7 Ways to Make Paying Your Dues as a Singer an Empowering Experience
Artists work hard to perfect their craft. They practice–day in and out. If you’re a keyboard or guitar player, you practice your scales, chords, transitions, and solos–until they sound perfect. Drummers and percussionists learn intricate beats involving disciplined hand/feet coordination beyond what most people could dream of. And when the band comes together, they all have to listen to each other and synchronize their sound to become one. Singers have to exercise the same discipline, but in addition, they have to make sure their instrument (mind, body and spirit) are healthy and capable of their creative expression and all that comes with it. At the end of the day, what’s the payoff for these hard working individuals who rarely get the respect they deserve? All that practice sometimes resulting in a ton of drama with band mates, critics, demanding producers, labels–you name it. It’s not always fun and games being an artist.

–According to Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” people are interested in themselves, and the most common human need is to be loved and accepted. I suppose if we apply this idea to artists, we could translate this into Recognition & Respect. Let’s face it–we put the deepest part of who we are out there for the world to love or stomp all over. It can be a very scarey experience. We always secretly hope that they will at least respect what we’re doing.

Artists of all types (particularly actors and singers) are of the first to be labeled “self-centered” people. But is it really true? We happen to be in a field where self expression is key to our success. So–I guess in a sense it is required of us to be ‘self centered’ in order to tap into our unique musical creation. Can this can be done in a graceful manner which creates respect and positive recognition? Can this be a healthy pursuit or a dangerous one?

I had a percussionist recently tell me that on the way to a gig that he got pulled over by a cop for speeding with his musician buddies. The cop asked him what he did for a living. He told him his day job. “I’m an engineer.” The cop smiled and let him off with a warning, but his musician buddies were upset with him. “Why didn’t you tell him you’re a percussionist!  That’s why you’re speeding in the first place–because we’re late!” He told them the obvious.

“Do you think the cop would have respected me then, and only given me a warning?”

Let’s face it as musicians and singers, unless we’re already a celebrity, during our everyday life, we’re just not going to get the same respect as a doctor, lawyer or engineer from the world.  At least–not on the surface level. But there are two kinds of respect & recognition–inner and outer.

Inner recognition comes from a deep sense of Honoring the Process and working with this on a daily level. Whether it’s "inner or outer" boils down to why we sing. Well, obviously if we’re going to invest all we can in our creativity, don’t we want other people to like it?  Wouldn’t it be great if they’d actually pay us because they like it? Well, if you live in Los Angeles, then this leads into what most of us have to go through–GIGGING.

For those of us who actually do go through the trouble of setting up gigs and busting our a$$es in this town trying to get people to show up, only to find that over time–especially if we’re a solo act–since in LA, there are so many people trying to make it that over time, your fans seem to taper off. From the flip side, even if you’re just a regular person who likes to go to other people’s gigs, you can get swamped with invites every night of the week!

And since there seems to be few options for singers, most artists base their outer and inner respect and recognition on how many people attend their gigs. But is this a realistic approach to becoming an empowered artist? Is it really fair to say that, “if people don’t" come to my gigs or buy my music, then I must not be good enough!”

I began to ask myself, “Why do people go to gigs?”


In Los Angeles, people go to gigs because of the following:

1) they go out to support their friends and family

2) they go to support their friends’ friends (group fun)

3) they are attending a party around that event

4) they are already at the place because of the band before or after

5) they have nothing better to do that night so it’s their default plan

6) they are actual fans of the artist/band

7) they saw a flyer (think about it–how many bands have you attended because you saw a flyer. Maybe none?)

8) they got an email invite (again, when is the last time you went to a gig from an email invite from somebody you didn’t know–let alone somebody you do know?)

Now, ponder this. Even our favorite artists don’t come into town and play every month or every other month–do they?  I’m sure if they did, people would come...but after a while, even if–oh, let’s say, good ole’ Sting were to play every month in Los Angeles–as great as he is, I think over time, the glory of “Sting” would lose it’s appeal. This is why BIG artists play in spurts and tour to different cities to keep the buzz going. I know we don’t all have the luxury of doing this, but  wouldn’t it make sense that over time, if our favorite artists (who have marketing experts running their show) don’t even gig in Los Angeles every month, there’s a good reason for not expecting people to come to our gig if we do? Now, I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t gig every month, what I am suggesting is that as an artist in Los Angeles, you have to gig for the right reasons or you may end up becoming very disillusioned. Application of Dot’s C.O.R.E. Vocal Power Method will heal any of that, but if you haven’t learned how to apply C.O.R.E. yet, you’ll want to read the following.

Gigging in Los Angeles: it’s called, “paying your dues” (for those of us who don’t have hookups yet) and sadly, we don’t always get to decide when this period of time is up, but we can make it a delightful time of growth if we do the following:

1) Apply Dot’s C.O.R.E. Vocal Power® Method and listen to Dot's Practicing C.O.R.E. Vocal Power CD daily . This will keep you grounded, centered sounding great and feeling happy, which is half the battle!

2) See the whole picture of your creation. This isn’t all about you. It’s about how the musical expression of YOU is going to attract whatever it is that you want, but you must create that opportunity by being open to it–not by grasping for it or just wanting it, but by creating it.

Whether it’s “I want at least 30 people at every gig I do and to sell 15 CD’s a gig.”

Or, “I want to attract a major label by playing at a gig” (not that realistic nowadays but it does still happen from time to time.)

“I want everyone to just love my music and cheer for me when I sing.”

“I want to just feel comfortable in front of an audience singing and know that I can do it.”

“I want my fan base to expand every time I play.”

Well–okay, that’s just wonderful. But if you want to see the whole picture, perhaps you can ask yourself the following questions: 

a) How are you different from the 500 other people in the circuit who sing in this town? 

b) How can you bring out what is unique and special about you in your ads and your performance? 

c) Do you look like a pro that someone would want to hear? 

d) What grasps other people’s attention about you?

e) What’s your gimmick? It doesn’t have to be cheap–just have something that makes you different. People remember what stands out. Nowadays in the world of our overstimulating media, an outstanding voice and an average image doesn’t cut it–unless you know somebody. Even if you’re the most amazing talent on the planet–have a plan to fall back on. Creating the plan allows you to consider ways that doors will open for you and makes you look like the pro you are.

3) Realize that getting a gig (that isn’t pay to play) is an accomplishment in itself that few artists get in Los Angeles.

I’ve had new students come to me and tell me they were rejected at a place where they would have had to pay in order to play. Can you imagine how that feels?  In this town, everybody wants in, so clubs aren’t making that much money off of artists like you. They make money if you can bring 100's of people in who will pay and/or drink. It’s the sad truth.

Play the gig because you are happy to be in a public setting and you’re doing this for yourself. Know that you’re good enough to be heard. Know the worth of what you have to offer and play because you love to play and you love how you feel when you play. And while you’re at it–record your gig and learn from it! Nobody is perfect. You can always find ways to improve. If you get a decent recording (the soundman can often get this for you) you can use it as a promo for your next gig.

4) Have no expectations based on what you want other people to do, (like–show up at your gig!) but still remain positive and humble–even if it’s just you, the sound guy and your mom!

5) Get honest feedback. Friends are often not the right people to talk to. At times they can be painfully critical, and other times, they are way too complementary.  It’s hard to always know the objective truth. This is why if you record the concert, you can always let a vocal coach, or an expert hear what you did, and get real feedback from someone who knows what’s expected of you related to your growth and potential.  Remember, at the end of the day, what’s most important is still how you feel about your work.

      6)     No matter how humiliating or hard it gets–NEVER GIVE UP. AVOID PITY PARTIES AT ALL COSTS. It’s only those who are strong enough to endure under every test–that make it.  Do the math. Over time, those who keep on going gain respect and recognition–but by then, they don’t strive for it anymore because it’s a natural part of who they are anyway. This is the hardest step out of all of them, because as stated earlier–human beings, deep down in their heart of hearts, want respect. We’ve worked hard for our gifts–and some of us had to work a lot harder than others! We wonder if anybody cares! We did everything in our power to create something amazing for the world to hear! But then we have to ask–did they ask for it? You see, it’s about creating a space for ourselves in a place called yourself that the world will respond to because it activates a place in their essence, and so on. In other words, people’s souls get reached. That’s why "Connecting Authentically" from the beginning is so important. When we’re truly connected, we’re coming from an authentic place of depth that doesn’t get disappointed and that space has unlimited endurance because it allows us to tap into our own life force.

7) Invest in developing yourself as an artist.

Think about ways to attract an audience to you.  What would make people want to listen to you?  What would make you look interesting?  Entertaining?  Image?  How is an average looking girl playing a guitar interesting?  How is a guy at a keyboard who I don’t know interesting?  Why would I want to go to that gig?  Does it look boring? What would really attract people I don’t know to my show? (Hint - a creative edge)

The more we sing - whether it be at parties, gatherings, gigs, karaoke bars (for fun okay!), practices, choirs, concerts, the more we hone our craft and get better and better.  We shape ourselves into professional artists and people because we have paid our dues and we can draw from an inner knowingness of having earned that respect.  It’s this inner respect that creates a solid foundation for growth and attracting what we want into our lives.

We’ve explored seven ways to make paying our dues an experience that gives us Recognition and Respect - no matter what the circumstances are.  I now encourage you to get out there and MAKE IT HAPPEN!  Remember, our dreams don’t happen by themselves.  As Oswald Spengler put it, “Every act alters the soul of the doer.”