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Vocal Coaches Hit the Right Notes

The best singers make singing look easy. But it can take a lot of work to get those smooth sounds. Vocal coaches help singers polish their performance by showing them how to fine-tune their voice.

If you're a fan of American Idol, you've heard the advice many contestants receive: "Hire a vocal coach and take singing lessons." With all this free publicity, is the wildly popular show creating a demand for vocal coaches?

"Yes, I know from my experience that this is true," says Rosanne Simunovic. She's a vocal coach.

But people who take voice lessons don't necessarily plan on becoming the next Carrie Underwood.

"The percentage of people who will call and say their goal is to audition for American Idol is very low," says Roger Burnley. He's also a vocal coach.

"I do get a couple, but not very much at all. That doesn't mean that might not be what's in the back of their heads; they just might not express that to me. But I do think that the show has helped, because people are starting to see the importance of getting in touch with their own voice."

According to Burnley, seeing the people who don't sing very well on American Idol might be the biggest motivation of all for young singers.

"Just watching the people who are on that show who do terribly, they wouldn't want to be in that same situation if singing is truly an aspiration of theirs," he says. "So that might motivate them more to start to take lessons.

"And I hope it continues, because the problem with the business is that a lot of people are misinformed. A lot of the stars and people they may look up to and emulate never talk about the fact that they've gotten vocal training or that it was necessary for them."

But not everyone thinks vocal coaches are getting more work because of reality television shows. Just ask vocal coach Brenda Carol.

"No," she says when asked about the reality shows helping business. "I've had little to no increase as a result of reality-based TV programs. Most of my students are serious about music as part of their education and way of life."

Another factor influencing this career is that it's getting harder to find music education within the school system. As music programs see more cutbacks, more people are turning to private singing lessons from vocal coaches.

How do you become a vocal coach?

"Study music and vocal training with the best teachers you can find," says Carol. "Or study music at a reputable post-secondary setting. Or study with a teacher from a reputable music organization.

"You must know a vast amount of repertoire, styles and techniques to be a competent vocal instructor and coach. You must at least be able to demonstrate any vocal warm-ups, exercises, techniques and training for students. You don't need perfect pitch, but certainly relative pitch is essential. And you must be able to listen extremely well."

Burnley says that people should be very clear about their goals when starting out as a vocal coach. It's only natural that a lot of people who are also singers enter this line of work, but he says the two careers can clash.

"They have to be very clear about what their goals are," he says. "There are many coaches whose own ideas and dreams about their personal career can get lost. They really need to be clear, going into it, about why they're doing it.

"There are some people that just love teaching, and they don't necessarily have the desire to go out and become a recording artist. So for those people, coaching is [a good fit]."

Burnley adds that there is another important requirement for a career as a vocal coach.

"You have to have an incredible amount of patience," he says. "Most people have very significant issues about their voice. You have to have the kind of personality where you can read those things intuitively and know how to deal with them. The client will get more frustrated with what they're doing or not able to do. So patience is kind of the main thing."

Simunovic explains that there is a difference between being a voice teacher and a vocal coach.

"A voice teacher works with a singer on the technical aspects of singing, such as diaphragmatic breathing, posture, resonation and diction," she says. "A vocal coach, on the other hand, concentrates on the performing and interpretive elements of a singer's repertoire and very often doubles as a piano accompanist for singers."

As with many small businesses, finding clients is the key to success. Carol explains a few ways clients may seek out a vocal coach.

"Clients find you through music directories, the music union, local churches, local community centers or local music stores," she says. "Or they find you through your recordings or performances, if you are a working musician."

Is it realistic to believe that being a vocal coach is a way to make a decent living?

"Of course," says Carol. "Like any form of education, a good teacher will make a modest living."

"Oh, absolutely," agrees Burnley. "I do quite well. I've been doing it for a while; I fortunately happen to be good at it."

But not everyone thinks a vocal coach will earn enough just by teaching.

"Realistically? No," says Simunovic. "You have to find other ways of supplementing your income via other musical projects. Living in a smaller center, most of my students are in high school and, therefore, can only attend voice lessons late in the afternoon or evening. I find that I have to refuse many students simply because I cannot accommodate all these singers in this small time frame."

Burnley is convinced that this field is going to continue to grow. And if your business starts doing well, it will grow naturally.

"I think it's going to continually grow," he says. "And you can definitely make a good living if you have a good work ethic and if you start getting results with your clients.

"They'll talk about it; it's going to grow because referrals are such an important part of this business. Some of the greatest coaches around will never advertise, and are constantly busy, simply because all of their clients come from referrals."

Burnley adds that the ways vocal coaches market themselves is changing. "I'd say 50 percent of my business comes from referrals," he says. "I'm not doing any other advertising besides the Internet.

"For years I placed an ad in a magazine, and I find with the way things are changing, and the ways people are getting their information nowadays, more of them are going to the Internet before they're picking up a magazine or buying something. So I just do my marketing online."


Vocal Coach Directory
Listings, directories, and resources for vocal coaches and those seeking out coaches

My Singing Spot
A page on this informative site is dedicated to listing vocal coaches

Music Connection Magazine
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