Become a Professional Jazz Singer: Education and Career Roadmap

Mar 10, 2020

Learn how you can have a career as a professional jazz singer. Explore some education options and training requirements to make an informed decision about starting a career in the music industry.

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Professional Jazz Singers

Training Professional music training; academic programs available
Experience Varies by position; previous experience is usually needed
Key Skills Excellent ability to communicate and to make oneself understood; strong listening abilities; improvisation and creativity; reaction and response
Salary $28.15 per hour (2018 median for all singers and musicians)

Sources: O*Net Online, U.S. Department of Labor Statistics

A professional jazz singer may perform individually or as part of a group on stage, in a studio, or on-air. Like most singers, jazz artists usually have to memorize musical selections or routines, as well as read and follow musical text on a written page.

There is no one formal path to becoming a professional jazz singer. Many jazz artists acquire their musical backgrounds in informal settings, such as church or community music groups. Singing lessons and music classes can often be helpful.

Key skills for a professional jazz singer include the ability to communicate and make oneself understood, creativity and improvisation, and listening skills. Hiring requirement varies by job setting; most candidates for employment need previous experience. As reported by the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics (BLS) in May 2018, singers and musicians in general earned a median hourly wage of $28.15.

Let's explore the steps involved in becoming a professional jazz singer:

Step 1: Study Music

As an aspiring professional jazz singer, you'll need to first learn the fundamentals of music, including how notes, musical chord structures, and rhythm before working on your vocal skills. These include how to control your breath, project and warm up your voice, as well as diction and performance techniques. You may take lessons or formal classes related to singing and music theory. According to the BLS, most aspiring singers start taking lessons as children.

Step 2: Study Jazz

Jazz music often includes a good amount of improvisation and non-standard rhythms, which can be difficult to learn. To develop an ear for jazz, aspiring musicians should study the works of renowned jazz musicians, such as Ella Fitzgerald or Eddie Jefferson. Colleges also offer jazz classes, which allow singers to learn about jazz instrumentalists and rhythms, improvisational solo strategies and tempo. Professional jazz singers take private lessons from experienced jazz musicians.

Step 3: Earn a Degree

You don't need a degree to become a professional jazz singer. Nevertheless, completing an undergraduate degree program in music may provide you with the practical training you need to boost your professional careers. For example, some degree programs in jazz music include business courses. These classes can help you learn about the recording industry, contract negotiations, copyright laws, and self-promotion.

A degree program in jazz music may also expose you to a broader range of jazz music. For instance, many degree programs require that you study the history of jazz, including its origin and the ways jazz music has changed. You may also learn about music styles related to or influenced by jazz, such as the blues, ragtime, and scat singing. Furthermore, courses in jazz music usually provide students with performance opportunities, which can help them improve their stage presence.

Step 4: Attend Auditions

Professional musicians perform extensively, but getting the chance to perform usually involves auditioning first. Some new jazz singers may audition to perform in various settings, such as clubs or coffee houses. Other singers may audition to become part of established jazz groups. The BLS notes that employment of musicians and singers is projected to show little or no change from 2018 to 2028.

Step 5: Find Representation

After working in the industry for a while, some professional jazz singers hire music managers or agents. Music managers oversee the business side of the industry, such as scheduling music performances and tour dates for musicians. Music agents also represent jazz singers, and they perform some of the same duties as music managers. Jazz singers have to pay managers and agents for their services. Paying managers and agents to handle business duties may provide professional jazz artists with more free time to work on their music and improve their skills.

If you're still interested in becoming a professional jazz singer, remember that earning a degree isn't necessary but may help you enter and advance in a slow-growing field where you can expect to earn a median hourly wage of $28.15.

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