Music Career Essentials for the Professional Singer


Authored by Ashlee Varner


Course Code: OVOIC-130

Next Semester
Starts April 3

Level 1

Level 1

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


The professional vocalist today must have a wide variety of skills: Everything from running a smooth rehearsal with a band and arranging songs to best fit their style to managing finances and booking gigs. This course is designed to give you all the tools you’ll need to start building and sustain a career as a professional vocalist.

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We’ll discuss various career options and revenue streams for today’s vocalist and how to create a sustainable career. We’ll also explore how to manage other musicians in rehearsals and shows, to make the most out of every working opportunity. We’ll employ music tools like notation and recording software to accomplish our goals as professionals in today’s music industry. Finally, we’ll talk about business strategies to be on top of our daily needs as musicians. After completing this course, you will have not only the skills, but also the confidence you’ll need to build your career as a professional vocalist.

By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  • Perform basic musicianship skills necessary for effective communication with and leadership of a band
  • Create professional quality lead sheets
  • Effectively lead a rehearsal with a band and/or rhythm section
  • Identify revenue streams for vocalists
  • Choose career options based on your specific circumstances
  • Create a résumé and other materials necessary for securing employment
  • Create and organize a budget, daily schedule, and business plan to achieve career goals
  • Develop a plan for getting gigs as a vocalist
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Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors
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Lesson 1: Career Options and Revenue Streams for Vocalists

  • Exploring Career Options
  • Revenue Streams
  • Choosing Potential Career Options
  • Using the WOOP Method to Plan
  • The Entrepreneurial Vocalist
  • Assignment 1: Planning Your Career as a Professional Singer

Lesson 2: What Is a Professional Vocalist?

  • What Is the Difference between an Amateur and a Professional?
  • What Skills Do You Have? What Skills Do You Need?
  • How to Develop Your Skills
  • Artist Spotlight and Career Story
  • Assignment 2: Your Skills as a Professional Singer

Lesson 3: Building a Home Studio

  • Creating a Simple Demo with an App
  • Equipment for Home Studio
  • Incorporating Home Studio into Your Budget
  • Other Considerations: Posting Covers vs. Originals
  • Choosing a DAW
  • Assignment 3: Recording with Your Current Home Studio Setup

Lesson 4: The Vocalist’s Role in the Music

  • Analyzing a Song
  • Writing a Chord Chart
  • Choosing the Best Key for You
  • Creating a Guide Track for Remote Recording/Rehearsal
  • Assignment 4: Creating a Chord Chart and a Guide Track

Lesson 5: What Are You Hearing?

  • Roles of the Rhythm Section
  • Pulse, Time Signature/Meter, Subdivisions, and Tempo
  • Oral Transcriptions: Textures, Timbres, and Subdivisions
  • Mimicking Instruments
  • Communicating with Your Rhythm Section
  • Assignment 5: Understanding and Communicating a Piece of Music

Lesson 6: Grooves

  • Duple/Quadruple Straight Eighth and Straight Sixteenth Grooves
  • Duple/Quadruple Swing Eighth and Swing Sixteenth Grooves
  • Triplet Grooves
  • Transcribing Grooves and the Grooves Bible
  • Assignment 6: Identifying Rhythms and Grooves

Lesson 7: Writing Music: Lead Sheets, Scores, Sheet Music, and More

  • Types of Charts
  • Writing by Hand vs. Software
  • Creating Templates
  • Transposition
  • Converting Sheet Music to a Lead Sheet
  • Arrangement and Rhythm
  • The Feel and the Melody
  • The Finishing Touches
  • Assignment 7: Writing a Lead Sheet

Lesson 8: Piano Skills

  • Playing a Bass Line
  • Playing a Chord Chart
  • Playing a Lead Sheet with 7th Chords
  • Basics of Self-Accompanying
  • Assignment 8: Performing from Lead Sheet (Voice and Keyboard)

Lesson 9: Leading a Band

  • Preparation and Rehearsal Checklists
  • Setting Expectations and Creating a Vibe
  • Verbal and Nonverbal Cues and Count Offs
  • Rehearsing the Rhythm Section
  • Giving and Receiving Feedback
  • Logistics: Cost, Rehearsal Space, Scheduling
  • Assignment 9: Planning a Band Rehearsal

Lesson 10: Gigging and Performance

  • Basic Performance Skills: Musicianship and Stage Presence
  • Gigging for Exposure or Money
  • Contracts, Agents, and Promoters: What You Need to Know and Ask
  • Securing and Organizing Your Gig
  • Assignment 10: Booking Your Gig

Lesson 11: Financial and Daily Management

  • Managing and Organizing Your Time Based on Your Career Choices and SMART Goals
  • Assess Your Own Time-Management Habits
  • Voice Maintenance and Organizing Practice Routines
  • Creating a Budget for Your Goals and Tax Considerations
  • Building Your Résumé and Finding Employment
  • Assignment 11: Getting Ready for a Job Opportunity

Lesson 12: Business Plan

  • What to Include in Your Business Plan
  • Writing a Summary, Writing Your Bio
  • Organizing Goals and Objectives
  • Market Research and Strategy for Presenting Your Service or Product
  • Organizing and Editing the Final Business Plan
  • Assignment 12: Final Career Plan


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements

Completion of Music Theory 101 or equivalent knowledge and experience is required.

Required Textbook(s)

  • None required

Software Requirements

  • Music notation software that is capable of generating PDF files such as MuseScore, Finale, Finale NotePad, etc.
  • Recommended: A Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), such as GarageBand, Logic, Pro Tools, etc.

Hardware Requirements

  • Keyboard instrument with at least 49 keys (61 or more recommended)

Students are required to record video for assignments. You can use your smartphone, digital camera, or webcam to do this. If you do not already have a preferred video software, you can use the built-in recorder tool within your assignment post. You can play the backing track through your speakers as you record and the microphone will pick up both your voice and the track as you play along.

After enrolling, please check the Getting Started section of your course for potential deals on required materials. Our Student Deals page also features several discounts you can take advantage of as a current student. Please contact for any questions.

General Course Requirements

Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Chats. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course. 

Mac Users

PC Users

All Users

  • Latest version of Google Chrome
  • Zoom meeting software
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection


Ashlee Varner

Author & Instructor

Ashlee Varner has toured throughout the world with numerous groups as a pianist and vocalist, and is best known for her unique vocal arrangements. In 2014, she won DownBeat magazine’s award for Best Graduate College Jazz Vocal Soloist. Her latest recording work is featured on Kenneth Brown’s album, 3 Down, produced by Donald Brown and featuring Jeremy Pelt on trumpet and Greg Tardy on sax. The album has received international radio play (France, England, and the United States) and appeared at No. 27 in Jazz Week’s Top 50 chart.

What's Next?

When taken for credit, Music Career Essentials for the Professional Singer can be applied towards these associated programs:

Associated Degree Major


Contact our Academic Advisors by phone at 1-866-BERKLEE (U.S.), 1-617-747-2146 (INT'L), or by email at

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