What It Takes to Become a Professional Singer

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A real look at a challenging career choice

Define Yourself
If you’re serious about pursuing a singing career, consider the following points carefully as you embark on this challenging career path. Work on defining success for yourself. This is an important part of the work of a singer, and all singers have to face it sooner or later.
World-renowned soprano Renée Fleming has said it took her years to “pull together a genuine sense of…what [she] wanted” as a vocalist.
So, what do you want to get out of singing? Do you want to sing purely for your own enjoyment? Do you want to be a professional (that is, someone who gets paid to perform on a regular basis)? Do you want to be respected in a particular vocal field? Or are you after a large international career?

Know Yourself
Once you have your definition of success in place, remind yourself that achievement at any level takes time. Go slowly and be good to yourself.
Get to know your limitations and embrace them.
Set goals for yourself based on your experience. When in doubt, start small.
As important as it is to take things one at a time, it’s also important to be true to your own instincts. If you feel you’re ready to take things to the next level, say with an important audition, then go for it. Consult the experts around you, such as your teacher or your vocal coach, but use their advice as guidance rather than gospel.

Have Fun
Now for the fun part—deciding what you want to sing. Think about the kind of singing you want to do. What would make you happy? Do you pine to be a country western diva? Do you see yourself as more of the indie singer-songwriter type? Maybe you’re interested in an operatic career?
That said, be flexible. You don’t have to stick with one genre—you may wake up one day and decide that, although you’ve been studying as an operatic soprano, you really just want to sing torch songs (pop-style love ballads) in nightclubs. In addition, singers are often asked to sing in a variety of musical styles. Follow your dreams, but be open to trying new things.

Do the Work
After you’ve considered all of the issues above, it’s time to tackle the nuts and bolts of singing. Singing is not an inborn talent, it’s something that has to be cultivated and worked on (no matter which type of singing you choose to pursue) or else you run the risk of severely damaging your voice.
In addition to shaping your vocal technique, a teacher can guide you through the ins and outs of music itself (e.g., pitches, rhythms, phrasing). Some singers like to brag that they’ve never learned to read music. Newsflash: Very few people are going to want to work with those singers. The mechanics of music are part of your job. Would you expect a lawyer or a doctor to start practicing without the help of intensive study? Of course not! So don’t expect you can be a singer without doing the work. Start becoming a musician today.
Learn the basics of theory, harmony, and rhythm. This will take a lot of patience and perseverance, but you’ll be thankful later.

CREDITS
Writers: Eleni Hagen
Original Writer
Editors & Producers: Lisa Resnick
Content Editor
© 1996-2012 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

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