Get Paid To Sing – Part Four: Sight Reading vs Relying On Your Ear

Many people ask me if you need to be able to sight read (notated music) to get hired to sing on sessions. There are basically two camps in the session world. Depending on which one you are apart of will determine whether it’s necessary for your career or not. I actually recommend sharpening your sight reading skills regardless of what camp you’re in. You just never know who will call you. You always want to be prepared and able to say YES!

Camp #1:

Commercials, TV Themes, Radio ID’s, Promos, Songwriting Demos, some Albums, Some Live Gigs on Camera, Touring Background Vocals – these are jobs where you rely heavily on your ear training skills. You are not given any kind of sheet music. Instead, you are given a lyric sheet and it’s up to you to remember how the melody of the song goes. Feel free to ask for a pen and make some notes for yourself on the lyric sheet. Often times the composer or producer that you are working with will ask you to add harmonies as well. Sometimes they have a very specific thing in mind but generally they expect the singer to come up with harmonies.


This is why it’s SO IMPORTANT to train your ear!!!!! In the case of touring as a background singer, they give you mp3’s of the songs you need to learn. They expect you to pick out your part, learn it, memorize it and look good on stage; be able to take direction from a choreographer. All of this usually comes together rather quickly so sharpen those skills so you can knock it out of the park when your moment comes!


Camp #2:

Movie Scores, Some Albums, Live Gigs on Camera, Most Choirs, Some TV Shows – these are jobs where you must be able to read music and you must be savvy at it! They generally do not send you anything ahead of time. You must be on your A-Game because they hand you the sheet music and expect you to sing it right off the page. The first time is a run-through (missing a few notes here and there), the second time should be nearly spot on and by the third time, it needs to be perfect. On this kind of gig, you are not asked to come up with harmonies or improvise. Everything they will ask of you has already been notated on the music they hand to you. These kinds of gigs generally do not require any kind of choreography or memorization.

If you’re interesting in learning how to sight read music, joining a local choir is a great place to start. There is also a great website that charges a small monthly fee to learn how to read completely online. For more information and to boost your sight reading confidence:

I am available for ear training, harmony, voice lessons, and career advising both in my West LA studio and also online through Skype. If you’d like to schedule a lesson or find out more, please visit our L.A. singing lessons page.

I also have teachers available for choreography, songwriting, and studio set up. If you need to learn how to take direction from a choreographer and learn some basic moves, I’d recommend scheduling an appointment. My choreographer, Mykell, is also available to choreograph specific songs if you are prepping for your own show. For more information send me an email on my contact page

Next up – Part Five: So You Wanna Get Paid To Sing! “Promotion Must-Haves”

The people who hire you are going to base your talent off of hearing what you can do. You’ll need your own website to feature your songs, show pictures of yourself, list your credits, and give your contact information, all in one easy place. It’s important to be professional and because of this, I recommend not using a Facebook or myspace page. You should really be…