Vocalist: Career Information and Education Requirements

Apr 27, 2021

The primary requirement for a career as a vocalist is musical talent. Vocalists benefit from working with a private vocal coach to learn to sing and to understand music theory. Some careers, such as being an opera singer, do require formal training, and a bachelor's degree may be required for those opportunities.

Essential Information

Vocalists use knowledge of vocal techniques to interpret music and lyrics in different musical genres. They perform in a variety of settings, such as alongside an orchestra or group, in musical productions or at sporting events. These positions may not require a degree to obtain work, but certain types of music or venues may require formal training in music theory, vocal technique and performance for advancement.

Required Education High school diploma at minimum; a bachelor's degree in music with a concentration in vocal performance is recommended
Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)* 1% (musicians and singers)
Average Hourly Wage (2020)* $41.72 (musicians and singers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Occupational Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the demand for singers and musicians is expected to grow by 1% from 2019 to 2029. This is a competitive field with many more aspiring musicians and singers than there are positions available. Occupational hazards include vocal fatigue, throat pain and hoarseness. Vocalists may want to avoid yelling, excessive exposure to dry air and substances that can affect their performance, such as caffeine.

Salary Information

Compensation could vary based on the vocalist's location, experience and position. The BLS reported an average hourly wage of $41.72 for vocalists and musicians as of May 2020. Many vocalists perform at night and on the weekends. Positions are rarely guaranteed for more than a few months, so some vocalists supplement their incomes with additional employment. While the highest percentage of positions are located in California, New York, Illinois, Florida and Tennessee, as noted by the BLS, vocalists may be required to travel as part of a touring band or show.

Education Requirements

While earning a degree isn't always needed to be a vocalist, some venues or types of music may require formal education, according to the National Association for Music Education. Vocal specialists, such as opera singers or cantors, often utilize unique skill sets developed through years of training. For all vocalists, a strong foundation in music theory, vocal technique and performance is highly beneficial to succeed on a professional level. Auditions also play a large role in obtaining work.

Vocalists can build their repertoire with a private instructor or through a music program. Bachelor's degree programs in music are available with a concentration in vocal performance. Prospective vocal students can check if a particular music program is one of over 600 that have been accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music. Master's degree programs are available as well, for those who wish to continue their education.

A 4-year degree program may include courses on basic and advanced vocal technique, sight reading, performance, music history and vocal improvisation. Students could be expected to participate in specialized vocal labs, attend private lessons and perform with an ensemble as part of their coursework.

Vocalists may be required to travel for their work, and can expect to work weekends and evenings. There is little long-term job stability, as many positions last only a few months. This is a competitive job field that expects little job growth from 2019 to 2029, which means that some formal training and the ability to audition well are both critical.

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