The Difference Between An Artist And A Singer

© 2009 Vinny Ribas

The judges on American Idol are constantly referring to some of the contestants as true ‘artists’, while others are referred to simply as singers. Unfortunately, some of he the great singers who are vying for the show’s coveted ‘American Idol Winner’ title never really grasp the difference between the 2. I want to try to shed some light on this subject.

First, let me say that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being in either category. They are simply different roles within the field of entertainment. They have nothing to do with how much talent a person has. Each requires a conscious choice of career path, and a different plan of development. Each is well respected, has its own distinct purpose and fills a definite need. The challenges come when a ‘singer’ wants to evolve or transition into becoming an ‘artist’, and sometimes vice-versa. Although American Idol bills itself as a ‘singing competition’, it is very clear that they are really looking for the next great artist.

Here are some key differences that you should be aware of:

  • An Artist has a distinct and recognizable sound. This includes his song arrangements as well as vocal style. A Singer molds his voice and overall sound to the song or genre he is singing.
  • An Artist creates a musical style, and even [private_member]a sub-genre of his own. They do not copy what is already on the market, because they know that what is on the market now will be obsolete in 12 months. A Singer tries to emulate other artists and particular genres.
  • An artist has fans who rave about him, tell their friends about him and bring them to see him live. He draws fans to his appearances. A Singer doesn’t create a fan base because they are not identifiable on their own. They get paid to entertain whoever is in the audience at the time.
  • An Artist’s attitude is “It’s all about me!” I don’t mean that it in a selfish or cocky way. But he knows that he is a brand that must me marketed and sold. He knows that he needs to develop and protect his image, his integrity, his message etc.” All plans have to revolve around that concept. A Singer, however, is all about the gig, the band members, what he likes or dislikes, how he is in the mood to dress etc.
  • An Artist is ‘on stage’ whenever he is in public. He knows he is being watched by both fans and the press, and he music conduct himself accordingly. For example, he cannot buy a car that doesn’t fit his image. A Singer, on the other hand, goes back to being himself the second he walks out the door of the venue he performed in.
  • An Artist is very particular about the songs he sings because they reflect his true feelings, beliefs, emotions and/or convictions. A Singer sings any song that he can get paid for, regardless of the personal meaning behind it.
  • An Artist is very particular about the gigs he accepts because he has to maintain a specific image. A Singer goes where the work is and molds his performance to meet the expectations of the audience.
  • An Artist develops a vocal style that is all his own. He is never confused with another artist because he has worked hard to not be a copycat. He transforms songs to fit his own style. Singers transform themselves to fit the songs they sing. They purposely emulate other artists. That is what is expected of them.
  • An Artist develops a brand all his own. That means that his sound, his look, his marketing, his web page, his CDs and everything else associated with him is always consistent in style, colors, message and image. A Singer, on the other hand, may dress and sing country one day, then don a tuxedo to sing standards at a wedding the next. He is not trying to create a persona, just get work.
  • An Artist has a marketing plan that specifically identifies how he is going to get recognition, get airplay, generate publicity etc. He works hard at establishing himself and his brand as a recognizable, stand-alone entity regionally, nationally and even internationally. A Singer follows the money. He may sing demos, sing for commercials, sing numerous styles of music etc. His marketing plan consists of advertising his service for hire.
  • An Artist finds a niche and fills it. He may be a cross between 2 or more genres, attracting fans from both ends of the spectrum. He may reach a specific segment of the population that no one else has tapped in to. He knows his niche and sticks with it.
  • An Artist knows his fans. He studies them to find out what they like about him. He then gives them more and more of what they’ve come to expect from him. A Singer may have a completely different audience at every gig. He entertains whoever is there, and then goes home.

As you can see, there are many distinctions between an Artist and a Singer. Again, each one is a conscious choice. If you want to be an Artist, you need to be very aware of all of the points I mentioned. You cannot launch and sustain a career without paying close attention to every detail. You are on a very long-term mission. If you deviate onto the ‘singer’ side of the stage in the middle of your career by deviating from what your fans have some to expect, you run the risk of alienating them. This is why it is so important to LOVE what you’re doing and what you’re singing. You will always have to live with the persona that you created.

If you want to be a Singer, which in essence means simply making money using your vocal talents, then you have fewer restrictions on you. You can perform when, where and how you want to. You can sing all kinds of styles, modifying your performances to match your audience’s desires. Or, you can stick with one genre because it is what you do best, and carve out your own little niche within that market. You have many more choices than the Artist. If at some point you decide that you want to transform yourself into being an Artist, then you need to start from scratch and develop an entirely new plan of attack that takes into consideration every one of the differences we’ve identified.[/private_member]

About The Author

Vinny Ribas

Vinny Ribas is the founder and CEO of Indie Connect, an artist management, consulting and training company. The company also hosts networking and educational events and has published an app that connects people to the Nashville Music Industry. During his 40+ year career, Vinny has been a full time musician, artist manager, booking agent, songwriter, studio owner, producer and the Entertainment Director for the NV State Fair. He has also coached over 1000 artists and songwriters. He is a sought after speaker and has authored over 400 music industry articles. Vinny is also the CEO of Top 4M Entertainment, an independent film and television production company.