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.
Lisa Popeil: 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?
Courtney Lemmon: 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.
Lisa Popeil: What does this kind of work pay?
Courtney Lemmon: 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.
Lisa Popeil: How are meals handled?
Courtney Lemmon: 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!
Lisa Popeil: How many hours per night do you perform?
Courtney Lemmon: 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.
Lisa Popeil: Does the contract have stipulations about other singing work?
Courtney Lemmon: 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.
Lisa Popeil: What kind of music do they like?
Courtney Lemmon: 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’.
Lisa Popeil: What qualities are international booking agents looking for when hiring singers?
Courtney Lemmon: 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.
Lisa Popeil: How can a singer get experience to prepare them for this kind of work?
Courtney Lemmon: One of the best ways to hone your skills and create a killer show is singing on cruise ships or in local hotels.
Lisa Popeil: What’s your opinion on accepting work in less than 5-star hotels?
Courtney Lemmon: 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.
Lisa Popeil: Speaking of bands, how do you get one?
Courtney Lemmon: 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.
Lisa Popeil: What would be great for you in terms of a band?
Courtney Lemmon: 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.
Lisa Popeil: How can one get an international booking agent?
Courtney Lemmon: 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.
Lisa Popeil: How much does this cost?
Courtney Lemmon: 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.
Lisa Popeil: What if I’m a beginner and don’t have a great bio?
Courtney Lemmon: 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.
Lisa Popeil: Any final suggestions?
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.
Johnny Bulford & Heidi Raye
Janine Le Clair
Gregory A. Barker