Does being a background singer lead to spotlight of success

By Sydney Davenport

Some people crave the spotlight. They want to see their name in lights and are willing to do what it takes to make it to the big time. Not vocalist Jazmine Thomas of Savannah, Georgia. She’s hoping to find success is not behind the scenes, but in the background.

Thomas, a music business major and jazz vocal minor at Howard University, has been singing her entire life. She is a member of Afro Blue and the Howard University Gospel Choir, but the spotlight has never been her goal.

“I want to be a background singer for a gospel artist. People say there’s not a lot of money in it, but that’s not my concern,” Thomas said. “I feel like it’s harder for solo artists because they have to find background singers. Someone is always looking for a background singer.”

She might be right.  Truth be told, the music industry is one of the hardest to break into. In fact, jobs for musicians and singers are projected to grow very slowly, 3.2 percent, as compared to other occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Dwight Mims, media and public relations professional, spends his career promoting artists, new and old, and can attest that what he calls the overnight sensation, “microwave oven” approach is a myth. With attentive marketing, Mims says taking two years to create traction and develop popularity for an artist.

“It’s tougher today,” Mims said. “It absolutely does not happen overnight. It’s work.”

Mims says the most important thing is to educate artists.

“You see good artists, who are, frankly, terrible business folks. They take bad deals, sign bad contracts. And they’re, ultimately, short-lived.”

Mims has been a media professional for over 50 years. He says his profession is necessary because “artists are artists.”

“They just want to play. They’re terrible business people,” Mims said. “Show business should be called ‘business show’ because it’s about 99 percent business and 1 percent show.”

Although industry growth will be slow, the barriers to entry have fallen since the 1990s. The costs of recording, manufacturing, shipping and distribution have dropped and artists have broken free from the grip of music companies. The number of independent musicians and artists in the U.S. is increasing with the ease of self-production. But Thomas says becoming an independent artist is not her only or ultimate goal.

With 37,090 musicians in the industry as of 2015 vying for fame and fortune, the odds of become the next Beyoncé is slim. And Thomas is OK with that right now. Thomas, who also writes her own music, says she might record as a solo artist one day, but for now she is just enjoying singing with others. She’s biding her time, just like some of the biggest names in music today who started in the background just like Thomas.

Check out some of the artists who got their start in background singing below.

April 28, 2017

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