Every now and then, one of my students, or even complete strangers, look at me in a slightly confused way when they find out that teaching other people to sing is actually my main job. Whilst this might be amusing, at times even flattering, it can also be worrying – especially when I sense that “doing music/arts full-time” is still perceived as an oddity by some. I even got the question recently if this is “something you can actually study”.
I have tried to understand for years why this is the case. Suffice to say, I don’t have answers, but maybe a little glimpse into the life of a professional vocal coach gives those of you who are not quite sure whether this is “a real job” an idea?
First of all, enjoying your job and being a professional are not mutually exclusive. I sometimes wonder if doing something that most people perceive as an “enjoyable pastime” is to blame. For me, it is the best job in the world, but it is certainly not a hobby – I am just extremely fortunate to earn my livelihood with something I absolutely love.
Then, there is the tricky issue of teaching from home. This could of course give people the idea that “teaching a bit of singing” is just a sideline. If you have a home office of any kind, you cannot be professional, right? Many home workers all over the world probably face the same dilemma, but our jobs require as much skill as any other job out there. The fact we are teaching from home studios does not change anything about our expertise. It is tricky of course to work in an unregulated business, where everyone can set up shop easily, and this includes the Good, the Bad and the downright Ugly. Probably also like in any other job, only that there is even less formal control over it.
I won’t bore you in detail with my professional training. Just so much: I spent 8 years on studying music and singing on formal level, keep my singing and teaching skills up with professional development to this very day, worked as a singer/performer and trained in a variety of musical styles and teaching methods. This fact alone tells you that this is more than just a hobby. I enjoy it massively, wouldn’t ever want to do anything else, but it is also my livelihood, and I trained as hard for it as any engineer did for their job. And my working day is indeed as full:
An average day starts roundabout 9 a.m. with checking and answering e-mails, and getting on top of music and vocal coaching news that are of interest to me and my students. These things usually take until roundabout 1o a.m. Then I need to “wake up” my voice – this is mostly just a short session of 30 minutes or so. After that, I get back to the desk and prepare my coaching sessions. Depending on how many students I have that day, what exactly they need and when I will start, this can take everything between 30 minutes and two to three hours – so sometimes, I already need to start the night before. If I prepare a workshop, I continually need to work on it for a few weeks: Marketing, sourcing a venue, preparing workshop contents, sourcing music and preparing/arranging it, and so on. Certain things work faster the more experienced you get, or if you already did a similar workshop in the past, but it still requires a lot of time.
So by this time, we are usually somewhere around 12/1 p.m. On busy days, or days with professional singers (who tend to come in during the day, because they usually have other commitments at night), I will start teaching now. A teaching day that starts roundabout noon sometimes (but not always) finishes earlier as well – maybe around 5 or 6pm. This doesn’t mean I am off straightaway: It just means I have time to log lessons (or prepare a few for the next day), do accounting (eeew!), and then still get some practice done myself before I start to wind down at 8/9 p.m. Some days, I will teach flat-out until 8 p.m. though, or even do workshops at night (maybe until 10 p.m.) – by that time, I will have worked roundabout 12 hours, and since vocal coaches are not superhuman, I am usually tired. To teach someone to sing requires focus and concentration non-stop – you cannot just switch off and let the student “do their thing”. And whilst this is massively enjoyable and creates a real buzz, especially when you see students progress, it is also very intense. You usually don’t notice this so much whilst you are teaching – very often, you will just fall asleep whilst eating your (late) dinner 😉
A “normal” teaching day usually starts a bit later though – probably roundabout 3 p.m., since this is when most people who are NOT professional singers come out of school/finish work. By now, you probably noticed that “teaching from 3 – 8 p.m.” doesn’t equal “only working for 5 hours”. On days like these, I can practice a bit more myself, read up on newest vocal research, plan musical projects, do accounting/taxes (eeew! again), look into marketing, write blogs 😉 – whatever is most urgent gets done first. Very often, I will also have Skype coaching sessions sprinkled in at the most random of times: Since I teach singers from different time zones, we always need to see what time is most convenient for the both of us. This can sometimes mean really early mornings, or quite late nights.
My world revolves around teaching other people to sing all day, every day. Many sadly only see the contact time we, as vocal coaches, spend with our students (this creates more than just one problem, but it would lead too far to go into this here). This is only half of our working day however. Since many, if not most, of us are self-employed, we need to stay on top of marketing, accounting, and our own vocal and professional development as well. You need to be able to practise what you preach, so to speak. We also need to make space for attending workshops and conferences. We are real one-(wo)man-bands: Teachers, performers, marketers, accountants – the list goes on.
So if you still think THIS is not a “real” job, I would like to say to you:
Think again! 😉
© Petra Raspel 2012