She arrived in Chicago with a music degree and a demo tape. Within only a few months she was singing commercially and performing original material with her own band. The Chicago Sun-Times named her “One of Chicago’s rising stars”. GIGS Lori Maier soon found a vocation in enabling other vocal artists to get their careers off the ground. She gathered together promising female singers and invited them to rehearse with an established band. In the evening they performed their music in a noted venue. These events soon became regular and were named “Chick Singer Night”.
After 20 years, Chick Singer Night has become established in cities across the USA; it’s even become an international phenomenon. In her role as Executive Director, Lori has facilitated thousands of contemporary vocalists into their first gigs and beyond.
In conversation with VoiceCouncil magazine, Lori shares 4 steps for getting the gigs you want.
DECIDE At the heart of the process is a decision. In some secret place within yourself you decide that you are going to go for it. You are going to pursue a vocation as a vocalist. No one can make this decision for you—it is made in silence. This decision is more than a feeling; it’s an act of will. It’s a firm commitment. You are going to go for it even if it doesn’t always feel good, even if it means enduring setbacks, frustrations and failures. You are going to move forward.
I once had a student named Ruth who attended my “Basic Voice Class” when I was teaching at DePaul University in Chicago. Ruth was actually pursuing a career as a classically-trained flautist but the first time I heard her sing, I knew she had something special. She was gifted, but things didn’t start moving for her until the day she decided that she was going to pursue singing work. Ruth decided to head to New York for a call back for “Rent”; she made it to the final round because they recognized her unique sound and energy, but wasn’t cast in the show. Years later, I received an email inviting me to see her singing backups for Norah Jones—she was having the time of her life touring the world as a singer. Ruth decided to pursue vocal work and the opportunities presented themselves.
If you don’t make a specific decision, as Ruth did, to pursue a certain kind of vocal career, you can make the decision to be a consummate musician—so that when an opportunity presents itself you are ready for it. It may be that you make a decision to learn to read music, or to become better at your art in very specific ways. This kind of decision carries you through those days and weeks and months when you think nothing is happening. Something is happening: you are improving; you are becoming ready. I often tell my vocal students that the time when you are not performing is incredibly valuable; you can be growing. You can actually celebrate the chances that not performing can give you to refine your skills.
Either way, there is a decision—a commitment to go for it.
PURSUE You begin wherever you can find a place to perform—it may be a club, sharing the bill with an established band, an open mic situation or a private party. You might even throw the party yourself to give you the chance to perform! You get out there where people can see you and hear you. You get some sort of buzz started that can build on itself. How often have you heard vocalists who get the gigs they want say something like: “you are not going to believe what happened!” Once you start getting out there, opportunities come your way. It is an organic process. Woody Allen said: “80% of success is just showing up”. Other musicians begin to call you for things they cannot do, or they want to bring you along for the ride simply because they want to make music with you. It’s a process that opens up as soon as you decide to pursue the opportunities that are in front of you.
Sometimes singers feel that they have to discover their own unique sound right at the beginning—but that is not necessary. This happens as you perform and work with other musicians. You discover your own style— it starts to seep into what you are doing. You begin to recognize the ways in which you are different and begin to emphasize these aspects in future performances. The main thing is that you pursue opportunities to share your music.
ORGANIZE I think that the whole process of being a successful vocalist is two-fold. The first part is the talent part, the performing-musical part. The second part is almost as important: having and developing the skills required to keep things moving forward. You have to be organized so that you never lose the ground you gained through the past strides.
You maintain contacts with people who have helped you or who can help you in the future. You follow through with things you have promised. You are aware of what people expect from you. You set parameters for yourself. You strive to always be reliable, reasonable and respectful as you build relationships. All of this takes organization.
There are some great new tools that were not available to me when I was getting off the ground twenty years ago. Singers should know how to use web based social networking tools to organize their own promotion.
This is especially important in light of the fact that landing a recording contract is no longer the singer’s “Holy Grail”. There are just so many ways now for a vocalist to build a career. Facebook, MySpace and a quality web site are all tools which can be used to manage a fan base and to reach toward new opportunities
Let’s face it; there are many times when a singer doesn’t get the response they’d hoped for from a venue manager, events coordinator or talent scout. The temptation is to see this response as a “closed door”, but I have to question this. In fact, I believe that aspiring vocalists often come to negative conclusions much too early.
Singers contact me all the time to get a place at Chick Singer Night. I may not have time to get back to them, I may send them to someone else, or I may not yet see how their music will fit in. If a singer immediately interprets this as a “closed door”, they are making a mistake. Instead of “no” it is really, “not yet”— there is a world of difference between these two responses!
Watch your mind-set. If you conclude that all less-than-ideal responses are closed doors, then you are missing opportunities. Instead of thinking ‘closed door’, think: ‘I am going to persevere’.
In my role as Executive Director of Chick Singer Night, I have to admit that it is the singers that keep coming back to me who get my attention. You see, I know what it is like to send off that 5th email. It’s perseverance. In my own career I have found that doors have opened only on the 2nd or 3rd or 4th try. It was never a mistake to keep on trying. If you look at the last words under the bio (below), you’ll see how some of my own perseverance has paid off…
Finally… It’s important that you don’t keep count of your successes and failures—just keep moving. Make plans. Go back to the basics: remember the decision you made. Pursue the opportunities in front of you. Organize yourself to succeed—use the tools at your disposal to promote yourself. And persevere: pick yourself up and keep moving forward. You’ll find yourself saying, “You are not going to believe what happened…