How to Succeed as a Singer

Madonna, Vogue  ©1990, 2021, WMG, Warner Music, used with kind courtesy.

The biggest living music star of our time, Madonna has influenced music and generations of fans for decades.  From her initial training as a dancer in New York City, Madonna later reportedly joined a band called The Breakfast Club as drummer. When their singer was reportedly sick one day, she took over on vocals, and the rest is history.  Dancer, Singer, Actress, and Producer, Madonna pushed music and society farther than any artist of our time.  From breaking stereotypes of race, gender, ethnicity, and beyond, Madonna is one of the few true ICONS of the ages. There has never been any other like her, and there never will be.  She is indeed, one of music’s truly greatest.

Anyone that knows or who has studied Madonna, can attest to her work ethic.  To be great, one has to work hard and pursue their goals and dreams “as if your life depended on it.”


How to Succeed As a Singer or Musician 

How to succeed as a singer is a long process that requires years of dedication, training, and execution of goals.

When reading this list, it is also very important to know that if and when you get a great A-list agent or manager, they will or should help you work on all of these things, or least tell you at each stage what is needed next.

It’s very important as an artist to NOT get so much information or data on things you don’t know how to do, that you get overwhelmed. When one gets overwhelmed, then one retreats from that activity and does nothing due to confusion.

Aside from steps 1 through 3 below, your primary and number one responsibility is to be a great singer, or be a great musician. If you have that down, plus 1 through 3, and are really great, then you will eventually find help with the rest if you persist enough and get the right team.  If you’re like me, then you also like to know how everything works and where you fit into the game. So here you go…

The following is what I look for as a talent manager, and what any label will generally want, when signing a new artist.

1, Professionalism. Do what you say you are going to do.  Be kind, courteous, and professional.  Act quickly. If an A-list agent, manager or record label calls or email you, you should respond as fast as possible. If they ask you to make a phone call for 15 minutes on a certain day, unless you have a funeral or wedding to go to, you should generally put them first and do the call, don’t try to negotiate the time or day.  If you have a job you have to work at that time, take a break. You’re entitled to a break, so take it, and do the phone call. Do whatever it takes, but show that your music career is your priority–not just your hobby. Take it seriously and take seriously those who have the power to help you.

Don’t take those who can help you for granted. If they ask to see your next gig, or invite you or your band to lunch to get to know you as an artist or group, jump at the opportunity.  If they ask to be friends on social media, do it and treat them like gold.

We are looking to find out who you are, what motivates you, what your lifestyle is like, how professional you are, how dedicated to music you are, and do you have what it takes to be signed and be developed into a star?  Are you someone we can put our name behind and pitch to our highly valued clients that can make you  famous overnight?  Or, are you a diva with an attitude who hasn’t paid your dues, doesn’t “get it,” and does not deserve any further help?  I’ll explain this part more below.

The number one people fail to succeed as a band or singer is because they are unprofessional. This includes not being on time, being late, or being flaky.

2, Don’t be Crazy.  Don’t hang around crazy people, or you yourself be crazy.  When I say crazy, I mean–a dangerous liability. Do you have a good team around you? Do you have a psycho significant other who will try to sabotage you if you start to succeed? Do you hang around with scary, dangerous people? Or do you have winners in your circle?  What company do you keep?

The number two reason people fail is because they have people around them either overtly or covertly wanting to and trying to make them fail.

3,  Be Manageable. Are you too egotistical? Do you think that you are doing a top agent, manager, or label a favor by talking to them? Unless you’re already famous, you generally are not. World famous record labels and A-list agents and managers don’t need to sign unknown artists in order to be rich. They already are rich. The label and A-list agent or manager is doing you–the artist a favor if you are not yet famous–not the other way around. If you don’t get this, then that’s what I mean about you don’t “get it.”  You need to understand your place on the food chain and level of power–or lack thereof.

One generally does not  get power in Hollywood by being rude or having an attitude with those in power. One generally gets power by being cordial, polite, professional, humble, and gracious.

Those who are not yet rich, famous or powerful who don’t show respect to those in power, and who on the contrary, show disrespect, often find themselves blacklisted in the industry if they are too crazy or abusive.

The third main reason people fail to succeed in Hollywood is that they have an inflated sense of their own talent or position of power and are therefore un-manageable.

This also means that if you are not yet a star, you should follow the direction of your agent, manager, or label completely. And if you will not listen to them and do what they say, then you should get a team whose advice you WILL follow. And if you won’t follow the directions of anyone, then you are what we call un-manageable. In which case, you should manage yourself and put out your own music. Good luck with that! You’ll need it.

4, Have Talent. In addition to items one through three above; being professional, not having an ego and following direction, and being a good person with good people around you, the other thing we are obviously looking for next is TALENT. Now, most people don’t even get an appointment with an A-list agent or manager because they fail on one through three above. But if you have the above three handled, then you must actually have the talent to justify even being in the game.

If you have a great look, that’s going to give you an edge.  We will listen to anyone, but if you look like Natalie Portman or Will Smith, then you are going to be higher on the radar and get more instant value in Hollywood.  And if you are a teenager, you will get even more attention. Why? One: There is theoretically more years left for you to work, and Two: More young people listen to more music and see more movies than older people. And more younger people like to listen to other younger people.

Now, Susan Boyle from American Idol certainly did not look like a star when she walked out on to that stage and changed the face of the music industry in a big way. She was portly,  awkward, and the audience laughed at her.  But when the crowd and the world heard her sing–WOW!  Those laughs of ridicule turned to tears as people were touched to their very core and sprit at how great she was. And most everyone felt shame for judging this woman on her looks. Everyone was floored. Including Simon. And this woman single-handedly changed the music industry in a BIG way from that day forward.  So, looks are important, yes, but whereas 15 years ago we would say you could never make it as a star if you didn’t look like a fashion model, those days are OVER. And that’s a good thing.  With that said, you need to use everything you have got that you can, ethically to your advantage, which includes your looks. If you are sexy–flaunt it if you are comfortable doing so. Have you seen the Grammy’s lately? With that said, I don’t believe in an artist selling themselves out as objects of sexual adoration, UNLESSS that’s who they are and what they really want.

So you should know you are. Find out who you are, what you represent artistically, aesthetically, musically, ethically, and morally, and then let the world know that. Be true to yourself. And don’t cross any lines of morality that are against your soul.

5, Handle criticism and rejection.  Sometimes agents and managers will test clients we are interested in signing to see how they handle criticism or rejection. I politely kind of rejected an actress one time years ago who I was interested in signing, but I suspected she had a bad temper and big ego. When I lightly rejected her, I thought she was going to hit me! She threw papers, stomped around, and began shouting and swearing. When I told her I was testing to see how well she handled rejection, but was afraid she had a bad temper, she nearly lost her mind. From that day forward, I never rejected anyone in person. It’s too dangerous!

If anyone rejects you, it means nothing. So what? There are enough people on planet Earth to give you EVERYTHING you need and want. If one of us says no, that means you are just one step closer to getting someone who says yes. Your job should be to get countless no’s, UNTIL you get everything you want. It’s like sales. And one thing I learned in sales as a kid when I was 15 is, it’s a numbers game. It’s not a matter if IF, but WHEN you will get the person that says YES.

If you get rejected, thank the person. Ask them what would make them change their mind and say yes? Make a joke about it.  Tell them if you ask them tomorrow or next week would they say yes? And by all means, get their permission to keep in contact with them and then stay in contact. Cultivate relationships of power and be devoted to those persons as an individual yourself who is worthy of trust, and respect.

6, We want your voice ON PITCH. Most singers who are amateur may stay on key, but they are off pitch, which is painful for any person with a trained ear to hear. When I hear someone sing, act, or speak off pitch, it greatly disturbs me. Now, if the music is MEANT to be off key or off pitch, such as in a punk rock song, that’s a different story. But if you are off pitch due to technical incompetence, then that is unacceptable, and may be a reason we may reject you. For this reason, it is important to have people around you who are honest with you, and you need to be willing to take direction and follow your agent or managers advise. In which case, vocal lessons are required. When I work with a singer, I only work with the best vocal coaches on the planet who have trained stars. Nothing less is acceptable.

7, If you write your own songs, then we need a proper song. That means, we want an actual intro, a pre-chorus, a bridge, a chorus, a refrain, an outro, and ideally what is called an “earworm” or a HOOK where the melody gets stuck in the listeners head hours, days, and weeks later. We are also looking for a tone and mood, giving us as the listener a range of emotion. In other words, your song should make us FEEL something.

8, Vibe. If you write your own music, in terms of instrumentation, then all of the above in number seven is pertinent, and we need strong BEATS, RYTHMS, or VIBES. Again, we need to FEEL it.

9, Quality Mix. Your voice should not be buried in the mix. We need to hear your voice and hear the words. If you are using Autotune, you sure had better know how to sing, and be using it as an artistic device, and not as an attempted masque to cover up an un-trained voice.

10,  The Right Length. Your songs itself should be between 3 and 3 and half minutes long when you are starting out and looking to get signed. Not shorter, and not much longer.

If you are shopping out a cover, you had better make sure that the cover is unique and BETTER than the original.  Don’t try covering a singer out of your vocal range, or you will fail.

11, 3 Cuts Radio Ready. You need 3 cuts, radio ready for us, mixed and mastered final cuts, ready to be pitched to the labels.

12, Split Sheets.  If you co-write with someone or you are working with other musicians,  a producer, or a pro mixer or pro masterer, you need to have your splits solid. This means a usual one sheet contract (split sheet) detailing who did what, who owns what part of the track, and what percent is owned. Signed, dated, and ideally notarized.

The team on your splits can make or break your deal too. If there are a bunch of jerks or even one loser you worked with who is a total jerk to deal with, it can turn a label, agent, or manager off of dealing with you, or at least turn them off of repping any songs that person is on.

13, ASCAP and Copyright. Join ASCAP or BMI if you have not already, and always register your tracks before you send them out of make them live anywhere. Copyright your lyrics AND your mechanical rights (the music itself).

14, EPK (Electronic Press Kit). You next have to have your EPK. In your EPK is your biography, your press clippings, and your glossy. Your glossy is your 8X10 color headshot, which these days should still be hard copy for those old school who want the solid version, and you also need the hi-res digital.  Your press clippings are your valid reviews from major and respectable music or national press who have reviewed you favorably.

You should also have your 3 tracks pressed on CD, and there is a very particular way that this and the entire EPK needs presented or it may get thrown in the trash.

You also need your songs on SPOTIFY and YOU TUBE. Don’t expect us to download links or sign up for anything. We won’t. We all use You Tube and Spotify. You can also add them on BandCamp and Reverb Nation.

Have a website. Your artist website should be comparable to that of other top music stars.

Have a stage name that you brand, and market.

There are MANY more things on all of these topics here above, and below that we help clients with that you MUST know, and MUST do correctly.

15, Live Gig! Ultimately the label and any great agent or manager is going to want to see and hear you LIVE. That means, you need to be a great performer. So you should be seeing a lot of concerts, support other musicians and get to know them,  have gigged plenty, build your fan base, and know what you are doing on stage and off.

You need an artist contract for you when you play out, that includes your backline, stage plot, musicians list, and more.  We help clients with all of this.

Remember, when performing, You are not just there to sing your songs in a technical manner and leave. You are there to invoke emotional power. To make us smile, laugh, cry, shout, scream, or celebrate. You are an artist, and your job is to entertain. So, entertain us.  Give it your all, and show us what you’ve got.

And remember again, if you get rejected, never give up. If this is TRULY what you want and what you are put on this Earth to do, then you CAN find a way to make it happen.

I hope this has helped many of you. IF it has, send us an email telling us how it has helped you.  We just MIGHT publish your comments. 



Feel free to let Bruce Edwin know of any specific questions you have by email to or Tel: 310-226-7176  Or via Quora for Bruce Edwin.  Your questions and answer just MIGHT be published here for the world to hear or read. 

Artist Question: With me not being a songwriter yet would I still be responsible for putting together the 3 tracks to shop? I do believe I could get help from writers, producers and engineers I know. If not let me know.

Answer: To be considered by most management that are willing to do “development,” which means, help you get ready to be considered by the labels,  you don’t need three radio ready tracks, or even one track to be considered by them. I can tell if I am interested in signing someone after hearing them for about 10 seconds.  But I do like to hear them do a complete song, so I can determine their overall vocal delivery.

To be considered by a label, you generally DO need 3 tracks radio ready, unless you happen to create just one song that’s a  major banger and goes viral.

Most agents and managers will not pay for you to produce your three tracks. That will be up to you generally.

You should also never pay to have songs created UNTIL you get a great agent or manager and follow THEIR direction as to what songs to actually produce.  

I often have had artists coming to me who have spent a ridiculous amount of money on producing a song and even a music video for that song when I won’t even touch the song, and will NOT send it to the labels. So save your money UNTIL you get an A-list rep you trust who can guide you as to what songs to use, and who to work with. Otherwise, you could be wasting not only your time, but your hard earned money.

Many artists–especially pretty young women will find plenty of guys willing to “hook them up” with free this or free that.  In Hollywood, most no one does anything for free without expecting something in return either now or later. So, keep in mind what I mentioned above about the split sheet, and your morals.

You need to not only be careful with your money and your creative rights, but also your body. 

In some cases, if an artist’s music, songs, or voice is great enough, “radio ready” doesn’t even matter, and you could be recording it in your shower on a 4 track or your smart phone.  Everything is relative, and depends totally on how great is your talent. The greater your talent in more areas, the more you can get away with during the shopping phase. The lesser your talent, the more you have to go for perfection in every other area expected.

–Wishing you the best of success.


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