Read as Jan Smith talks about her career as a Vocal Coach. Find her at www.jansmith.com and on her Twitter feed in the sidebar of this interview.
What do you do for a living?
Primarily I am known as a vocal coach/vocal producer. I am also a producer, musician, and singer/songwriter.
How would you describe what you do?
I am a personal trainer for vocal athletes. I own and operate a state-of-the-art vocal coaching and artist development facility where we serve the largest roster of charting artists of any vocal facility in America. From start to finish, we assess where a vocalist is functioning, where they want to be, and work with them on developing the tools to get them there…and keep them there.
What does your work entail?
Everything from beginning maintenance issues like breathing work and diaphragmatic support, warming up and cooling down, pitch and tonal work, all the way up to tour prep, pre-production for recording, vocal production while recording, and even rehabilitation for damaged voices and/or those who have undergone corrective surgeries.
What’s a typical work week like?
There is no such thing as “typical” in what I do. Every day is different and can change on a dime…literally. I can get a call one day and be on a plane the next, or be called into a studio to work with an artist on a recording, or end up at a rehearsal facility for a tour/show run through, or end up in my own production room to record or edit vocals, or be called out on a tour promo run for a couple of weeks in New York and LA, or end up in Israel on a world tour. BUT I do have clients that I see in my ATL studio on a weekly basis when I am home as well. It’s busy and it’s always different.
How did you get started?
Never really planned on doing this at all. I started out in the music industry as an artist…with the same hopes and dreams and goals as most of the people I work with. Wrote my first song at the age of 9, cut my first record at the age of 15. Played in rock-n-roll bands most of my life and had a pretty good run at it. Never quite got “over the top” but still toured and packed houses out well into my 40′s. Being in studios and on stages most of my life taught me a lot of what was right and even more of what was wrong. Pulling from my classical training growing up, and then there was being churched in southern gospel music my whole life – I brought tons of natural information with me to the game. Started out being asked to help a rock-n-roller who was losing his voice, and from there it snowballed into what I’m known for today. Twenty-five years later…
What do you like about what you do?
Are you kidding? I’m the luckiest person on the planet to be paid for who I am!! I LOVE what I do!! I get to help people all day EVERY day and am surrounded by creativity! Some people work to live…I live to work! If I won the lottery tomorrow, you would still find me the next day doing what I do.
What do you dislike?
The tragedy of artists who fall into the vortex of living life with no restraints in a business that doesn’t really provide for good boundaries. Way too many excesses that lead people into places they can’t get out of… and they sacrifice their careers, and sometimes their lives, because of it.
How do you make money/or how are you compensated?
I am paid by the hour or by the day, depending. But I’m paid for actual service hours delivered with clients. In the case of production, there can be residual income generated by points from album/song sales as well.
How much money do Voice Coaches make?
Depends. I can only speak for me and my staff. I clock in at $300 per hour or $2,400 per day in the case of conferences, tours, etc. There’s always room for negotiating circumstances, but that’s the basic fee scale. My staff are all $200 per month, which breaks down to be $100 per hour — they typically see regular clients in 1/2 hour increments — one lesson each week of the month, etc. We have a pretty good track record in the industry and are competitive with those other few national entities that do something similar to what we do.
How much money did/do you make starting out?
I made $65 a month when I first started teaching at the Atlanta School of Rock (a rock-n-roll guitar school). I had one client and I saw him for 30 minutes each lesson.
What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?
Hhmm! Tough question! I have a Master’s level degree in Psychology (no, I’m not kidding) and a secondary degree in English Composition. I have a lifetime worth of classical choral instruction and church choir upbringing. I am also classically trained on a few instruments and have played guitar (by ear) since I was nine years old. I have grown up in studios and on stages since I was 15 years old and have worked as a professional commercial (jingle) singer, as a background vocalist for recording projects, and have written and co-written a multitude of songs. I have produced other artists, participated in workshops and presented at conferences. There is not one thing that is more important than the other, but the combination of education and experience that has helped to build the skills necessary for me to do what I do. But at the end of the day, listening to someone and being able to discern what it is THEY need to help them be better at what THEY do is what has made me successful.
What is most challenging about what you do?
Being forever available and the responsibility of really caring for people. It’s non-stop and doesn’t offer a lot of rest.
What is most rewarding?
Seeing it work. Watching my clients thrive and perform and win awards and record great songs and change other people’s lives through their music. Pretty sweet, really. And honestly? Just knowing that I make a difference and am a good steward of the gifts God has blessed me with to help others.
What advice would you offer someone considering this career?
Do something else. Be a plumber. Take a computer course. Have children. But if you REALLY love to work until all hours of the night, be on call when somebody’s voice goes down, have to tell people the ugly truth no matter who they are, live your life by example and yes, that means sacrificing a lot, and sometimes being the first one there and the last one standing…then maybe you should look into becoming a vocal coach.
How much time off do you get/take?
Huh??? I shut my studio down one time a year — between Christmas and New Year’s Day. That’s it! I also do my dead level best NOT to work on Sundays. Sometimes it’s unavoidable due to tours and promotional runs, etc., but God took a day off and commanded me to do the same. I work hard to enforce that in my life.
What is a common misconception people have about what you do?
That I’m a singing teacher — that’s the first thing. The second thing is most people think that hangin’ out with stars and famous types is all glamorous and fun. Well, it is fun sometimes but it’s also harder work than what most people are accustomed to or even willing to do. The pace and the hours are WAY more than what people can even fathom and most wouldn’t be able to keep up. It’s a lifestyle, not just a living, and it requires all of me and then some. I have to be smarter, faster, stronger, AND I have to deliver results in an industry that is VERY accustomed to expendables. Having staying power and long-term relationships in this business takes going the extra mile or two or three and falling short is not an option.
What are your goals/dreams for the future?
To live my life in obedience to God and fulfill His will for the remainder of my time here. Other than that, to expand and diversify on what I’m doing now. I’m working on some really cool products right now and have some artists under development that I’m totally excited about. Launching them and riding that wave will be another milestone.
What else would you like people to know about your job/career?
I do what I do because I love it — I love helping people and being creative. Money is a by product of success. Success if doing what you love. Do what you love!