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How to Become a Singer

How to Become a Singer
Photo Source: Illustrations: Adam Lee

What do Broadway-caliber vocalists like Kelly O’Hara, Sutton Foster, and Andrew Rannells all have in common? A Backstage subscription! We might not be able to help you perfect that high C, but we can introduce you to the people, tools, and techniques that can! Read on for all the ins, outs, and in-betweens of navigating the entertainment and performance industry as a singer, training and maintaining your vocal instrument, and making a living doing what you love in the spotlight.

Following your heart.

Things to know.

Getting started.

Auditioning.

Maintaining technique and vocal health.

Making a singing career last.

How do I know if I’m meant to be a singer?

Were you the kind of kid who spent your days singing along to your favorite TV show theme and forcing mom and dad to sit and watch while you put on a show of song and dance? Do you still feel that passion to perform in the spotlight? Knowing whether or not you’re meant to be a singer certainly hinges on whether or not you can sing to begin with (not all performers can carry a tune––it’s sad but true!), but if you have a natural talent and you’re willing to put in the work to perfect that talent into a profession, those are the two key ingredients you need. Besides, if you’re born to be a singer, you probably love the minutiae of rehearsals and practice-making-perfect. Just like pursuing a career in acting or any other performative art, there’s no sure-fire, set-in-stone path to success as a singer, but if you’re at the point where there’s nothing else you could happily do with your life, then that’s the time to follow your instinct and chase the dream. We’re here to help you along in that journey.

Glossary

Are you a new singer who’s confused by some of the jargon being thrown around online and in lesson books? Never fear! Below, voice teacher and Backstage Expert Andrew Byrne defines vocabulary terms all singers––especially musical theater singers––should know. We’ve also added some industry and training jargon that you may come across in your studies and professional pursuits; you can use an understanding of these terms to your advantage as a performer.

Alternate list:
When an audition is full, the monitor may make a list of alternates on a first come, first-served basis. Depending on the audition type, Actor’s Equity members may be given priority, followed by EMC actors, and then non-union actors. Often at an Equity audition, actors will create a “non-official” list if they arrive before the Equity monitor; the monitor will usually accept this list as it stands, but they are not required to. Learn more about alternate lists here.

Belt vs. Mix:
The terms “belt” and “mix” mean different things to different people. To me, the best definition is that a belt needs to sound like a call (basically a yell that sounds pleasant to listen to). A mixed quality gets most of its acoustic power through vocal placement (i.e. “singing in the mask”). I encourage you to ask your individual voice teachers about how to specifically develop these qualities in your voice.

Blending:
When you’re singing with a group of other singers in an ensemble or a choir, it’s important that you listen to those one either side of you and make sure you sound as close to one single voice as possible. You don’t want to stand out! That’s called blending. This is also done through staggered breathing. 

Callback:
When a creative team wants to see more from an actor, they’ll give them a callback, where the actor will come back at a different time to sing/dance/read again. Often, the callback will involve preparing material from the show (see “sides”), but not always. One of the purposes of the callback is to allow more people who are involved with the show to see the actor’s work.

Chorus Call/ECC:
There are two types of Equity Chorus Calls (ECCs): one for dancers and one for singers. For dance calls, dancers will generally be called in in groups to learn a combination. There will then be a cut, where certain dancers will be asked to stay and learn more combinations and/or sing 16 bars, and others will be released. At a singer chorus call, singers will go in individually to sing 16 bars of their own material. There is a new online sign-up process for chorus calls which you can read about here.

Contrasting song:
If you’re asked to sing a “contrasting song,” you should strive to show both a different side of your voice (if you sang soprano, maybe belt) and/or another side of your personality. If you’re unsure what they mean by contrasting, ask for clarification. Even better, present them with two choices:“If you’d like to hear my belt, I can sing ‘Astonishing’ for you, or if you’d rather see something comedic, I can do ‘Adelaide’s Lament.’ ”

Creative Team:
The creative team for a show can include any of the following positions: director, music director, choreographer, composer, lyricist, book writer, orchestrator, set designer, costume designer, lighting designer, sound designer, and dance arranger. Generally, the term refers to the behind-the-scenes artists who are collaborating to create the artistic vision for the show.

Dancer vs. Mover:
If you label yourself as a dancer, it’s expected that you have extensive training in that department. If you have athletic ability and a knack for rhythm but lack formal dance training, you should classify yourself as a mover. Traditionally, a mover tends to favor character and dramatic commitment over precise steps and technique. 

EMC:
Equity Membership Candidate, a program whereby actors can accrue 50 weeks of work in Equity theaters as a credit toward eventual membership in the union. The main audition advantage for EMC actors is that they get to be seen before other non-union actors at EPAs (although not at chorus calls.)

EPA:
Equity Principal Audition. The audition panel will usually see six actors every 20 minutes, so there’s time to sing a short song or a 32-bars. There is a new online sign-up procedure for EPAs which you can read about here.

Equity:
Actor’s Equity is the union for actors and stage managers. Equity works to support actors by negotiating wages, providing safe work environments, and connecting actors with health insurance and pension plans. For actors in Broadway shows and certain tours/regional theaters, Equity membership is required for the contract.

Falsetto:
Falsetto refers to the higher register of a male or female singer’s voice that requires one’s head voice to reach. Falsetto voice is airy and light, but when used correctly, it can be just as powerful as a chesty belt.  

Holding room:
At many auditions, there will be a holding room where actors can wait for their turn to perform. Often, this is where the audition monitor will be stationed.

In the room:
When actors enter the audition space for their appointment, it’s usually referred to as being “in the room” (sometimes abbreviated “ITR”).

Legit singing:
The term “legit” refers to a singing style that is more closely related to classical singing (think of a song like “If I Loved You”). 

Monitor:
The monitor is at an audition to help ensure the process runs smoothly, and to be a liaison between the audition panel and the actors. If you’re at an EPA, the monitor will be an Equity member; at other types of auditions, the monitor may be associated with the theater. Pro tip: the monitor is on the lookout for professional vs. non-professional behavior from actors, and they’ve been known to report bad apples to the folks in the room, so it’s in your best interest to treat them with the respect they deserve. 

Non-union:
If an actor is not a member of Actor’s Equity, or the EMC program, they are considered non-union.

Off-book:
When an actor has memorized a scene or song, they are said to be “off-book.”

Open call:
An open audition call means that any and all performers are welcome to audition. There may still be procedures that need to be followed to secure an audition, but there are no union prerequisites in place.

Phrasing:
Phrasing is important in any genre of singing because it is one of the most effective ways to get a song’s meaning across to an audience. Using different inflection, volumes, and sustaining your breath to only breathe in specific spots in a song to make a song sound like a natural thought or speech keeps a performer from sounding monotonous.

Pop/rock style:
If an audition asks for a pop/rock song, that generally means that the actor should sing a song off the radio and not from a musical, even if the musical is written in the pop/rock genre.

Reader:
In some callbacks, there will be a reader in the room who will perform the sides with the actors. Generally, the reader does the scene while sitting at the audition table rather than getting up and interacting with the actor who is auditioning. 

Sides:
If an actor receives a callback, they’ll usually be given sides to learn. Sides are sometimes singing (learn a song or a harmony part) and sometimes acting (learn scenes). The expectation is that the actor be as close to off-book as possible on the sides they have been given.

Song that “shows your range”:
If an audition asks for a song that shows range, don’t only think of a high C and a low F. You can choose a song that shows a range of vocal textures, a broad palette of dynamics, or an exciting dramatic journey.

Typing:
Typing is a process that occurs at some auditions to make the audition process go faster. The actors come in in a group of 25-30 people and the audition panel goes through headshots/resumes and selects (“types in”) the actors that they want to see audition that day. The other actors are “typed out” and released. For dancers, there’s also a “dance type” where a short across-the-floor ballet combo will be used to determine who will stay to learn the full combination.

What are the different styles of singing?

Whether you’re a southern belle wanting to be the next Kacey Musgraves or Carrie Underwood, or you’re a song-and-dance man aspiring to the Broadway stage, it’s important to familiarize yourself with all of music’s various forms and genres. After all, wouldn’t a knowledge of bluegrass help when you’re cast in “Bright Star,” hip-hop help if you’re cast in “Hamilton,” or pop/rock help if you’re auditioning for the touring company of “Rent”? Catch the industry’s six dominant genres below.

Pop: Pop music is the candy-colored, confectionery dessert of the music world. Why else do you think Katy Perry dresses the way she does? But just because it’s universally appealing doesn’t mean it’s any less difficult or simpler than the categories below. The best of pop strikes a chord and makes you dance because there’s a universally resonant message behind it.

Rock: Rock has certainly evolved since the days of Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley, and now umbrellas a number of different sub-genres and a wide array of voices and growls. One of the main things that sets rock apart from pop is a harder edge, often through drums, guitar, and harsher instrumentation (but hey, there’s always “rock/pop”).

Country: Country music as we know it today runs the gamut of deep rootsy twang, southern rock, folk, and country-pop. There is no “one” way to be a country singer, but its use of soulful lyricism and vocals with a certain Americana drawl is what sets it apart from the rock and pop above. If you’re interested in becoming a country singer, you have to befriend beer and heartbreak.

Opera/Classical: Classical music perhaps requires the most amount of professional training. If you’re going to study voice in college, you’re likely going to know the classics forwards and backwards. Classical and opera are both rigid in practice, but utterly emotionally freeing.

Blues/Jazz: Jazz and blues are often compared to or paired with one another, and that’s largely due to their shared tone and themes. But what sets them apart is jazz is known for smooth, easy-breezy vocals while blues is a little harder and soulful. They call it the blues for a reason: it’s got pain behind its eyes.

Hip-Hop/R&B: When you thinking of traditional forms of singing, you may not immediately think of hip-hop, but it’s not all spoken-word rap. Look to most artists of the genre, and their songs feature rap, yes, but also rhythmic, rhyming song verses. R&B is cut from the same cloth as hip-hop, but feature more traditional soul vocals. 

What kind of training do I need to make it as a professional singer?

Just like with any performance art, with singing, it’s important to properly train and to stay limber in the craft. A great way to do this is to pursue a vocal performance or musical theater degree at one of the nation’s top colleges, but higher education in the performing arts isn’t always for everyone. Whether you attain a college degree or not, all singers should continue training well into adulthood, even after finding success and building a career. One way you can ensure that is by employing the aid of a vocal coach and voice teacher. No matter your age or ability level, it is essential. What’s the difference between a vocal coach and a voice teacher you might ask? The go hand-in-hand. Allow singer, private vocal coach, and Backstage Expert Arden Kaywin to explain.

“Voice teachers give an understanding of breath support and resonance by guiding students through vocal exercises (otherwise known as vocalises) and breath exercises,” she says. “They help you put that technique into practice in your repertoire.” A vocal coach, however, coaches a singer through a song or genre of which they’re an expert pianist, conductor, or music director. “They coach your songs from the standpoint of interpretation, intention, genre, and musicality,” Kaywin says. “They are generally not singers and, while they often have some knowledge of vocal technique, it is not their job to teach you how to sing the song or fix the vocal issues giving you problems in the song. It’s their job to help you take your performance to the next level once you’ve worked the technique with your voice teacher.”

When you’re choosing who to work with as a voice teacher, Kaywin further explains that singers should look for certain characteristics before handing your money over. Firstly, he or she should have a degree in vocal performance (either bachelor’s or master’s); it’s great if they’ve also had a professional singing career themselves so they have an understanding of the industry. Further, an understanding of how you sing and the genres that fit your voice is a must, as is an ability to identify your bad habits and ways to fix them as a singer. That understanding will likely lead to you feeling comfortable with your teacher and will allow you to be vulnerable with them––another must. You also have to know yourself; find a teacher whose approach meshes well with the way you learn best. But no matter what, it’s a red flag if you leave a lesson with a prospective teacher feeling vocally fatigued. You shouldn’t be straining your voice. And lastly, beware the name drop. Just because a voice teacher has a roster of famous clients doesn’t mean that they’re the best that money can buy; more often than not, it just means that they’ll cost more to buy.

In the end, you want someone who can teach you the no-knocks basics of singing performance, vocal health, and music theory: how to sight sing, how to warm-up correctly, how to properly contextualize a piece of music and present it with believable emotion in its sails.

“Finding the right voice teacher is a little like dating,” Kaywin concludes. “It often takes trial and error before you find the right fit. You will know you’ve found your match when you leave the first lesson feeling like your mind just got blown because with their guidance, you were able to sing in a way you didn’t realize you could before.”

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What kind of projects and professional opportunities do I have as a singer?

The road to making a living as a singer is a trying and unpredictable one, and that’s why it’s important to have people like your trainers and resources like Backstage in your corner of the ring. Like becoming an actor, becoming a singer opens the door for a number of different career opportunities that you could be right for (and should be open to!). It’s important not to put all your hopes into one single route because success comes in all different forms.

While it’s certainly a possibility that you are Broadway’s next big thing in the making or the next chart-topping pop star, you may also find a lasting career as a backup singer, a cabaret performer, a cruise ship or lounge singer, a theme park performer, a wedding singer, a kids’ musical entertainer, a musical voiceover artist, a commercial jingles singer, a voice teacher, or if you write your own music, a songwriter and/or composer for other vocal artists. A career in music is what you make of it. Set your sights on the dream ahead (whether that be came and fortune or just a steady paycheck and a passion quenched), but also don’t get discouraged if something unexpected comes along the way. The unexpected can still be artistically satisfying, and to succeed in the arts, you must be adaptable.

What does the “team” look like for a singer?

A career singer’s team will vary based on which facet of the industry he or she is a part of. If you’re a singer pursuing a career in musical theater, you’ll likely have an agent and a manager to help perfect your image as a performer and to connect you with casting directors for your next big audition and, hopefully, job. Then again, if you’re a performer looking for radio play who wants to break into the music industry performing in one of the six genres listed above, you’ll also have a manager and a talent agent. Along with with them come a booking agent to negotiate deals and plan tours and perhaps a stylist and image consultant, a team of songwriters, a choreographer, a team of promoters, an assistant, backup singers, session musicians––the list goes on and on.

Again, these colleagues who help you chart the way through your career are dependent on which route you take as a performer. For the sake of the Backstage reader, it’s likely you’re here for classical voice performance or musical theater, which then begs the question: How do you get cast as a theater performer? You’re in luck! We’ve got more tips on finding and booking auditions below.

Is there more to being a professional singer than a good voice?

Well, they don't call it a triple threat for nothing! Whether you should be a singing, acting, and dancing package all in one is dependent on where you plan on taking your singing career. If you aspire to Broadway, then you better hope you've got a bit of acting and dance training in your back pocket. You'd be hard pressed to find a Broadway performer—even the ones who identify as a singer who acts rather than an actor who sings—who can't deliver on all performance fronts. Are you a singer in need of some acting tips? Check out Backstages exclusive guide to becoming an actor.

Now let's say you're interested in a career as a singer you'd hear on the radio or see selling out the House of Blues. Just like the various members of your team outlined above, it will be in part your responsibility to maintain the image you've created. Get a gym membership; adhere to a diet; dress in line with your desired image. You may also be expected to acquire press and media training so you can comfortably sit for an interview or be on-camera.

A career in the performing arts—especially as an actor or singer—goes beyond the 9-to-5 routine and becomes a full-fledged lifestyle. That means grooming yourself to your best self and presenting yourself confidently in ways that have little to do explicitly with your voice.

How do I find singing auditions?

When it comes to finding jobs to audition for as a performer, there’s no better source than Backstage, especially for those in the early stages of their career! If you don’t have a manager or agent who’s in direct cahoots with casting directors of various performance projects, Backstage is the No. 1 trusted source and top casting platform—for over 50 years—to kick-start your career, land your next (or first!) gig, and get discovered. The casting notices on Backstage can help you bolster your demo reel and get you an agent to take your career to the next step. Plus with thousands of vetted casting opportunities across smaller projects like regional musical theater productions all the way to productions on the Broadway stage, you know that with Backstage, you’re always getting reliable information and scam-free gigs.

Backstage has several subscription options available, including annual and six-month subscriptions to our web content and weekly print magazine, and six-month and monthly web-only subscriptions. But our most popular is the annual web-only subscription for just $11.66 per month––that’s 42 percent savings! Visit backstage.com/accounts/subscribe to see which option best suits you.

Once you become a Backstage subscriber, take a look at our online casting notices at backstage.com/casting. You’ll see that each one is broken down by type of production, type of role, whether or not it’s a paid job and if it’s a union or nonunion job, its location, the age-range for talent sought, and the list goes on. As a singer looking for work, you’ll want to tab down to the production type module and selecting “Performing Arts: Singers.” If you’re a musical theater actor who are a trained singer who wants to break out onstage, our musical theater listings are also worth checking out with the “Theater: Plays” or “Theater: Chorus Calls” selections. Search results can also be filtered based on what your preferred search preferences are. Save those preferences for future use, and there are bound to be new listings for you to consider every single day.

Say you find a project that interests you and fits your type. From there, information on submitting for the job will be made available to subscribers. Or if in-person auditions are being held, timing for the open call or additional information on how to schedule an audition time will also be provided. The key is to be ready and waiting, because you never know when the right opportunity will come knocking.

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How do I choose the right audition song for me?

In choosing the right audition song for you, you must first have an intimate relationship with and understanding of your instrument. Know your strengths and capabilities as a singer. Know your limitations. Setting the genre of song aside for a moment (because that will in part depend on what type of job you’re auditioning for), to find the right song for you, you have to know how to sing in your own voice. There’s no room for imitation at this table.

“We all carry a certain amount of insecurity about our voice—that’s natural. But then we start comparing ourselves to every popular singer and convince ourselves there’s no way we could possibly sound as good as they do. Then we get discouraged. Ultimately, this kind of thinking leads aspiring singers to give up,” says Los Angeles–based vocal coach and a Backstage Expert Roger Burnley. “But the key here is to remember and to believe that you do have a great voice, it just needs to be developed. And it doesn’t need to be developed to sound like someone else’s voice. It needs to be developed to sound like the best version of your voice.”

Burnley continues, saying that it’s the person who has confidence in their own distinct abilities as a singer that ultimately succeeds. “The bottom line is that every voice is unique and when a unique voice is developed to the fullest, those are the ones who become stars. It’s why you can hear the difference between singers you love. Even if they were to sing the exact same song, you would know Adele from Otis Redding, Whitney Houston from Stevie Nicks. Each has a unique sound, one you can recognize instantly.”

Voice teacher Andrew Byrne also chimes in with his advice for choosing the perfect audition song. “The job of your audition song is to make you look amazing,” he says. “In an audition context, a song is an interview tool; it needs to be tailored around your voice and personality to show you off to your best advantage. If you feel empowered to make informed decisions about your repertoire, you will love performing it, and that always shows.”

In tailoring that song choice to your own distinct voice, you must consider the song’s key, the song’s intro for the audition, the song’s tempo, and the cut of the song (usually 16–32 bars) you choose to sing. All of these elements are adjustable to fit your needs a performer. “The more customized and specific you are with your audition songs, the better they will feel to you, and we’ll get to enjoy your singing so much more,” Byrne concludes.

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How do I warm up my voice before an audition or a performance?

Now that you know where to find auditions as a singer and how to choose the right song for you, let’s talk about how you should go about nailing that audition. The first step is always the vocal warm-up. Everyone’s routine is different, but you should never enter the audition room cold. Common warm-ups often consist of vocal exercises like doing scales and lip and tongue trills, sirens, hums, and kazoos. But many singers also do breathing exercises to expand the lungs and flex the diaphragm. Others enjoy a mug of hot tea with honey (and various other concoctions).

Various Backstage Experts and industry professionals have also weighed in over the years with their personalized take. New York-based speech pathologist Tom Burke, for instance, swears by meditation. “Many singers and actors are aware of the effect of meditation on managing their nerves, anxiety, and ability to focus, but many are unaware of the additional, seemingly miraculous effect of minimizing warm-up times and releasing muscle tension,” he says. “Singers and actors have often noticed that as little as two minutes of meditation can ground the voice, open the throat, improve resonance, extend the range with greater ease, and more. Cutting your warm-up time from 20 minutes or more down to two minutes opens up time to focus on other aspects of your craft during your time-pressed practice sessions.”

Voice teacher Andrew Byrne also thinks it is to the actor’s benefit if he or she learn how to warm up in public. Especially if you’re in a city like New York, you’ll be spending a lot of time commuting this way and that––may as well make the most of it! “In a perfect world, we would all have a sound-proofed room where we could warm our voices up right before our audition. We could then walk in confident and relaxed, knowing that something beautiful was about to leave our mouths,” he muses. “In reality, we’re often running around all day, and we barely have time to do a quick hum before we start belting for the rafters in front of a room full of people.”

One way to fix that? Mouth the words to your song while you’re on your commute. “You will be warming up your articulators” like your jaw, tongue, lips, says Bryne. He also suggests you sing aloud with your hand covering your mouth (a lot of sound won’t escape in full voice because the air will be going through your nose), or you can sing your audition song through a straw (literally keeping your mouth on a straw and annunciating your song aloud) to create a semi-occluded vocal tract. “This is a fancy way of saying that the tube of your throat is partially/mostly narrowed and lengthened. In addition to making the sound quieter, this technique helps your vocal cords meet more efficiently,” Byrne says. “Regularly practicing your songs (or monologues) through a straw can reduce vocal fatigue, and improve clarity and lower pressure.” Who knew!?

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How do I sing high notes?

L.A.-based vocal coach and Backstage Expert Roger Burnley is the first to say that “practice, patience, and persistence are the keys to developing a great voice!” But he’s also got a tip or two on how to really impress with a high note. While expanded your range takes rigorous work and months of exercises training, he says training yourself to start paying attention to the movement of your larynx while singing is a great way to gain control and start seeing adequate results in your higher register. You don’t want it moving too much; like a taut guitar string, your cords will get damaged if there’s too much of a push and too much movement.

He says a quick way to reverse that movement is simply by thinking your voice is doing the opposite of what it’s actually doing. “In other words, if you think that you are going down for your higher notes, you will reverse your old habits and keep your larynx more stable.”

Voice coach and Backstage Expert John Henny also advises that when reaching for the high notes, lighten up! Access the upper register when first learning to sing high notes. “Once these light notes are established,” he says, “the singer can increase vocal cord closure and singing intensity.” When stretching for that higher register, he also says to begin on open vowel sounds before adding consonants. Catch seven more of Henny’s tips here.

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How do I sing professionally without injuring my voice?

You see it all the time: Singing professionally day in, day out inevitably takes a toll on one’s vocal stamina and health. If it’s happened to Adele, it can happen to you! While singing on Broadway eight shows a week or touring the country with a music act will be a workout for any vocalists, the best way to preempt injury is simply by investing in the proper training from the start. There is a right and wrong way to sing, and you want to make sure your technique and posture all align for healthy, strain-free song and dance.

There are also a number of lifestyle habits singers should adhere to for optimal voice health. Vocal coach and Backstage Expert Arden Kaywin says first and foremost, singers should not be smoking anything of any kind. “[It] is a sure-fire way to damage your instrument,” she says. “It thickens and stiffens the vocal folds, contributing to loss of range and hoarseness of timbre. It also dehydrates them so they are unable to vibrate flexibly and freely.” Another practice that goes hand-in-hand with smoking is excess drinking—don’t do it! Also avoid general vocal overuse for fear of fatigue and avoid clearing your through frequently. But the most important thing to add to your daily regimen as a singer? Stay hydrated!

“The free and flexible vibration of your vocal folds is directly related to how hydrated they are,” Kaywin says. “Drink lots of water (plain, normal water, not flavored or carbonated), because when your body is hydrated properly, so are your vocal cords.”

Also essential for any health-minded singer is a proper warm-up and cool-down every time they sing. Voice teacher and John Henny notes his 10 recommended exercises below:

1. Glides Through a Straw
Blow air through a small stirring straw while phonating glides up and down through your range. The backpressure created by the resistance of the straw presses down on the vocal cords and helps decrease puffiness, a major source of vocal trouble.

2. Lip Trills
This is a variation of the straw exercise. Gently blow air through closed lips, keeping them relaxed, and sing an uh vowel underneath. Your lips should start to trill. The resistance of the bubbling lips helps maintain cord closure, an important element of good singing.

3. Creaky Doors
This is a great exercise to help build the coordination needed to maintain proper cord closure. Make a little edgy sound, like a creaky door or a rusty gate opening. Do a scale on this sound using very little air. The idea is to not let the sound get breathy or squeezed.

4. Ngs
Make the ng sound from the word hung. This sound is produced with the tongue and soft palate together. This again provides backpressure, while also making the transition between the lower and upper registers (chest voice and head voice) easier.

5. Nasty Nays
This is done using the word nay on a bratty or Wicked Witch–type sound. This exercise also assists in cord closure, while the exaggerated sound makes it easier to ascend into the upper register without cracking or flipping.

6. Hooty Gees
This is the opposite of the previous exercise, and it's quite useful for a singer experiencing excess tension. Using a dopey cartoon voice (think Yogi Bear), say the word gee. You should feel your larynx drop. The g consonant should also help with cord closure due to the backpressure it creates, so you can experience accessing the upper register with a stable larynx and closed cords. This coordination is extremely important in good, healthy singing. Once this exercise is comfortable, you can drop the dopey imposition and sing on a more natural sound.

7. Coo Coos
This exercise is great for working the upper register. The coo can be made to sound hooty, like an owl, for extra ease in working high notes.

8. Aahs
This is very useful for singers who are weak or breathy in their lower register. The sound is on the aah of cat and can be exaggerated by sticking the tongue out slightly. Do this in your lower register in a five-tone scale (1–2–3–4–5 to 5–4–3–2–1 of the major scale). Use very little air, as you don't want any breathiness in the sound.

9. Googs and Mums
These are best used once the voice is experiencing proper cord closure and ease of production. The word goog (the vowel sounds like the oo in good) has both a hard consonant for cord closure and a vowel that will help stabilize the larynx. Be sure to maintain the vowel in the upper register, as vowel widening (gaag) can cause tension. The vowel and consonant of mum provide a bit less help than goog, making this a slightly more advanced exercise.

10. Ooh-Oh-Uh-Ahs
Going from a more closed or narrow vowel to a wider one on a sustain is a great way to balance resonance. The more closed vowel will help you get into your upper register. Gradually open to the wider vowel while keeping the resonance in the same place. If the tone gets shouty or strained, go back to the narrow vowel to get the voice balanced again.

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How do I make a living as a singer?

If you’ve made it this far, then at least you know you’re committing to giving this singing thing a shot, and we’re proud of you for it! All we advise is that from the start, you do yourself a favor and have realistic expectations of what life of a performer is like.

When thinking about making “a living” as a singer, we’re primarily talking here about how to make financial ends meet. You likely won’t be making a livable wage performing straight out of the gate. That’s where the appropriately coined “survival job” comes in. Serving tables, doing temp work, walking dogs, tutoring, nannying––it’s unlikely these are your passions in life, but work with flexible schedules and non-set hours is ideal for pursuing your real passion and getting on the audition line.

“Unless you can find that dream full-time job with salary and benefits that allows you the chance to pursue [your craft], you have to be smart, resourceful, and flexible to create a steady income flow until you book that first [big gig],” says acting coach and Backstage Expert Matt Newton. When searching for the right survival job for you, you’ve got to consider wages and hours, sure, but also what you’d be a natural at. “What other skills do you have? Is there a job (or two or three) you can do that makes you happy (or at least that you can tolerate) while you are pursuing your dream?” Newton poses. “To achieve this might mean some creative thinking.”

Even if you do have a steady survival job and are auditioning, you may still find yourself pinching pennies. But there are steps you can take to avoid that entirely. It’s often just a matter of having an organized system of getting paid, spending what you need, and tucking some away for later––not always the easiest prospect in an expensive city, mind you!

The first step to financial success is knowing how much money you need to make ends meet. To find your “make-or-break” number, add your bare-bones cost of living for one month (housing, food, public transit), then add another 10 percent to that number “because life is always more expensive than you anticipate,” personal finance author and Backstage Expert Stefanie O’Connell says. Then add to that sum a monthly allotment of larger financial goals, which would include expenses like student loans or a down payment on a house. That total is the “benchmark for the viability of your life.” Take your benchmark and subtract it from your last month’s total income, and that will be the approximate financial wiggle room you have for excess spending—so treat yourself! “It’s about having this one benchmark, knowing that you have to commit to making at least that amount of money every single month, and then having the flexibility to do what you want with the rest,” O’Connell says.

Setting your financial goals straight, however, may come with some compromise and reevaluation of your priorities. If you’re no longer happy sleeping on friends’ couches while you audition full-time and sublet your apartment for extra cash, maybe you should work in a full month’s rent into your budget. Do you really need to be spending $40 per week on your morning Starbucks, or is investing in a coffeemaker worthwhile? Always reassess the tradeoffs of priorities and what you feel you need to be successful. “Those priorities and means will change over time, and you have to be continually checking in with yourself and saying, ‘Am I still spending in alignment with what I value?’ ” O’Connell says. “We have these evolutions as people and we have to allow ourselves that flexibility and continue to account for that flexibility in our spending plan.”

How do I become a famous singer?

Here at Backstage, we're huge proponents of success in the performing arts in all its shapes and sizes. While becoming famous in the musical theater arts or on the Billboard music charts may be an aspiration of yours, it's important to determine what drives you as a singer. (Hint: It shouldn't be that singular desire for fame!)

Getting into this business strictly for the six-figure deal or the eight-figure Spotify plays will only set you up for disappointment. But if fame and fortune is in the cards for your journey to success, that won't come without the blood, sweat, and tears (hopefully just the latter two literally) a thriving career in the performing arts demands. Hone in on your special talent as a singer, get yourself the proper training and tools, fill your head with the required knowledge of the business, perform, perform, perform.

Abiding by the above guide is not a sure-fire way to finding fame, but it's certainly a necessary resource along the way. Good luck, and get to singing!

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