To survive as a professional singer, says Matthew Epstein, "you've got to have a killer instinct."

Epstein is vice president of Columbia Artists Management Inc., a New York-based artists management group that handles the careers of performers. He is one of 29 panelists at "The Business of Singing," a four-day symposium at the University of Maryland College Park Campus designed to present business and marketing principles as they apply to singers.

Staged by the Maryland Summer Institute, the symposium, which ends tomorrow, offers panelists from several fields: professional musicians, managers, lawyers, artists' marketing specialists, and even a physical therapist.

Summer Programs executive director George Moquin, describing the program, said, "Actors, dancers and musicians are business entities . . . much like a plumber or a lawyer they sell a specialized service." What the program offers, he said, is a chance for people to address the question that the schools avoid: "What is the crucial next step?"

Following on the heels of more general conferences on business and the arts, "The Business of Singing" is designed to deal with the peculiar problems confronting singers. Seminars focus on taxes, record keeping, retirement planning, insurance management, entry into domestic and foreign markets and assertiveness training. The session ends with a concert tomorrow evening featuring several of the panelists under the direction of symposium director George Shirley.

Peter Clegg of Falls Church, a graduate of the Juilliard School of Music in New York City, said the opening session provided a sobering look at his chances for employment. He said he was expecting "to catch one phrase . . . or an insight" from the panelists.

Employment statistics were indeed discouraging for the budding vocalists. According to Janice Kestler, national executive secretary of the Association of Professional Choral Ensembles, the supply of vocal artists exceeds demand by a margin of 55 to one. It was on this note that she opened an afternoon session on alternative careers available to singers, particulary in related professions such as arts management, promotion and press relations.

Betty Allen, executive director of the Harlem School for the Arts in New York, called for a realistic attitude on the part of the singers. "We can't all be Pavarotti or Joan Sutherland," she said. The market is so full I advise you not to "let your truck driver's license lapse."