• Caitlin McHale

Getting Started, Freelancing & Why I decided to pursue singing...

As it’s busy season for a lot of freelancers out there (especially if you’re involved in anything to do with weddings!) this week I wanted to write a blog about the ins and outs of freelance work, and how I got into this profession myself.

I occasionally have people or clients asking me what made me decide to do what I do, and how I got here, so I thought a bit of background information might be helpful to have here on my blog! 

I definitely have a lot of growing and learning still to do, so please do not take this as a ‘how to’ guide in anyway! It’s just my journey so far for those interested and perhaps a few tips for anyone in the same line of work or looking to do something similar.

During my school days I always loved singing and used to have fortnightly singing lessons in Stratford, which my Mum funded and drove me to and from back in the day, so shout out to her! It was then that I met my amazing coach Louise who is now my good friend and agent. She really helped me hone my skill and learn all the important things you don’t necessarily expect to learn in singing…like vocal health, stamina, emotional connection to music, some music theory (although this wasn’t my strongest point!) and coming out of my shell in general. It really was, and still is, a form of therapy.

I continued with these lessons throughout my school years, and at 16 I gained a place at BOA where I almost went to study Singing & Performance, but decided I wanted to carry on with other subjects and so went to college to complete my A Levels in Psychology, Art and English Language and Literature.

By this point I was also in the early stages of getting paid work as a singer. After doing some gigs with a group of friends who made up an eight piece Irish Trad Band, I got a feel for what performing at pubs and events was like. I had done performances before with stage coach at theatres growing up, but that was a different bag all together! After a couple of years of this I got my own PA system, got lost for several hours in various wires and plugs, figured out a list of repertoire and moved on to doing solo gigs. My parents really encouraged me (practically pushed me out the door half the time as I could be a bit of a nervous wreck) and told me I had to now make some money with my voice after they’d funded all those singing lessons! It wasn’t easy at first, and I was also a distracted 17 year old about to go off to uni to study English, but after lots of calling around restaurants and pushing my cards out there I managed to start getting a few bookings at weddings and  parties. I spent most of my summers off uni trying to get as much of this type of work as I could. 

A big part of the learning curve happened when I also joined a choir made up of people from my singing coach’s agency, where I made such amazing friends and got to learn a load of stuff from all of the other talented performers, and this also led to lots more work along the way! I still love singing with them now and have the most fun, and have definitely made friends for life. Something major I have learnt is the more you do, the more you do! Try and take every opportunity that comes your way when starting out as you don’t know what might come of it…

After three years studying a BA degree at Loughborough University in English Language and Literature, which I loved, I spent some time wondering what to do next. I knew I loved singing and had some good things going outside of my academic studies. I also had really enjoyed studying the books, plays and films, public speaking and phonetics that had all been a part of my uni course.

That’s when I came across the MA Professional Voice Practice course at Birmingham School of Acting. Here I would learn all different aspects of Voice Work and its uses in Acting, Singing, Presenting,Voice Overs, and Accents, and how to be a voice coach for people doing these jobs. 

I thought this would be the perfect next step for me, and the exact profession I wanted to train in as it combined all my interests and passions and would still allow me to work in the industry and keep singing myself!

I had never actually planned on doing an MA, but I knew I would need to do a lot of work to get into this line of work and wanted to be properly trained.

It was such an intense year and I faced so many challenges I never thought I’d have, but it was a truly amazing experience and I learnt a huge amount.I discovered that the process of learning to coach meant you actually had to DO each part of the voice work yourself, so I was assessed in my own Singing, Acting, Accent and movement skills myself. This forced me to be so open with people I barely knew, and was just the best way to get me performing and presenting out of my comfort zone. We also had to learn the whole anatomy of the body and the voice, how to give physical therapy, how to read and write in phonetics, and got to work with some of the best vocal coaches in the business! It of course came with frustrations, (and not to mention a 45,000 word dissertation) and along the way I was getting busier with weddings and events. I was developing my own brand for my singing and coaching, managing emails and coordinating each client and event, and constantly keep up with learning new material to add to my sets. It was stressful at times, but I wouldn’t have got where I am today without that experience. 

In the past year since finishing my MA I have truly dived in to many opportunities. This has meant I’ve been teaching Singing and Acting in Schools and Performance Academies, taking on private students, working with other musicians in different bands and duo’s, continuing to sing in the choir and as a solo act! 

Freelance work gives you a certain level of freedom and independence, but also comes with challenges. You don’t really have a boss so have to find motivation within yourself, set your own deadlines, manage your schedule and decide when to say yes or no to a job, market your own services, invest money in your equipment, keep yourself healthy as there’s no sick pay, keep up your stamina mentally and physically, communicate and coordinate with several different people and businesses, constantly plan and prepare, travel, and work unsociable hours. It can be hard to switch off and nothing is guaranteed. But I can truly say I’m doing something I love, and every working day there’s at least a little moment of joy or inspiration. Some days I don’t even feel like I’m at work. 

My latest endeavour has been writing my own songs, which I’m excited to share some of hopefully this year or at the start of 2020! I’m also going to be taking the plunge and relocating to London to hopefully progress with my business even further and build my singing career.

I think I’d have to say it was never a hard choice to go for this line of work. It seemed pretty obvious that it was what I wanted to do and I didn’t feel much of a pull to do anything else. People have very different experiences with making these decisions, and so if you’re thinking about taking a plunge with your passion I hope that sharing my experience so far has helped even a small amount. If you’re reading this just to find out a bit more about what I do, (and made it this far!)  hope its also helped you understand more about me.

I’ll leave it here as thats about as far as my memoir goes…and get on with preparing for the weekend ahead!

Caitlin X


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