Why Are Some Singers more Successful than Others?

1. They perform anytime, anywhere and in any situation.

Several years ago, I made the life-changing decision to focus more time on my vocal coaching business rather than performing. However, I didn't want to let my "pipes" get rusty so I sought a situation that would give me the opportunity to perform on the weekends, bring in some extra cash and be vocally challenging. Thus, the "Corporate Band," otherwise known as the "Wedding Band," seemed a perfect fit for my needs.

I was fortunate enough to join a highly successful "Corporate/Wedding band that is booked by two of the larger talent agencies in North Jersey and New York City. Having been with the band for almost six years now, I have found that the job certainly fulfilled my needs, and talk about challenging! I can think of no other performing job that requires you to sing 40's and 50's Big Band music one minute, 60's Motown with its incredibly tight harmonies the next, then the big voiced, high rock tenor music of the 80's (all in the original keys mind you!), and then finishing off the night with the current top 40's tunes of Ne-Yo, Bruno Mars, Rhianna, Beyonce and Usher just to name a few. And all with little or no rehearsal time with the band. Every singer is expected to show up, know your music and deliver! The musicians or players, as they are called, are top notch and know the songs backwards and forwards and don't like to rehearse. So the singer must know his/her stuff the day of the gig.

2. They are not afraid of criticism.

This is not a job for the faint of heart, neither is it a job for someone who is easily offended by harsh criticism.  There are times when a job situation gets heated and often the cause of this is either a young, inexperienced party planner or what is lovingly referred to as the "Bridezilla"! This is a young bride, that I am sure is a lovely person on days not including her wedding, but has decided to go off her meds the day of the event, has turned into something resembling Godzilla, hence the title. She doesn't like any of the music the band is playing, even though she and her groom carefully picked out most of the songs with the talent agency that hired the band months earlier. Needless to say, this can make for a very uncomfortable 5-6 hour gig.

3. They are competitive.

In spite of the previously mentioned job hazard, "corporate bands" are a great way for up and coming singers to vastly expand their repertory, become a much more versatile performer and get paid. Anyone who has watched shows like American Idol or The Voice knows that one of the key factors in finding talent in these competitions is through the process of elimination. Much of that elimination process happens through a weeding out of singers who are not versatile. If a "contestant" comes in as a country singer but can't deliver a classic rock song, they are going to be "up for elimination"!

Think Carrie Underwood when she was a contestant on Idol. I remember watching the night she delivered her version of "Alone" by Heart. Prior to that night I thought she was a very good country singer, but wasn't sure she was a contender for the prize. After watching her sing this amazing rock anthem, I was sold. She slayed the song and proved that she was, in the words of Randy Jackson "in it to win it". The next day, there was a lot of talk among Idol fans that she pretty much "sealed the deal" with that performance. I, too, was convinced that if she didn't win, it would be a huge mistake. As fate would have it, she did win and proved that she was more than a just a country singer from Oklahoma, but a real artist with staying power and the ability to sell millions of albums. 

So what is it about someone like Carrie Underwood that makes her such a phenomenal success, while others who may be equally as talented and beautiful, are not as successful? Is it luck? Is it connections? The stars? The hand of God? Simon Cowell?

4. They show up and are prepared. 

In my six years of singing with the band, I have seen several extremely gifted singers come and go due to a variety of reasons. Many performers use wedding bands as a stepping-stone to get to the next level. Idina Menzel, the original Elphaba in "Wicked", spoke very highly of her wedding band days in a recent PBS special. She said that singing in a wedding band allowed her to explore many different facets of her voice and that she thinks the experience actually helped her find her own unique sound. Idina used her experience with bands in a positive way to develop and nurture her talent.  Unfortunately, I have seen many of these extremely talented singers waste a golden opportunity with a band job. Many times these performers will show up late to gigs, without the proper equipment (i.e. microphone, music stand, lyrics) or proper attire. I've even witnessed a singer completely unprepared to sing the first dance! (Remember Bridezilla?) I would think to myself "Is this the way they plan on handling their career?" Do they show up to recording sessions late and expect all the sound levels to be perfect when they arrive? Do they know the lyrics to the songs they are recording?

I believe the way an artist shows up in his/her life is a key factor to their future success. I once read that artists spend so much time working on becoming successful artists, that they forget how to become successful human beings.  It is a balancing act and not an easy one, but in order to be a truly successful and well-respected artist, we have to manage our personal life as well as our performing life.

5. They seek ways to manage personal roadblocks.

In 1999, at the insistence of a friend, I attended The Forum/Landmark Education Series at the World Trade Center in New York City. This friend noticed that there were many areas of my life that needed work, especially in terms of "showing up" and being accountable.  At the time, I was late for everything! As one friend put it: "Jeff, I am sure you will be late for your own funeral!" Much of the Forum seminar was centered on realigning ones life and truly being accountable for every aspect of it. The first day of the seminar was focused on being late and the root cause of it. Of the 200 attendees, more than half of us were late for the 9 a.m. start time! The seminar leader spent the next several hours explaining what being late meant to us. The lesson I learned here is that being late equals "I don't care enough about my life to show up on time or be accountable."

Because of the Forum, I began to look at other areas of my life that needed "fixing." There were many, but the cleanup process was cathartic and helped me to become a more responsible adult and therefore a much better entertainer! I am very grateful that I attended this fascinating seminar. I learned that we humans use many aspects of our lives to literally block success.

6. They have a plan.

Shortly after the seminar, I officially opened the doors to VoiceSoaring studios. I have been blessed with some of the most amazing students any vocal coach could ask for. Many of my students are singer/songwriters and I have to say, they are some of the most fun singers to teach because I get hear their new songs before anyone else does! These guys and gals are so eager to have me put my two cents in about their songs and I am more than happy to oblige. They always show up with a plan and a goal to get their songs as perfect as possible, before they go into the recording studio.

Unfortunately, there are other students who come to lessons completely unprepared, with not even a piece of sheet music in their hands. When I greet them at the entrance to the voice studio, I can tell right away if they have prepared any music to work on because they come empty handed, no sheet music, no instrumental tracks, and no guitar. As soon as I ask them what song they would like to work on during the lesson, they often say "Oh, I don't know. Do you have the music to this song or that song?" Right away we lose 10 to 15 minutes of precious paid time because I will have to search for a song and get it copied for them. These students don't have a plan for their lesson, much less a plan for their career. While they wonder aimlessly with pie in the sky dreams about becoming a star, other singers are doing the hard work by getting their voices and their music out there, no matter what it takes. This is truly what separates the successful from the un-successful singers.

7. They are reflective.

As you read this article, you may begin to see areas of your life that may be blocking you from becoming a successful artist. Do you show up late to recording sessions, gigs, voice lessons or important meetings with potential agents or investors in you career?  Is there some addiction to a harmful substance that keeps you from reaching your full vocal potential? Maybe deep down inside you feel you are OWED a successful career. What I have learned is that the world owes you nothing. But, on the other side of that, the world is truly your oyster and anything is possible, if you put your heart and soul into it AND show up!

8. They have a great coach.

Imagine being on baseball team and not having a coach to give the team a strategy for winning the game. That team would have all the cards stacked against them, especially if the other team had a great coach who always helps his/her team get to the championships. This is the same reason a singer needs to have a great coach in his/her life. A vocal coach gives you the tools to help build and strengthen your voice so they can go out and get the jobs, or win competitions. It is truly a team effort and I always tell my students this. I don't ever want them to think I am the puppet master who pulls all the strings. No. My job is to help singers develop their own individual sound in the healthiest way possible.  I also stress the importance of maintaining a healthy body through proper diet and exercise, if they truly want their voice to last a lifetime.

9. They know how to manage success.

Back to Carrie Underwood. In the 8 years since winning American Idol, I have yet to read anything scandalous or even remotely negative about her other than the fact that she is an intensely private person. In this day and age, THAT is almost unheard of. By all accounts she is someone who always comes prepared to her writing sessions, recording sessions, interviews and rehearsals.

After she won Idol, it is a known fact that Nashville did not immediately embrace her as an artist.  The powers that be felt she hadn't paid her dues. She quickly proved them wrong with a string of successful hits and a work ethic unlike anyone had seen. Her ability to get along with other performers makes her the go to person to host major award shows like the CMA's. Her willingness to learn and improve the craft of song writing is evidenced by her most recent album "Blown Away." Even her ability to keep her private life private is significant in that she truly values integrity over fame and lets the art speak for itself.

I have outlined, here, reasons why I believe some singers are more successful than others. So where do you start? My advice:

A. Sing anywhere you can, whether in church, temple, open mic., glee club, community theater, karaoke bar, night club, wedding band, garage band, your friend's 40th birthday...etc. Don't be afraid. Just get out there and do it.


B. Find a good vocal coach in your area. If you are in the North Jersey or New York area, check us out here at the studio. If you are in another country, we offer SKYPE lessons around the clock. Currently we are reaching students in Australia, India, Canada, Ireland, and many states in the U.S.  Skype voice lessons work incredibly well and allow you to work on your voice in the privacy of your own home and fine tune your sound until you are ready to let the world hear it!

I wish you all the best! Keep on singing and let your voice SOAR!!!

Jeffrey Alani Stanfill

Jeffrey Stanfill