Lisa Popeil interviews LA jazz singer, Courtney Lemmon, on the details of being a professional singer in this lucrative and growing field. Know before you go.
Thank you for sharing your experience singing in Hong Kong. How long are the contracts, what’s the pay, and what are the living conditions like? Per diem, hotel/food, working hours, working and living conditions? The minimum length of a contract is three months, unless you’re doing a filler contract which typically lasts 4-6 weeks. Sometimes contracts can be for 6 months and there are even a few singers who work all year around. Hotels who offer four-month contracts will often rotate three singers, so as you see, contract length can vary.
What does this kind of work pay? In Hong Kong, singers can expect to make at least $3,000-$4,000 per month and that includes free lodging in a 5-star hotel. One also gets a per diem of about $100 per day that can applied to food or cleaning expenses, though not alcohol. I’ve heard that in Dubai and India, they tend to pay a little more, around $5,000 per month. Your travel expenses to and from the US and China are included in your contract.
>How are meals handled? You get three meals a day and are allowed to eat in the restaurant or have room service. You can also eat in the staff dining room but prepare yourself for some mysterious dishes!
>How many hours per night do you perform? It was a pretty easy gig, singing 4 hours a night, 6 nights per week, from 9pm to 1am. That’s a 45-minute set with a 15-minute break.
Does the contract have stipulations about other singing work? My contract in Hong Kong stated that I was not allowed to sing in another Hong Kong hotel within a one-year period. But there’s a big music scene there so I was able to sing in late-night clubs 2am-4am for an additional $200 per night.
What kind of music do they like? These hotels typically have enormous lobbies and prefer mellow pop, Top 40, and acoustic rock. In other clubs in the hotels, they might have louder ‘party bands’.
What qualities are international booking agents looking for when hiring singers? They like attractive Western women who are excellent singers. Very few hotels hire solo male singers (the InterContinental being one which does). The purpose of the band is really to entertain international businessmen who then will hang out longer in the hotel and buy more drinks! Obviously, hotels are interested in hiring experienced singers who won’t crash and burn after the first two weeks.
How can a singer get experience to prepare them for this kind of work? One of the best ways to hone your skills and create a killer show is singing on cruise ships or in local hotels.
What’s your opinion on accepting work in less than 5-star hotels? Only book in 5 star hotels- I’ve heard horror stories from singers in 3-star hotels getting paid $1,000 per month with a sucky band.
Speaking of bands, how do you get one? My agent, Vivi Grande, head of StandOut Music International, represents hundreds of musicians so singers are provided with bands for their contract. It may be simply a piano or keyboard player. If the hotel has a bigger budget, you can also get a bass player and maybe a drummer.
What would be great for you in terms of a band? If you’re lucky, you’ll be hooked up with a Phillipino band. They tend to be excellent musicians with great rhythmic feel. But sometimes you’ll get a musical director who can’t read charts or get a band which can only do swing rhythm and you have to find a way to work with them.
How many songs should you know? I sing between 25-40 songs each night. And you can do originals as long as they go over well. People do like to hear hits and you can’t go wrong with Alanis Morrisette, Celine Dion and Toni Braxton in your song list.
What’s the social scene like? Doesn’t it get lonely? In Hong Kong, there’s a pretty huge music scene; lots of musicians are there from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the Philippines, the US, the UK doing after-hour jams. They’ve moved there, live there, get married, maybe even have a family and are getting paid more there than here in US.
What about party band singers? Party band singers have a different life though. The singing is loud and tiring and these singers tend to hang out in their room during the day, resting their voices. But for some, that peace and quiet is just fine.
It’s important to look great, with a sexy, classy wardrobe, and a good figure"
What’s the age range to be a 5-star hotel singer? You won’t be asked your age. But you should look like you’re between 20-40. More important is that you look great, with a sexy, classy wardrobe, and a good figure.
How can one get an international booking agent? First, you have to be a great singer and have to know you want to make money working overseas. You’ll need a professional website with first-rate audio clips, video clips (live performance and music videos), a bio, and a gallery of head-shots.
How much does this cost? It can be an investment. I got two girls booked through my agent and they each spent $5,000 to get everything together. Of course they were able to make that back in 2 months. Quality and professionalism is key.
What if I’m a beginner and don’t have a great bio? List everything you’ve done that’s a credit. Plus, the Chinese LOVE celebrities, so if you have any relationship at all to any celebrities, pad your resume with those names.
Any final suggestions?
Reading articles, watching YouTube videos or taking an online course are things singers do when they want to improve at singing.
The most important thing you can do to accomplish your singing goals is to get feedback and advice from singers who have worked with hundreds of singers just like you.
You can start a free trial right now that gets you personal feedback from vocal coaches. You don’t have to make an appointment or get Zoom working. You’ll send video clips and you’ll get videos back from the Singdaptive team.
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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.
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