How Singers Make It in London

London phone box and taxis
If you have the desire to be heard and steely determination, it’s possible for singers to "make it" in London – says Rachel Bennett.

Singers and singer songwriters have taken many paths to achieve recognition in a city like London – here are some of the routes my students have taken.

1. Make Use of Your Contacts

One of my students, a young woman from Newcastle, came to study at Goldsmiths University in London where I teach on the Popular Music degree.

She kept in touch with the ‘big fish’ venue manager connection she had in Newcastle and connected with some venues in London through him.

Then, by the middle of her first year she was getting seen with her acoustic set (just her and guitar) all over town.

She’s now signed to All Points Records (formerly, Believe Records) and has recently been touring across the UK, working good stages at the festivals

Check her out here: https://www.brookebentham.co.uk/

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Keep all your contacts regularly informed of the music you are making and the gigs you have performed and lined up.

Just because someone isn’t the top contact you want (say, a record company A&R person) doesn’t mean they can’t make things happen for you.

The bigger fish in the smaller towns will have contacts in the ‘big smoke’ and many successful bands have reached their goals by remembering where they came from and staying in touch.

2. Get a Singing Residency

One of my own backing singers, Nazarene, is a successful events organiser and performing singer.

Sometimes she does solo PA’s (just Nazarene and the backing tracks) but she also runs a tight band – in London and other big UK cities.

She started out at 21 years of age with no experience and just recorded a couple of demos then trekked around restaurants and bars – pushing her way to meet the manager.

Within 6 months she had picked up regular residencies including one at The Establishment in Parsons Green on the best Friday night slot – and a run of nights at Leicester Square’s Café Concerto.

She also ran regular Wednesdays at Bar Elixir in Camden where she headlined an open mic – – so other artists had ‘starter opportunities’ and she won herself a large audience for her own material.

When she wasn’t doing all that Naz was setting up events for out of town artists – singing as MC and in support for them.

Julie Dexter is one of Naz’s regular visitors – below link is typical a great night at London’s famous 606 jazz club: Julie Dexter With The Janette Mason Trio, 606 Club 

Naz even went as far as Paris for Leela James:

Nazarene has a very popular presence on social media and simply never stops capitalising on her success.

Her latest venture is a Gladys Knight tribute band – the guys in pale blue suits – everything down to the wigs!

From all of the above Nazarene also sparked a good career doing session work (in a trio and solo) and sings on demos for writers … check her out at work for a writing team :

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If you have a shrewd business head and you can make links with your various skills, you can utilise one event to spark off another or work venues and events to feature your own work alongside others’ and even involve your own merchanidising! (Naz has a wedding management service to include her band!)

You need to be committed to staying on social media and the confidence to talk to anyone and push your ideas.

It’s not for the faint hearted but it can really work, especially if you have good music to sell and if you know when you have outlived a project and it’s time to move onto a new one.

3. Find People to Help Promote You

I coach a young singer who kept his factory job for the first four years of his gigging life.

His voice and playing improved massively as he invested time and some savings in tuition and in attending plenty of music seminars.

He talked with close friends from school whom he trusted and together they formed a management team for him; they weren’t yet 20 years of age when they set out but their research and their work ethic has been impressive.

They put their savings together and recently put on a series of gigs in small venues in London – he started out solo and now has a drummer on board – they’re called Chelou.

There were several A&R people at their second EP – lunchtime launch. They used economic sense and hired a very inexpensive gallery venue – attached to Village Underground in Shoreditch, East London. One of the things that stands out about this group is that they have stayed within their budget and taken their time and their patience and tenacity has paid off!

They have now gained the attention of a record label; Chelou recently played support for a massive band at Brighton Pavilion, packed out the Old St Pancras Church in Euston (a very prestigious venue) and have been booked for a two-week tour of small venues in the USA

He has practiced humility, patience and also gave up smoking!
Check him out  https://chelou.bandcamp.com/album/mothership-ep-2

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Anyone can say they are a manager; in the case of best friends, sometimes this can really work out.

The advantage of working with friends is that you have someone who will watch your back because they have known you for a long time and there is mutual trust.

It took these guys several years to get Chelou the recognition that they now have and they had to learn all the steps on the way – slowly building his profile and audiences and seeking out bigger and better gigs.

Singer in London

4. Gain Social Media Views

A singer-songwriter friend filmed a series of songs played in different parts of his house and street in West London.

He set up various locations with different atmospheres to enhance the sense of the lyric and got two mates (neither were professional film makers) to help access college theatre lights to get better screen quality.

He put these online and got loads of views by tweeting and texting with the links to his work.

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The first thing to do is to have your material well rehearsed and recorded on a demo.

You’ll just need some 30-60 second snippets of your material and this can be on your website, on SoundCloud or accessible through YouTube links. Many bands are filming their rehearsals in their living rooms now!

5. Land Work in London’s West End

A long time friend of mine who is now running a 40-piece choir in Paris was a young unknown singer in London.

She said ‘Yes’ to every wedding and other family event she was asked to sing at and eventually she auditioned successfully for London’s LCGC choir.

She made the best use of the connections she found there – meeting some of the members socially and checking out their own projects (many of these professional choirs have a sizeable body of members who are session singers).

Eventually she got herself into a small a cappella group and, from there, she was asked to sing background vocals for various resident bands.

She was approached one evening at a gig by a scout and invited to audition for Carmen Jones.

She was successful and worked that show for a theatre season at London’s Old Vic alongside the cast who were mainly auditioned through hard sought agents – it was a short cut in one sense but in another – she used her acumen to get seen.

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It’s one thing getting an audition but it’s another getting the job. I would advise anyone going for a job at ‘invite’ level to get a coaching session – it’s invaluable to have another ear on your pieces.

Sometimes you are sent the song the panel want to hear. But, if not, it’s very important to select a song that shows you off at your best.

Your song should work for your ‘casting type’ and should fit your range with ease.

Remember: you should never attend an audition with a song that you are slightly worried about (a top note that is too much of a stretch, for instance).

Also, you should check out the show beforehand so you have a clear idea of what the panel are looking for and so that you can talk about it.

Be fun, energized and, most importantly, respond with your vivid imagination to any instructions they give you (such as … ‘can you sing that like you’ve just received sad news’ or ‘like you are mad as hell!’)

Getting seen at auditions can lead to other auditions, so always do your best – you just don’t know who’s watching!

6. Function Band Work

Another of my Goldsmiths students came from LA to study and had been singing function gigs in the US, so already had a repertoire of songs that sounded well rehearsed and impressive.

But in London he was an unknown!

He set up a very professional website, assisted by an IT student at the university (so both benefitted from that venture).

He then did some research and and became very creative about where he placed his ad and links on YouTube and other social media sites; he also approached up market hotels, restaurants and venues in person.

He attended various professional gigs, dressed in his tux, and sought out the venue managers, handing them a card and, sometimes, had a short drink with them.

Again, this is not for the faint hearted but is probably a faster route to function gigs than waiting in the back of an agent’s drawer.

He set up his band at the university and they regularly added 30 second shots in rehearsal rooms to the website – he’s now gigging in Park Lane which is a very up market road in London, full of top hotels that host wealthy tourists and often celebrities.

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You need a website – one that allows you to create different pages and different ways to feature your music. You will want a ‘media page’ that includes photos.

Ensure that you use punchy language about who you are and how you formed; then there should be a link to your upcoming gigs – however local!

Setting up a quality website is easier than ever before; however, if you are shy about using one of the many website creators online, then you can contact the local colleges and universities to find a student who will be happy to do it for the experience and for the kudos!

Make sure their name appears on the site; there will also be a photography course at your local college or university; get some decent, fun pics taken.

If you haven’t got money you can offer to return skills like proof reading an essay or maybe doing some chores

7. Making it on your own!Busker in London

One of my clients has a band he set up locally with no money – just pure love!

He brings his backing singers for regular harmony accuracy work and I get updates on his ventures.

He’s gone from being a very ‘local boy’ to gigging in some of the more prestigious Southeast London venues in New Cross and Lewisham such as the Amersham Arms and the Fox and Firkin.

Whilst these seem like ordinary little bars, they are swarming with A&R personnel!

The band’s music has massively improved and he is attracting festival gigs for the upcoming summer.

He has simply put his head down and worked at building a solid unit of reliable and loyal players

Check out The Wisebloods at www.thewisebloods.com – and they’re on Spotify, Sound Cloud, YouTube, and all online platforms. Their EP releases this spring and a music video is out mid April called Sisters and Brothers.

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Discover all the non-professional gig venues and music pubs in town, then visit a few so you can see the kind of bands playing there and the sorts of audiences that attend.

There are ‘what’s on’ listings to help you and it may be best to start in your local area so you can get local support.

You should speak to the organisers to find out what the deal is – sometimes it’s a shared split on the door according to how many punters your band has brought in.

Sometimes its just open mic; you can also check out any local community events that you may be able to play at such as street parties and park festivals.

Bring your demos or a card with your website address and SoundCloud links – you can get free cards made on line!

You can easily set up a gig in your garden for close family and friends – treat it as an open rehearsal.

Final, General Advice for Singers in London

So you get a gig! … email, Tweet, Watsapp and text ALL your friends and family – neighbors and school or college teachers – even the rest of the gang at your Saturday job!

Work at getting a crowd and do this several weeks before the gig – people in London are busy and have lots of choice about their free time; if you leave it till the day before you’ll be lucky to have half a dozen people at your gig!

Send reminders as the event date is getting closer and make these communications as ‘buzzy’ as possible – maybe a picture of you all, a sound bite or even a clip of your living room gig!

Attend as many open music conferences and workshops as you can.
Send at least one of the band … take notes, and record section of the workshop so your whole band can hear later and have a discussion about it

Take a Breather! The first years will be the groundwork and you will need to keep at these with determination; I work with managers and record companies sometimes and they all say it takes 10 years to make it in the industry! It won’t take that long to get gigs but remember there are literally hundreds of bands playing in London in any one week! The competition is fierce!

So you should have regular meetings as a band to evaluate your progress and to plan the next steps – making sure you share out the duties and that everyone is on board … it’s the band that stays together that plays together!

Once you have established a following and maybe have some three or four gigs lined up, you can start the very challenging task of seeking management.

Check out who is managing other small or local bands and how well they are doing; that way you get to hear about the good practice and the pitfalls.

Remember, anyone can call themselves a manager and there’s a difference between a very diligent, dedicated and organized individual or team and someone who just likes the title but does no work!

Written By
Rachel Bennett is a London-based vocal coach and singer songwriter. She is the lead singer of her band RAIE and they have played at venues including London’s Hammersmith Apollo, The Roundhouse, The Albany Theatre, The Forge and Map Café. She has been a Musical Director for various theatre companies and has worked as both a singer and coach for record companies in studios across London. She currently teaches singing at Goldsmiths College on the Popular Music Degree and at Rose Bruford International Drama School. You can learn more about Rachel on www.raiemusic.com