martha Tabor/Working Images Photographs. Reproduced by permission.) in professional schools or with private teachers. Singers generally start training when their voices mature. High school students interested in a singing career should have good voices and a flair for performance. They should follow the academic program for voice and study drama and the arts as well. Participation in school recitals, plays, choirs, or choruses is good preparation for prospective singers.

Although voice training is an asset for singers, it is possible to have a singing career without formal training. Training requirements depend on the field of music. Many rock and folk singers rely on on-the-job training.

Musical comedy singers generally need some stage training and dancing or acting experience to get a job. Music teachers need a bachelor's degree in music and a state teaching certificate. Courses of study in a college music program include foreign languages, drama, music history, music theory, and composition. Those who teach in colleges or conservatories should have either a master's or a doctoral degree in music and several years of private training.

Getting the Job

There are several ways to become a singer. Some people begin by singing in a church or with a small band. They perform wherever they can for the experience. Sometimes they are paid, other times they receive no monetary compensation. An important step in gaining exposure involves making voice recordings known as "demos" that singers can send out to record producers.

Opera singers and those involved in theater must audition, or try out, for roles. Sometimes voice teachers arrange auditions for their students. Agents, who are paid a percentage of singers' earnings, help them locate jobs and auditions. Voice teachers can apply directly to schools, colleges, music conservatories, or private music schools for faculty positions.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Singers may advance from unknown amateurs to highly paid professionals, but advancement requires talent, hard work, and good career management. Publicity and promotion are very important for a successful singing career. Advancement is most difficult for opera and concert singers and easiest for music teachers. Opera singers must have extremely good voices and training. There are very few jobs in opera, whereas many more positions are open to teachers. The job outlook for singing teachers is very good, as job growth is expected to grow faster than the average through 2014. Teachers usually advance by seniority as well as by the success of their students.

Employment for singers is expected to increase about as fast as the average through the year 2014, but competition will be keen. There will be a faster than average rate of growth in religious music, and a slower than average rate of growth for self-employed musicians.

Working Conditions

Singers generally work at night or on weekends and often practice and record on weekdays. They seldom have holidays free, because this is when they get more job offers. Some singers go on tour and have little money for hotels and food. Many work more than forty hours a week.

Since singers often perform only part time and work irregularly, some need other jobs to supplement their income. Singing is both demanding and rewarding work. It requires physical stamina, good health, and patience. Singers work in a wide variety of places: indoors from church halls to concert stages and nightclubs and outdoors from domed stadiums to makeshift stages.

Earnings and Benefits

Earnings for singers vary widely. According to the Occupational Employment Statistics survey of 2004, the median salary for singers is $17.85 per hour. Popular singers can make more than $53.59 per hour, and a few wildly successful artists make much more than that.

Where to Go for More Information

American Guild of Musical Artists
1430 Broadway, 14th Fl.
New York, NY 10018
(212) 265-3687

National Association of Schools of Music
11250 Roger Bacon Dr., Ste. 21
Reston, VA 20190
(703) 437-0700

National Association of Teachers of Singing
4745 Sutton Park Ct., Ste. 201
Jacksonville, FL 32224
(904) 992-9101

Teachers' salaries vary by school and region and with the amount of education the teacher has had. The median hourly salary for a singing teacher is $14.85, with the more experienced credentialed teachers making a salary of $28.85 per hour or more. High school and college teachers usually receive health insurance and pension plans. Private teachers must provide their own benefits.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesCommunication and the Arts