How to Become a Singer or Rapper
Learn about what it takes to do this thing you love full time – professionally.
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Last Updated: January 2023 | Article Details: 4722 words (25 – 27 minute read)
By the end of this guide you’ll know exactly how to become a singer or rapper professionally and what next steps to take next.
We’ll go over training your voice, making your music, and how to approach the business side of music to set yourself up for success as an independent music artist
Article Table of Contents
- 2.1 Train Your Voice and Write New Songs Daily
- 2.2 Find Producers of Instrumentals for Your Songs
- 2.3 Recording Your Songs
- 2.4 Mixing and Mastering Your Songs
- 2.5 Define Yourself as a Brand
- 2.6 Release New Songs Regularly
- 2.7 Promote Your Music and Build a Fanbase
- 2.8 Making Money – Touring and Playing Live
- 2.9 Making Money – Selling Products and Licensing Your Music
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The Guide to “Making It”
When you’re just starting out as a singer or rapper, it can be hard to know what you need to do to “make it.” And the idea of “making it” is very misunderstood.
Understand one thing – the chances of you turning into the next Ariana Grande are about as good as you hitting the lotto. It can be done. But it’s TOUGH.
Literally one of the most difficult things in the world for a person to do – even if you have unlimited money and resources. The stars, the planets and the entire damn galaxy just need to align right for any artist to reach that level.
BUT that doesn’t mean you can’t become a “successful” singer or rapper. You 100% can make a living from creating music.
What to Do
It just takes WORK and DEDICATION.
And that’s important to understand, as well – you need to treat this like a JOB and a A BUSINESS.
I get it – you love music. You just want to have fun and sing when and how you feel like it. Fine, then get a day job and do this music shit as a hobby.
But if you want to make money from music and build a career – you better treat it like a real business and J-O-B. And that even means caring for your voice like a pro.
Guess what you do at a job or business? You WORK on shit you don’t necessarily feel like doing because your HAVE TO.”
What NOT to Do
A lot of the time people just wait around singing, writing songs and shooting YouTube videos hoping they’ll be discovered by someone and made a famous Rockstar.
Some people who try to learn how to become a singer or rapperrarely try to get better through singing training or investing money in their music.
And that’s 100% wrong. You’ll go nowhere with that attitude. You have to take your career into your own hands. Write songs, make music, and promote that music.
You don’t need a major record label at this point. You need to build your own career.
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Steps to Become a Professional Singer or Rapper
Here are the steps you need to take to start singing professionally:
- Train Your Voice
You need to have a killer voice. So make sure you’re spending time every single day to practice, study and learn more about using your voice as an instrument and singing better.
- Write New Songs
You need to be creating new music all the time. So spend time every day writing music that you love. You won’t be releasing all of the songs, but you do need to constantly create new material – especially topline melody and lyrics
- Find Instrumentals/Producers
Once you have a bunch of favorite songs you’ve written or have ideas for, it’s time to work on the best ones in a more polished way. Find or create some instrumentals for them or work with a music producer to come up with full productions.
- Build a Catalog of Songs
Now it’s time to record you best songs either as demos or as polished, release-ready songs. You goal here is to record enough music that you have a “catalog” of songs that fans will be able to access from you.
- Build a Brand
You also need to build a brand for yourself. You and your music are the product you’re selling. And that means you need a defined image, story and brand identity that fans can recognize and latch onto.
- Release Songs to the Public On a Regular Basis
Now that you have a brand idea ready and a catalog of songs to pull from, continue writing new material but steadily drip out new content into the public space. Put the songs you release publicly everywhere – Spotify, SoundCloud, YouTube, etc.
- Build a Fanbase
Now you must spend time and effort promoting yourself and your songs. The idea is to slowly and steadily build a fanbase that is interested in keeping up with you and your releases. This is a slow grind. Promote, but don’t be spammy/annoying.
- Monetize Your Music
Next you’re ready to try to monetize your music and start making money. You can do several things like playing live shows, selling merchandise related to your music/brand and licensing your music companies for use in film/tv/advertising.
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This is all about 2 main things – building your musical catalog and building your own fan base.
That’s it. You focus on those two things and you’ll do well as a singer or rapper. But make sure you’re putting your all into BOTH areas. The music AND the business.
Here’s what you need to be on top of as an independent singer or rapper:
- Vocal Training and Practice
- Getting Instrumentals or Working With Producers
- Recording Your Vocal Performance and Structuring Songs
- Mixing and Mastering Your Songs
- Shooting + Editing Music Videos
- Distributing Your Music to Places People Buy/Consume Music
- Promoting Your Music (Online, Radio, to Press/Media/Blogs, DJs, Fans)
- Hitting up TV/Film/Ad Agencies to Try and Place Your Songs With Them
- Selling Music Merchandise (MP3s, CDs, T-Shirts, Posters, etc.)
- Performance, Touring and Playing Live Shows
That’s a lot of shit to take care of on top of singing or rapping itself!
That’s why all the big artists have a team behind them, handling all these different aspects. Don’t worry, you can get to that stage too.
But right now, forget the team because you can handle all this by yourself. And you should. No one is going to hustle harder for your music than you.
And no one will give you a shot if you don’t prove you can handle all this stuff yourself.
Don’t worry, though. Handling all that stuff above isn’t as hard as it seems. With the internet and a few resources you can basically run your own independent record label, with you as the main artist.
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Exactly How to Handle Your Business
Everything we listed above can be taken care of by you.
Don’t believe me? Let’s break it down…
Train Your Voice and Write New Songs Daily
More likely than not, with you as the singer or rapper, you’re probably writing your own lyrics.
If you’re not (or feel like you can’t) then you can always team up with a local songwriter or learn to write good songs with the dozens of books and websites about the subject.
But there’s one thing you need to understand – YOU NEED TO WORK ON YOUR CRAFT.
Make sure you TAKE STRUCTURED SINGING LESSONS!
I don’t care how good you think your voice is, there’s someone out there that’s working harder than you to make their voice better than yours.
Don’t let that happen. Take lessons and practice/train your voice DAILY. Remember, you’re a PROFESSIONAL – not some amateur.
Beyond that you NEED to be writing new songs daily as an independent singer or rapper.
Especially if you’re just starting out, understand that your first 100 songs are going to be TRASH. You and your friends may even think they’re phenomenal. But trust, they’re nowhere near the level they need to be to compete in the professional market.
Your ultimate goal here is to build up a catalog of amazing music. But to get there, right now your goal has to be to get your voice as good as it can be and get your first 100 songs out of your system.
Then you’re at the starting line.
Then you need to write new songs every single day and keep track of your absolute BEST material to get ready for recording and production. That will make up your professional catalog.
BOTTOM LINE: YOU ABSOLUTELY NEED TO WRITE GREAT SONGS AND BE A GREAT PERFORMER IF YOU WANT TO DO THIS FOR REAL
Find Producers or Instrumentals for Your Songs
There are TONS (I mean it..) of music producers out there. Probably a bunch of great and talented ones in your city/town.
And there are tons of ways to learn how to produce music as a singer or rapper.
You can either team up with some of the online producers out there or ones in your hometown. You could also just buy pre-made beats for your song, or learn how to record instruments (guitar/piano/etc.) yourself if you’re more of a singer-songwriter type.
Check out places like BeatStars, YouTube, BandCamp, SoundCloud and AirBit to find beat makers you can buy instrumentals from.
One quick note: if you end up writing a song to a beat and plan to release it publicly – MAKE SURE you BUY the license for the beat from the producer. Don’t release a “free download” you got on Spotify, etc.
As an artist it can be really beneficial to find an up-and-coming local producer to work with on a regular basis. Someone on your same level right now, that you can build with – like Drake and 40 did. Seemed to work for them…
If you do end up working with a producer, make sure they’re as serious about upping their game as you are yours – they need to learn about songwriting craft in addition to their production craft.
Creating a great song has a lot of moving parts. Don’t underestimate what it takes.
Recording Your Songs
Music recording equipment is super cheap nowadays.
Of course, you could hire professional studios to help you record, but if you want to build a catalog of music quickly and cheaply, it’ll be too expensive.
It’s always a good idea to have basic recording and producing skills as an artist. That will save you money in the long run.
You can pick up a really good microphone (like the Audio Technica AT2020 or Rode NT1-A) and a pro audio interface (like the Universal Audio interfaces) for your laptop/computer for a under a thousand dollars, and get STUDIO quality recordings done at home.
BEFORE ANYTHING ELSE: Make sure you know the song you’re performing (or recording) inside and out. Memorize your lyrics and practice your performance dozens of times before actually stepping up to the mic. SERIOUSLY. Referencing lyrics while recording vocals is ok, but reading lyrics because you don’t have the song memorized during recording is terrible practice.
Here’s a quick run down of the vocal recording process (we’ll have a full guide on this soon):
- Hook up an audio interface to your laptop
- Hook up a microphone to the audio interface
- Install Reaper
- Add Your instrumental audio onto tracks in reaper
- Add 3 recording tracks to lay down your vocals
- Go section-by-section or line-by-line, recording your song (get 3 solid takes of everything)
- Mix and match the best parts of each recording into one LEAD vocal track
- Record background vocals, harmonies, and adlibs on separate tracks (3 takes + mix and match again)
- Clean up and edit any breaths, clicks, pops from the vocal tracks
(Yea, there’s more to explain about that stuff – we will have an article about recording your own vocals soon).
Mixing and Mastering Your Songs
This is important.
Your song is recorded, but sonically it doesn’t sound anywhere near professional yet.
That’s where mixing and mastering comes in, and these are entire crafts all unto themselves. You can learn to do it yourself, but it’s usually best to have a professional do it. Music artists don’t always have an objection perspective on their own songs.
It’s the only way your song will stand up next to all the other pro artists out there releasing music. It’s one of the most important parts of making professional music.
It’s where all the raw tracks in your song get the polish and shine and clarity they need to sound good on different music systems (phone, car, stereo, etc).
Right now, your song probably sounds quieter than what’s on Spotify with the vocal all over the place (volume wise), sounding rough and dry and maybe boomy.
Mixing and mastering is the way to get everything smoothed out so it stands up next to whatever else you find on Spotify.
It includes things like:
- Making sure everything sits in the ideal place (vocals not too burried, bass not too loud, etc).
- Correcting things in individual tracks (via EQ, Compression, etc)
- Adding to the sonic characteristics of each track (Distortion/Saturation, etc.)
- Adding ambience to certain tracks (via Reverb and Echo/Delay)
- Making everything gel together sonically
- Making the final song LOUD and CLEAR
Sure, you can learn it, but it’s easier to outsource.
Define Yourself and a Brand
Like it or not, if you want to become a singer or rapper professionally, you need to treat it like a business. Firstly, that means making music people WANT to listen to. And it also means taking the business side of things seriously.
So you need to build a brand for yourself.
This includes things like logo’s and artist name, but it’s so much more.
You need to be able to define your music, your style and your persona.
If someone asks what type of music you make, you need a concise and easily understood answer. If someone visits your Instagram and then your Spotify profile, they need to be able to tell it’s YOU immediately. You need a consistent look and feeling across all your platforms.
What’s your “image?” – I know that’s a corny ass question, but like I said, doing this for real means it’s a BUSINESS.
You need a consistent vibe across everything you do. When you think of your favorite singers/artists, I guarantee you can define who they are, what they do, what their image/style is and more.
That’s because they have well-defined brands.
There’s a lot to this, but learning about it is important.
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Release New Songs Regularly
One of the biggest changes in the way the music business works today is that it takes a consistent and continuous flow of new music from singers and artists.
Music streamers sites like Spotify have changed the game entirely.
You need to be releasing new music regularly. You can’t expect to take years off between albums like Kendrick Lamar and build ANY momentum.
The current music landscape is fiercely competitive and very saturated. That doesn’t mean you can’t find success and build momentum – you just need to be consistent.
A lot of people don’t like this fact. But it’s just how it is. If you want to be a singer or rapper professionally, you need to do what it takes to make it happen.
That’s why it’s important to write new songs daily. You don’t want a constant stream of mediocre songs, you want a consistent stream of high quality material.
Try releasing something new at minimum once a month. And expect to do it for years before getting any real traction.
The rapper Russ became one of the highest paid performers in the post-2015 era by releasing a new song every single week.
He now makes millions, has a rabid fanbase and did it all on his own – because he was 1) good and 2) consistent.
Promote Your Music and Build a Fanbase
This is HUGE. And it’s also one of the HARDEST things to do as a singer or rapper.
You can make all the music you want, but if no one knows about it, no one hears it. And I’ll be totally real with you – there’s a lot of competition (read: noise) out there, especially on the internet, for singers and other creatives.
That’s why making your songs and blasting them out on Instagram or Facebook isn’t enough.
That shit doesn’t even work… No one cares. And you’re annoying people by telling them to “check out your music.”
Don’t spam people with your music links. Sure, share your new material on social media, but don’t be annoying about it.
A great way to promote your music is through content – that’s partly why the TikTok model works so well now. The song is the basis for CONTENT on the internet.
But trying to go viral on TikTok isn’t a viable strategy. You need to do the tried and tested as well – play live shows, collaborate with others, hand out free USB sticks with your songs on them in colleges, try to get on playlists or podcasts (don’t pay playlisting services, most are probably scams).
Interact with people in various communities (reddit, facebook, forums, blogs, etc) and subtly mention your songs/music/links without being spammy.
I told you this is WORK. But it’s necessary.
There’s a TON to music marketing and promotion as a singer or rapper, but you can do it all yourself and really get your music heard if you do it right. There are great resources online that will help you learn how to do this effectively.
JUST DON’T BE SPAMMY AND ANNOYING. THAT WILL MAKE PEOPLE HATE YOU AND NEVER LISTEN TO YOUR MUSIC
Making Money – Touring and Playing Live
Playing live shows is sooooo important for singers and rappers in the music business today.
- It’s a great way to build a local/regional/national fan base
- It’s a great way to make money
Now it’s a chicken and egg sort of situation – when you first start singing or rapping you need to play shows to build fans, but you need fans to play shows.
But it’s still important to do even when you’re playing to an empty bar.
Go to “open mic nights” and perform as an opening artist for other singers or rappers in your city. Submit your music for showcases and just play live wherever you can – both locally, in your state/province and around your country.
You can book your own shows and set up small (or big) tours. There are a ton of resources online that help you with all this stuff. And we’ll have a guide on here in the future.
BUT make sure of one thing – just like you practice your vocals and practice your performance, you NEED to plan and practice your live show. You need to move people in the audience with your music AND performance as a pro singer or rapper. So WORK on making your live shows something special.
Don’t just stand in front of a microphone and sing/rap your song. People can get that at home on Spotify. You need to PUT ON A SHOW!
Not only can you get paid for your shows, but you can also sell merch…
Making Money – Selling Products and Licensing Your Music
So this is another way to make money from your music. But it’s not about selling MP3s and CDs. Most people don’t buy music anymore. Sure if you put on a GREAT show, maybe some die-hard fans will buy a CD or Vinyl of your album.
But stop thinking selling music as a singer/rapper is the best way to make money in the music business. It’s not the 90s anymore.
Fans WILL want to commemorate their experiences at awesome events.
So if you can put on a GREAT live show, you can sell lots of different products to people in attendance. I’m talking about posters, t-shirts and other merchandise. Don’t limit your product line, shit, make mugs with your logo on it or something.
You’re a singer or rapper AND a brand. And you can use your singer-brand (as long as you build it right) to sell all types of different products with your name on it.
Think of Ariana Grande’s makeup line, or Rihanna’s makeup line or Diddy and Jay-Z’s liquor lines.
That’s not the only way to monetize your brand/music.
Like I said, most people WILL NOT PAY FOR MUSIC. But companies will. That’s where sync licensing comes in for a lot of music artists. You can pitch your songs to film/tv producers or ad agencies for placement in their various projects.
These types of deals can be GREAT financially, but again it’s very competitive.
If you make great music, there are lots of opportunities for you to get paid for your songs. And you can further leverage your brand for other money making opportunities.
Where Do You Even Start?
And that’s pretty much it – that’s how you become a professional singer or rapper and build a career as an independent music artist.
Get one thing straight – there’s no better time to become a rapper or singer. Everything is available to you and at your fingertips. You just have to be willing to grind. And I really mean you need to work harder that EVERYONE else at each of the areas we described above.
It’s a lot of things to focus on as an aspiring singer/rapper. But if you’re serious about this…
You Can Do It
When you’re an independent music artist, you have to handle everything on your own in the beginning. It’s like a full time job. And you won’t make a lot of money, at least for a bit while you’re building things up. So you’ll need another source of income to help you survive.
Consider yourself as having 2 full-time jobs. One that pays the bills, and the one that builds your dream of being a pro rapper or singer.
It’s gonna be a TOUGH grind.
But eventually you’ll meet people and build up a team that can help you handle all the different areas. And if you get successful enough a bigger label might want to do a deal with you.
And then you just keep on building.
I’ll tell you one thing – you only need about 1000 true fans of your work to be able to support yourself as a full time singer or rapper. So start building that fan base.
What to Focus on NOW
So, now what do you do first as a newly “professional” singer or rapper? Start with the music.
First, your voice. Take singing lessons and practice daily.
While you’re doing that, start looking for beats online and write songs every single day. Get through your first 100 attempts.
Then, once you’ve got a bunch of “good” songs written (I’m talking 10+), pick the best one. Then perfect the song (rewriting is KEY) and your performance of it, and record it – either yourself, or at a studio. Once you’ve got the song done, release it online and start sharing it.
Then do it again.
Once you’ve got 4-7 songs recorded and released, you can really start working on the business side of singing/rapping. That’s because now when people find a song of yours, there’s a bit of a “song catalog” they can go back to listen through.
Then you can move onto other areas of the business.
Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Singer or Rapper
Yes, absolutely anyone can become a singer. But not everyone will be wildly successful at it. Today there’s a lot more opportunity to build a career as an independent singer, but that doesn’t mean everyone will be able to. It is a difficult grind that requires a lot of focus, dedication and work.
With the internet, the playing field for becoming a successful singer has widened. But that means there’s also much more competition. The chances of slowly building a career as a singer is high if you’re really good and work really hard for a really long time. But in terms of becoming a world famous singer that is extremely rich – that is less and less likely all the time and requires a high degree of luck or “the stars aligning.” It’s about as likely as winning the lottery.
Yes, becoming a professional singer can be a difficult career path, but it is possible to do. There are a lot of avenues to make a living by becoming a singer, but it takes a lot of dedication, practice and hard work to pull off. It also takes a long time to develop a fan base and a steady income from it.
The short answer is NO – you need to know how to make music to be a successful singer. Even if that means you are self-taught. You don’t have to go to college or school for music, but you must learn how it works, how it’s made and how to sing correctly.
Do you sing? Then you’re a singer. If you want to take your singing more professionally there are a few things you have to focus your life around – practice, creation and marketing. You have to constantly be student, artist and entrepreneur. You have to always work on improving your voice and creating music.
That doesn’t mean you have to write and produce your own material, but you have to be making songs. And finally you have to promote yourself as an artist, getting your music in front of a potential audience. All of the tools to do these things are right at your fingertips. Start with the guides here on Deviant Noise and start putting in the work today.
Singers can make money in a variety of ways. If they have a strong fanbase, they can make money from recorded music through streaming royalties from services like Spotify. But the majority of the money most singers make will come from a combination of live performance fees, merchandise sales (t-shirts, vinyl, etc), and licensing their music to film/tv/ad companies.
Becoming famous is something that either happens naturally through a virally growing fanbase, or through an expensive marketing push by a well financed record label. Sure, it can be a single viral moment, but that’s akin to winnipeg the lottery. It’s not something that’s repeatable or planned. Nowadays, fame is always relative anyways. There are so many acts and so much content to pay attention to, very few people are world famous, household names anymore. A lot more people, however, are a little bit famous in specific genres or scenes.
Don’t feel too overwhelmed. It’s a lot to take in, so feel free to re-read this guide periodically.
For now, focus on YOUR VOICE and YOUR SONGS.
That’s the most important part of being a successful singer or rapper.
And there you go, now you know exactly how to become a singer professionally.
Thanks for reading this guide. If you think this article would be helpful to others, please share it! And check out some of our other resources for singers and rappers.
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