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Ready to be a professional singer?

Discovering one’s talent is one thing while cracking it as a professional singer and getting paid for it, quite another, reports Pankaj Mullick

education Updated: May 17, 2010 12:29 IST
Pankaj Mullick

The raucous laughter would have disrupted the jazz number, if it weren't for the singer's tenacity to keep going. She had sung through a barroom brawl once and this group of boys and girls didn't seem all that bad. True, the rest of the audience seemed distracted and were glaring at their tables repeatedly.

But the young singer on the stage knew it was up to her to hold their interest. She gestured to the bassist and as soon as the song ended, he struck up some bold chords that everyone identified as the opening bars of the new Bollywood hit. The loud laughter from the unruly steadily died down as the suddenly interested girls hushed up the guys. Jazz lost out, but the evening was saved.

It's this kind of versatility that is required to carry a live music evening through in most of Delhi's hotspots and Parvati Krishnan knows it well. Singing professionally since three years and currently part of a Spanish Jazz outfit, it was in the tea gardens of Bengal that her talent was discovered. “I am very grateful to my parents for giving me the opportunity to train my voice even though we've always lived in remote areas,” says Krishnan, who received Hindustani classical vocal training from age five to 15.

Not so for Jasmine Saxena, who is just breaking into the Delhi music circuit. Her singing voice was trained on self-bought Karaoke cassettes, though her talent was discovered in school at age nine. “My first stage performance was when I was in the fourth grade. There was an inter-school music competition and my teacher asked me to sing in the solo category,” says Jasmine, who is half-Filipino. Her break into professional singing came thanks to associations built at Artistes Unlimited (AU) shows. AU is a Delhi-based charitable trust for the promotion of performing arts that holds shows for which singers and musicians collaborate on a project basis.

Discovering one's talent is one thing, and getting paid for it quite another. “One of the difficulties of a career in music, especially Western music, is that it takes time to get established and get a regular flow of income from it,” says Parvati, who manages a balancing act with a job in publishing and growing popularity in the Capital's entertainment circles. Things are not easy most of the time, however. Often, payments are delayed or non-existent. In fact, one has to contend with singing for nothing more than a meal when trying to establish oneself. As more people hear of you, you can start pitching your talent. In this, self-confidence is a must, while networking skills help grow one's scope.

Take Aditi Singh Sharma, who has taken up singing professionally. She has a number on the soundtrack of ‘Dev D’ to her credit and has even been awarded the Mirchi Music Award for it. Aditi started singing in Delhi's niche rock circuit and astounded people by adapting songs originally sung by heavy, male voices, like Marilyn Manson. “When I started, there were few female singers in the Delhi rock scene. I had to counter being a woman in a male-dominated genre,” says Aditi. But, she says, it's all about how you improvise. She also credits AU for being a platform for building the right sort of connections.

What's it about?
A professional singer has many avenues to showcase his or her talent. Apart from F&B outlets, such as restaurants and pubs, corporates also hire live-music acts for private parties and promotional events. Rich patrons may also enlist the services of a singer along with a two-four piece band. Radio and television commercials also offer lucrative opportunities for performing artistes.

Clock Work
9.30 am: Check mails, do follow-up
10 am: Set out for the recording studio, reach and warm up
11 am: Start recording for musical
1 pm: Have lunch and set out for meeting at an advertising agency
2 pm: Discuss brief with the agency and meet the composer
7 pm: Start for gig at a five-star hotel
8 pm: Start first set
9.30 pm: Take a break
1 am: End gig and leave for home

The Payoff
For starters, be prepared to be paid nothing — that's if you get gigs. If you work hard and form the right connections (you will need a band to perform with and artistic compatibility issues can arise), you could start getting Rs 3,000 - Rs 5,000 per gig. As you make a name in the music circuit, you could start earning Rs 10,000 per gig

Skills
. A great voice. Make an effort to understand the range of your voice
. Ability to network effectively
. A strict sense of discipline, especially with performances and recordings
. Being street smart
. Disciplined about taking care of voice and health

How do i get there?
While no training is mandatory, it does help to train your voice from a young age. Take part in school- and college-level competitions. While reality TV shows seem to offer an avenue to success, most singers will not vouch for the efficacy of the claims of producers of such shows. Several music schools offer courses for vocalists

Institutes & urls
. Performers Collective - performerscollective.edu.in
. Noida School of Rock - www.noidaschoolofrock.com
. Parikrama School of Music - Ph 011-32455545
. Berklee College of Music - www.berklee.edu

Pros & Cons


.

Being appreciated for one's talent


.

Late night hours


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Potential to develop a wide-reaching network


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Good money


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Travel can take a toll on your health

You have to give it your 110 per cent

One must have the tenacity and the will to succeed as a professional singer

When did you start singing professionally?
Though I was singing since the age of four, and made it to singing on stage by 17, it was in 2004 that I got together with a band called Crimson in Delhi and started getting paid for performances. At that time, payouts were meager and bands were paid about Rs 10,000-Rs 12,000 per gig, which would translate into Rs 3,000 or less per band member. Nowadays, with an upbeat entertainment scene, things have improved.

Do you feel training is of utmost importance for a singer?
No, I feel training is not a necessity, but it always helps if you can train. In singing, what is important is that one just gives it one's 110 per cent and keeps doing it. In fact, that applies in every walk of life. Even if you are in a nine-to-five job, you have to give it your all if you really want to succeed.

What skills, apart from singing, would you say are required to succeed in this profession?
First of all, you have to very good at your work. It also really helps if you have good networking skills, because that's how you get to know of potential gigs and other opportunities. You must have a good team to work with, a fantastic band and a manager who believes in you. And you must have the tenacity and will to succeed.

How do you take care of your health and your voice?

This profession can be very taxing, especially with all the travel, which has its own stresses. One has to also take precautions against the climate and pollution in various cities. I don't have pickles, ice cream or chilled water, which is at times seems funny to my friends. But, amusingly, some of them are the same people whose support I count on through my hectic life.

To keep my voice in shape, I also drink honey with warm water.

What advice would you give to budding female singers?
The advice would be the same as I'd give to any artiste —- to work as hard as possible, to give a 110 per cent to their work before expecting any returns.

Aditi Singh Sharma Interviewed by Pankaj Mullick