I've always wanted to be a background singer for a huge R&B act like Beyonce or Usher. I wondered for years about how fulfilling it would be to tour with famous artists, sing on a stage to millions of people, and make big money doing what I love.
My dreams have shifted a bit since I pivoted more to songwriting and production, but I've also learned some things about what background singers really make.
As you can imagine, singing backup for a local celebrity would have a different pay than singing background for a national or international celebrity. Singing for small-town performers on a regular basis may get you by, but don't expect much.
The low side of background singing pay averages around $20 an hour, while singing for a celebrity would be closer to $200-$400 per hour.
Let's not look at things from an hourly pay standpoint, though, because that's not how the music world pays in terms of musicians. Singers usually get paid per gig, where a gig can last anywhere from 2 hours to 5 hours on average.
For that block of time, the average background singer can expect to get paid $200 per gig, which means you will need to stay regularly booked to make it worthwhile as a career.
If you, for example, were a backup singer who performed three days a week at $200 per gig, you would be making $2,400 per month, or $28,000 per year, which is decent but not enough in many areas. This is why many backup singers also have other day jobs or side hustles to pay the bills.
If you can land a $200 gig on a more regular basis than five times a week, you would be able to make $1000 a week, or $52,000 per year, which is what many online job sites will tell you that backup singers make since they are assuming that the work is full-time.
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Landing a gig as a backup singer is really tough to do, especially if you're looking for one that pays. If you have an interest in this field of work, you need to be a master at networking and communication in order to build relationships within the music industry.
You will need to market yourself and be willing to travel to stand out among the tough competition. Most backup singer gigs get filled and stay filled for a while, making it hard for newcomers to find opportunities.
Not only can you find connections to more gigs once you do find entry into the music world as a backup vocalist, but you have the potential to become a famous lead singer once you break into the business.
Many well-loved singers, including Luther Vandross and Sheryl Crow, started off their careers by singing backup for other singers. Other names like Lisa Fischer and Chinah Blac are known for their work as backup singers for acts like Chaka Khan and Sting over the years.
As a reality check, though, you can sing for big names like The Rolling Stones and wind up underpaid and disconnected.
According to The Brag, backup choir members were paid around $40 for three rehearsals and a performance at the Park Hayarkon concert. The whole tour supposedly made over 6 million while they were paid pennies!
It's known among the music community that instrumentalists tend to get paid higher or land more gigs when compared to background singers or choir members.
While it's hard to confirm, it is likely that there are more opportunities and pay for musicians because they are in higher demand, yet not that many people play professionally.
Singers, on the other hand, can be found pretty easily and often come in groups, so the pay needs to be split among multiple singers in comparison to a drummer, for example.
These types of singers don't usually get royalties for live performances. But in some cases, a backup singer can act as a studio session musician and provide vocals either live or in a studio setting that may be eligible for royalty collection.
The AFM and AFTRA (now SAG-AFTRA) is an organization that pays singers for performances that are being recorded and distributed.
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As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 200 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, and features, Yona spends her time creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Her recent collaborations include work with PBS Sound Field, Tribe of Noise, and the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Check out Yona’s latest releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share if you like it!
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