What is It Like to Be a Professional Singer?

Career Information

A singer performs on stage
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A singer uses his or her voice to perform music on stage, in movies, on television or on recordings. Also called a vocalist, he or she interprets music and text and uses knowledge of voice production and music. Singers typically specialize in a musical genre, for example, pop, rock, jazz, opera, hip hop, country, rock or rap, although some may cross over from one to another.

Quick Facts About Singers

  • Singers and musicians earned a median wage of $24.16 per hour in 2014.
  • 167,000 people worked in this field in 2012.
  • Performing arts companies and religious organizations employ the majority of singers and musicians.
  • Many singers are self-employed.
  • Employment is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2024.*

*Note: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics collects data on musicians and singers as a group and does not break the data down by each occupation. Therefore, the data presented here, are for both singers and musicians.

How to Get Your Start

  • Pop singers don't usually need a college degree, but if you want to perform opera or classical music, you should earn a bachelor's degree in music theory or performance.
  • You will need to take vocal lessons from a professional instructor. No matter how talented you think you are, or others say you are, everyone can benefit from private lessons. A voice teacher will help you learn how to use your voice effectively. According to ArtsEdge, an educational program of the Kennedy Center, "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)" (What it Takes to Become a Professional Singer. The Kennedy Center ArtsEdge).
  • As with any performing art, practice is paramount. You will have to spend many hours honing your skill.
  • Plan to go on many auditions.
  • Many singers are multi-talented. Knowing how to play an instrument, for example, piano or guitar, dance or act can increase your chances of finding work.
  • An agent or manager can help you get auditions and tend to business-related matters like negotiating contracts.

    What Soft Skills Do You Need to Succeed in This Career?

    • Active Listening: You must be able to listen to and follow directions,
    • Interpersonal Skills: Your interactions with other performers and directors depends on your ability to negotiate, persuade and coordinate your actions with others.
    • Monitoring: You must be able to assess your performance and correct it as necessary.
    • Determination: Overnight sensations are rare. Your determination to succeed will allow you to withstand rejection, with is inevitable with any performing arts career.
    • Discipline: Singers, like all performers, must be very disciplined when it comes to perfecting their craft. You will have to spend a great deal of time practicing.

    The Downside of Being a Singer

    • As a performer, you may have to spend a lot of time on the road.
    • Criticism and rejection will be a regular part of your life. You must learn how to use it to your benefit.
    • Between rehearsals and performances, singers often work long hours.

    Common Misconceptions

    • You will an overnight sensation: Overnight sensations are rare, despite what you may know about YouTube and Vine stars or American Idol contestants.  Few people become famous and fewer do it overnight. The singers we think of as overnight sensations actually spent years getting rejected before becoming successful.
    • This is a fun job: Is going on audition after audition fun? Is being rejected over and over fun? Sure only people who love to sing want to do it professionally, but there are certainly downsides to this career.
    • You will be rich: You could become a top 40 singer and be rich, but that isn't likely. With median wages of just over $24 per hour, this is hardly the way to get rich.
    • Talent Will Take You Anywhere You Want to Go: Talent will give you a start, but you will need determination and discipline to go far in this field.
    • You Will Be Famous:  If you are looking for fame, you probably won't find it as a singer. More likely you will be a wedding band vocalist, a member of a choir, a church soloist, part of a  theater ensemble, or a cruise ship or theme park performer.

    What Will Employers Expect From You?

    The following requirements come from actual job announcements:

    Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

      Related Occupations

       DescriptionMedian Hourly Wage (2014)Required Education/Training
      ActorPortrays characters on stage, in movies and on television$19.82Completion of a college dramatic arts college program or formal acting classes
      DancerConveys stories and ideas through movement$14.31Formal dance lessons 
      MusicianPlays an instrument in a studio or for a live audience$24.16Formal music lessons; college degree for classical musicians

      Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 (visited December 12, 2015).
      Employment and Training Administration, US Department of Labor, O*NET Online  (visited December 12, 2015).

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