How to Make It as a Singer in LA

Singer in Los Angeles
Former voice coach for Disney, Jaime Babbitt, shares strategies for pushing one's singing career ahead in LA.

I lived in Los Angeles briefly in 2007 and can tell you that it is a fantastically fun city, full of creative people in the film, TV, theater, art and music industries.

It’s no wonder vocalists move there to seek their fame and fortune. But let’s face it: if there was an easy way to “make it” as a singer anywhere, everyone would have made it already, right?

“Making it” takes guts, tenacity and dedication to your craft. What else does it take?

Plan to Relocate

Firstly, you’ll have to relocate. Yes, I know that seems obvious, but many try to get their feet in the door first.

That’s fine if that’s the only way you can start but at the end of the day, there’s no way to live elsewhere and become well known in any of the big music meccas.

So unless you’re independently wealthy, you’ll need a job. The good news is that there are lots of pretty cool job opportunities in LA for musical/creative freelancers.

You can become an au pair, a tutor, teach music, pet walker/sitter, waitperson/bartender/catering staffer, driver for Uber/Lyft/limo companies, fitness instructor, driving instructor (yes, that’s an actual thing) and more.

The other good news is that in LA there are lots of people with lots of lovely money who will hire people like you for very decent wages, so don’t despair on the gig front.

Contrary to popular belief, LA is not necessarily prohibitively expensive when it comes to rent, food, etc…even in LA proper.

Honestly, Nashville is getting just as expensive (an article on ‘making it’ there is coming up!). You may have to search but good deals on living spaces are out there.

Friends I know have found places for $2000/month or so, and they’re shareable. Of course, the farther away from the city limits, the cheaper things get.

Don’t rule out places like La Puente, Chatsworth or Eagle Rock. However, you will then spend a loooooot of time in your car, so there’s gas, auto maintenance, car payments (you need a reliable car), etc.

Hey, some Los Angelenos I know use public transportation (buses and the great Metro Rail, yay!) and Ubers/Lyfts to get around. It can be done…at the very least up until you get a worthy vehicle.

Studio Work in LA

Secondly, what kind of singer are you? If you want to do studio work, you’ve come to one of the right places in the USA; it’s the film and television capital of the country (if not the world).

Guess what? There are lots of film and TV composers here…and you can make it your immediate goal to get to know all of them. It is extremely competitive, so you’d better have some serious chops.

If not, I highly urge you to get on that. Look into some sight-reading workshops and maybe even take some piano/music theory lessons. It won’t hurt!

Take advantage of any social media groups you find; one of my favorites is a Facebook group called Singer Friends LA, where you’ll find truly helpful people, info on cool events to attend and even gig and audition opportunities.

Performing Live in LA

If you want to perform live, great. Touring bands, cruise ships and musical theater shows cast out of LA quite frequently so get your auditioning chops honed and your Backstage Magazine subscription on the credit card.

There are also your standard wedding/corporate/party bands you can solicit, too. (And ladies, you’re in the right city to get a gig as a singing Princess Party princess? Why not practice your performance skills as you entertain little humans?)

If you’re an original artist, start by making sure you have a kick-a** professional package (CD, photos, videos, EPK).

Nothing says ‘not serious’ more than someone with nothing serious to show.

Set up a meeting with your local PRO in town (Performing Rights Organization, that is). ASCAP, BMI, SESAC…if you haven’t yet joined one, do that stat.

Once you’re in, get a meeting with an artist rep in the LA office. PROs have caring, dedicated people on staff and are invaluable sources of info; also, they hold fun, informative events and I bet you’ll meet some amazing like-minded new friends, band mates, etc.

Also, some PROs hire part timers to do admin work, so…you never know!

Get Social in LA

Friends meeting in a bar

Copyright: Free-images, Pexels
Thirdly, you will have to find time to go out and press the flesh, i.e., meet real actual people in real actual time.

I know, this seems daunting, especially for introverts…and extra-especially in a place as big as LA. So, make sure you practice as much as you can by going out and schmoozing in the city you’re in first.

Do as much research about LA as you can. Look for friends, relatives, relatives’ friends, relatives’ friends’ friends…and reach out to them.

Let them know you’re moving or thinking of it, stand back and let the mojo work. As I always say: you never know who someone you know knows, you know? Okay, I don’t always say it because it’s really hard to say, but you get the idea.

Yeah, sure, LA has a reputation of being “superficial” because ….it can be.

It’s a very image-conscious, age-conscious and celebrity-deifying place, especially in the film and TV worlds.

Women (and sure, men, too) have lots more fake faces and body parts than your average city, for sure.

While that can be a turn-off for some, that doesn’t mean that you’re going to be besties with them.

On the plus side, LA people are active, health-conscious, and look toward lots of Eastern modalities to keep themselves in good shape.

Plus, they’ve legalized recreational marijuana use, if you’re of age and, if that’s something that’s a bonus in your eyes, then I need to say: *I don’t care how old you are, NO SMOKING. ANYTHING. But I’m not your mother, so I’ll just leave that here for you.

Don’t worry about how phony everyone else may be; you have one job, and that is to be unapologetically real.

Do all the schmoozing you can and must do, but also know how important it is to find your people, your tribe.

LA can most definitely feel like a lonely city, because it’s so big and friends and events/gigs/parties can be spread far apart, with people getting fed up with traffic and so they may bail on plans more than a place like NYC.

Still, having a handful of good buddies can keep you buoyed up and psyched to stay the course.

I met some of my dearest friends during my time in LA and they’re all great musicians, singers, composers, etc.

Don’t forget: people can be even more friendly in large cities because it’s soooo easy to feel alone.

Make music a touchstone, a way to find friends. Join a choir, save up for voice lessons from some of the best coaches in the country, go to some musical Meetups, etc.

Take classes; there are great programs at UCLA, Musician’s Institute and many others.

You don’t have to go full-time…just do all you can to live a musical life in a place where there’s plenty of sun, beaches, monster musicians…and delish sushi and Mexican food!

What could be bad about that? Hey, wait…maybe I’ll join you!

Written By
Jaime was a Musical Director, coaching voice and performance for Disney and wrote "Working With Your Voice: The Career Guide to Becoming a Professional Singer" (Alfred Publishing). As a session singer, she ‘jingled’ for Coke, Pillsbury, Folgers, Chevrolet, and hundreds more. She’s sung on thousands of live gigs (covers and original music) and toured for years with Leon Russell and Sam Moore. Jaime sang BGVs live and digitally with George Strait, Barbra Streisand, Willie Nelson, Jimmy Webb, Miley & Billy Ray Cyrus, Johnny Mathis, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Willie Nelson and others. She performed off-Broadway in “Search: Paul Clayton”, toured nationally with “Old Jews Telling Jokes” and presently coaches students in voice, performance, beginner guitar/piano, studio singing, songwriting and auditioning in NY, CT, LA, Nashville and virtually. For bookings: www.workingwithyourvoice.com