Angela Carole Brown, one of L.A.’s top “Casual” singers, shares her 20+ years of experience on what it takes to “sing for a living.”
L.A. Voice Coach Lisa Popeil helps take you into this world in this interview for Singdaptive:
LP: What’s the definition of a “casual”?
A casual is a one-time private event traditionally booked by a contracting office or sometimes another musician. The event could be a wedding, a corporate event, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah or a club or hotel date booked for one night. A “steady” is a regular, on-going series of performances, often in hotels, clubs or on cruise ships.
ACB: When did you begin singing?
I began singing in a church choir around 13-14 years old. After studying acting and performing in theater in Los Angeles in the mid-1980’s, some actor friends of mine and I decided to start a band, for fun. We started booking ourselves in bars and clubs and making some good money. This led to working with “casual” contractors. I didn’t even know what a casual was at the time. Had to learn the casual ropes but ended up realizing I could make a living doing this.
Do you think that voice training is important?
I do, but there’s no real requirement for singers to have a lot of training in the casual and club circuit. Though it may sound cynical, these days what’s more important than polish, training and good experience is how you look and how young you are. Training and experience seemed to be more valuable then and I’ve seen this change before my eyes. But I personally believe that one should be as skilled and trained as possible.
Is there an ideal age range for this kind of work?
Over 21 and under 40 is ideal but I’m not saying that anyone over 40 can’t get work as a pro casual singer.
What other kinds of changes have you noticed in the field?
When I started my career and I was thrust into the casual scene, before I was really ready, I was quite brutally schooled about not having enough repertoire or not having good, clear charts. Nowadays, a singer might have ten songs under his or her belt. I had to learn a couple of hundred songs to really be equipped for these kinds of gigs.
Are these pressures the same today?
Today, as long as you’re hot, young, can dance it up, and generally be entertaining, that’s all that seems to be required anymore. One other change is today’s “extravaganza” bands, which may have 4-5 singers, so each one really does only need to know a few songs.
You should have a sizable number of songs under your belt and be able to write charts.
Are you of the school which says that singers either “have it” or don’t “have it”?
That’s a tough one. Part of me says “yes” and another part of me says “no”. Hard work and diligence and perseverance can get you a very long way as well.
What are some of the special skills you think are important?
Again, you have to learn a sizable number of songs, you should be able to write charts (song structure with chords) or be prepared to hire someone to write charts for you. Each member of the band (oftentimes musicians you’ve never worked with before) will expect a chart: keyboardist, guitarist, bass player, drummer.
What advice can you give a young singer interested in pursuing this career?
- Plan on being a hustler, but be pleasant, cooperative and prepared.
- Work for free to get your feet wet.
- Dress sharply – and (for females) have a black cocktail dress on hand. Sexy dressing is OK.
- Find a contractor – send an EPK only (electronic press kit) with demo, bio, photo). Phone or email them saying something like “I’d love to invite you to check out my EPK.”
- Consider international stints – 2, 3, even 6 month gigs in Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Moscow hotel lounges.
- Learn many songs: Jazz, Great American Songbook (aka ‘Standards’), Classic Rock, Motown, and Top 40 (current hits).
- Know your keys (which key you sing each song in).
- Write charts for your songs (have a minimum of 4 copies on hand for each song).
- Give your song list to the musical director.
- You don’t have to live in a huge city to get work – you can be a big fish in a smaller pond by pursuing work in secondary cities.
Angela Carole Brown has been a veteran of the L.A. music scene for over two decades as a vocalist and recording artist. She has recorded voice-overs, movie cues, jingles, and CDs for herself and other artists, including Josh Groban’s hit single You Raise Me Up on his Closer CD for Warner Bros. Records. She has worked extensively in theatre, clubs, concert halls, television, and radio, in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. Angela’s one-woman, Off-Broadway show, The Purple Sleep Café, was critically lauded. She is featured in the upcoming documentary The Goddess Project. Ms. Brown is a terrific novelist as well and has penned Trading Fours, about the world of Casuals from the musician’s point of view.
Lisa Popeil is one of LA’s top voice coaches with over 40 years of professional teaching experience. As a singer, she’s performed and recorded with Frank Zappa and ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic and her album ‘Lisa Popeil’ was a Billboard ‘Top Album Pick’. Lisa has an MFA in Voice, is the creator of the Voiceworks® Method, and is regularly featured in leading music magazines, journals, books and conferences.