How to make it as a jazz singer

When you're in grad school, everyone is motivated to make a living as a performer, but not everyone will make it. Jazz singer Amy Yassinger is one of the ones who made it, in just a few years after we both graduated with our masters from Western Michigan University.

You moved to Chicago after your masters degree. How did you get from being new in a new city to doing gigs most nights of the week?
I started working side jobs. At one point I had side jobs between demos, singing, teaching, and I worked at Victoria secret. I was going crazy for a while. December of 2009 this teacher was fired at the high school I was teaching at, and I was handed the studio. I quit all my jobs and I started leading my own group in July 2009. I just kind of built it from there. First gig I had, I had responded to an ad and I gave them my website and they hired me on. Other places I would sit in with other bands. Venues liked me and they wanted to hire me with my own group. Full time performing started in January of 2010, with about two to five gigs a week.

"Venues liked me and they wanted to hire me"

Do you feel that the education you received helped you in the real world?
It didn't help me with dealing with the business end of it, but it helped just learning songs and working with people. I started my own company for weddings and restaurants, and places wanted to write one check only, so I had to open up my own business (LLC Yazz Jazz). For tax purposes I pay musicians through the business versus myself. I learned that from other musicians, not in school. I didn't learn how to schmooze with people, constantly emailing and calling and showing up, following up. It's annoying.

"You have to convince people that 
musicians are people too"

What do you know now that you wished you knew while in school?
That I should have had a job at the school and pay towards my education while in school, because student loan debt is pretty obscene. I feel like I got a diverse experience musically between University of Miami and Western Michigan University. I was in big band and rock band in Miami, and Western was more rigid and strict with Gold Company and more complex jazz songs. Miami gave me the real world experience, because I had a teacher who would send me on her gigs to sub.

"There's always someone 
willing to do the gig for free"

What aspects of your job surprised you?
How often you have to convince people who are hiring you that musicians are people too. For example they don't realize they need to feed musicians and pay them a decent wage so that they can live. I just flat out tell them: "listen it's typical to feed and pay the musicians at least this amount. If that's not gonna work out in your budget let me know what will and we will figure something out." You don't want to anger them because you want them to hire you, and there's always someone out there who is willing to do it for free or cheaper. You have to convince the musicians that they should be happy that they're working at all. It's better to work and make $80 than not work at all. 9 times out of 10, that $80 gig will lead to a private party that will pay $150.

"You can't be complacent"

What do you think is the main challenge of people of your generation who want to be or are performers?
Getting a chance, getting an opportunity. I think a lot of people want other people to do the work for them. A lot of it is being at the right place at the right time, knowing the right people, Ultimately being flexible, being willing to sing or play songs that they don't like or that they deem stupid. Great example, we had a woman on Friday night screaming at us to play dance music, and we're playing jazz standards and love songs that couples were dancing too, and she wanted rowdy music. We ended up playing Chain of Fools, because you have to please every one you can.

Any other thought?
You can't sleep. You have to constantly email people and make phone calls. You can't be complacent.


1 comment:

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