The Freelancing Singer – Looping Vocal Landscapes

Suzi Naomi and Gemma Barnett practicing for their looping - spoken word performance
Vocalist Suzi Naomi reveals a unique gig and shares tips for singers on new types of collaborative work.

Suzi Naomi is a singer currently contributing live looped vocals to a spoken word performance in London with actor and writer Gemma Barnett. We caught up with her to describe this gig and then reflect on some different ways singers can go after interesting work.

So what is this gig?

I am providing the musical soundscape for a 30-minute performance of spoken word storytelling, using solely my vocals through a loop pedal! Gemma (actor/writer) is on one microphone, performing the story, and I am on the other microphone, improvising the vocals live. 

Let’s get more tech specific – what is looping and how you are pulling this off?

Singer Suzi Naomi contributes live looping to a spoken word performance

I’m using the Boss RC-30 dual track looper to layer my vocals and add some basic effects. This means I can create a simple but effective soundscape for the spoken word. 

So how are you using it?

Because I am improvising live, I am responding in the moment to Gemma’s storytelling. So I start with whatever sound/note/noise comes out my mouth, and build & layer from there! It’s a bit edgy not knowing what will come out, but using a loop pedal gives me time and space to get into a groove, as it repeats over and over again until you are ready to add the next sound layer, or switch it up completely by starting a new looping track. 

What have you enjoyed most about prepping for this?

I really enjoyed the initial rehearsal with Gemma – to be in the same room and bounce off one another creatively with the story was so great. To hear and feel how my voice (using melody, percussive mouth sounds, and ‘drone’ notes) supported the story and created an atmosphere for the whole piece was super rewarding. 

What has been most challenging?

To not overthink the improvising and looping! 

As a Singdaptive user what lesson or course can help singers in this area?

There is so much great content that can enhance your confidence as s singer and performer AND gig booker! Here’s some that stood out for me that would be really useful for this type of freelance work…

Renowned vocal coach Lisa Popeil helps singers build their careers.

What has this project opened up for you creatively speaking?

More trust in myself as a collaborative artist – i.e. how I can use my voice to BE an artist and not only a product, and then to create new and interesting work with other writers/performers. 

Now let’s talk business: Is this the kind of work you usually do?

In the last 2 years, the freelance projects I have worked on have been collaborative work with some form of storytelling/theatre involved. Also, because I trained as an actor, a lot of my network comes from that background. 

How did you get this gig?

Gemma and I trained together at The Oxford School of Drama. She knew she wanted to work with a musician/singer for this project so she reached out to me. Even though she is London and I am in West Wales, it didn’t feel like a big distance since during the pandemic we artists have been working/collaborating/rehearsing together online – then meeting up in person when possible.

Do you think that singers should go after only one kind of gig?

I sometimes wonder if I should focus on only one kind of gig, but I think creatively and artistically it wouldn’t serve me so well. There may be a period of time in which I would choose to push solely one project whilst other projects take a back seat –  but I don’t think I would ever choose to only go for one type of gig. It does mean though that it is easy to tip into “overwhelmed” when you have a variety of different styles of projects and gigs – managing that as a freelancer is a constant work in progress :) 

How do you think this type of work could emerge again for you?

I’ll gain some media from this gig (video snippets/promo/reviews) and then use that as a link on my website/CV to showcase it. It’s quite a niche to provide ‘live,improvised vocal soundscapes’, so hopefully other spoken word artists would be interested. I imagine going to spoken word/poetry nights would be the best way to network – and to use this project as an example of the kind of work I can create. 

What can singers do to find new areas of work & income?

Mindset – stay OPEN to the ways of singing or performing that feel uncomfortable, weird and edgy. I would really recommend taking a Vocal Improvisation course, as it opens up new ways of singing & performing – which in turn will open you up to new areas of work and income also. 

Because WE have to create our work as singers & performers,  I believe that following a musical path that helps us grow and stay fresh, and keeps us on our toes is the best way to keep inspired and to get out there and GET the work that you dream of. 

Any other tips?

Join a work website like for singers. There are all sorts of call outs for audition based work, and you can upload a showreel/voicereel, pay a monthly membership and just throw yourself ‘out there’ (digitally!) – see what kind of things you get responses to. I have to encourage myself to keep putting myself out there with a voicereel etc. and go for different types of vocal work, because I get held back by perfectionism if I don’t feel like it’s 100% my niche or style. I love writing my own songs and being in artistic control but I also LOVE variety and working as a team, so collaborative work is a must-have for me too. 

More about Suzi & Gemma’s Performance – It’s a live 25 minute spoken word & music performance, exploring the intimacy of voice and telling the story of a woman called Bridge, who is working in a doctor’s surgery during the Pandemic. -“About how one day at work, when she picks up the phone, due to something unknown in their voice this time, she has no choice but to stay on the line.” 

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