You have spent your time, energy and money on preparing your voice, performance skills and music; your product. How much time, energy and money have you spent on setting up your business to sell your product?
Let me say that another way, yes, if you are interested in having a singing career, a beautiful voice and great performance ability are of paramount importance but it represents only about 15 – 20% of actually having a career. And yes, there are those very lucky few who somehow fall into some amazing opportunities that move their careers forward without them having to do any of the work themselves, but that is one in thousands. For the rest of you, knowing how to set up a structured business, and knowing how to run an organized and efficient office to support it, is 80 – 95% of reaching your goal of becoming a professional opera singer. The sooner you understand and accept that fact, the quicker you will start making things happen for yourself. It’s more than putting a pretty PR Packet together. It’s learning how to allocate your time, energy and money so you can take charge of your own destiny and make your dreams come true. No one else is going to do it for you. That’s just wishful thinking, a fantasy. Those who are making a living singing have already done the hard work and continue to do it because it is a never ending job even when you do have a manager. If you want to sell your product successfully, you must create a business that is structured, organized and has a consistent Brand.
“If you can build a powerful brand, you will have a powerful marketing program. If you CAN’T then all the advertising, fancy packaging, sales promotion and public relations in the world won’t help you achieve your objective.”
~ Al Ries and Laura Ries
The biggest benefit of having an organized business is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel each and every time you need to do business. It’s my experience that understanding “how” to do a thing helps take the mystery and angst out of it. It gives you the confidence to take advantage of the opportunities that show up. You not only recognize the possibilities but you now have the tools to use them to grow your business. Not knowing “how” to do something keeps you stuck, frustrated and just spinning your wheels.
Without a doubt, the most important aspect of setting up any business is having an organized and efficient infrastructure, your office. If you haven’t yet set up your business or your office, let me help you get started. In the beginning this task will take a designated amount of your time, energy and money. However, once your infrastructure is in place, all that is left to do is to maintain it. Remember, this is an investment in you and your product. And the good news is, because you have taken the time to do this, whether it is at the beginning, middle or end of your career, it will make everything that comes after less stressful and less of a monumental chore. Everything you need to manage your career will be at your fingertips, well organized and ready to work for you.
“Opportunities multiply as they are seized.”
~ Sun Tzu, Author
Close your eyes and imagine all of this is already in place. How does this make you feel? Wouldn’t you feel more confident and excited about the real possibility of getting an audition and eventually a job?
Reaching for your goals becomes easier and helps you feel more successful because having an organized office and system of dealing with your business creates a clearer idea of how to implement your plan of action. You are being and staying involved each and every day by adding just one or two small items needed for your business on your daily “to do” list and making sure they get accomplished. Knowing not only the rules of the game, but how the game is played by becoming more familiar with business etiquette gives you even more confidence. Finally, because all of the pieces of the business puzzle start fitting together, and you are doing the work each and every day, you start to act and feel more like a true professional and others are beginning to notice it as well. Even your singing has improved because that little portion of your mind that worried about how to make this career happen is now free to work on other things. The whole process is getting easier and in point of fact, you are realizing having a singing career is doable and how fast you get there is up to you. What seemed so overwhelming when you were unorganized and didn’t know where to start now becomes a routine; a habit.
“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Louis Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”
~ H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
Creating the basics of an office
Where does one start and how do you know what you will need to make an efficient, productive and motivating office space. Starting with the basics may seem a bit simplistic, but that’s where we’re going to start. Bear with me if you already have a productive office set up. It can’t hurt to go over the nuts and bolts from time to time. Once you have your office organized, I want to talk about how to work your information and grow your business to sell your product.
The Aria Ready Golden Rule: Schedule a regular time each week to work at your business. Working on the business aspects of your career is equally important as the time, energy and money you spend on singing lessons, coaching, etc.
We are going to start with the mundane basics that you probably already know. That said, let’s get started on setting up your office. Here are the big basics you will need.
- File cabinets
- Desk/chair/good lighting
- Web site
- Phone – Answering machine
- Stationary, business cards, thank you notes, hanging files, folders, stapler, business card holder, folders & envelopes for resume packet
- The smaller stuff, pens, pencils, paper for printer, etc.
Set up a specific place where you will only do business. Put your desk, chair, and filing cabinets and all the other items you will need to run your business together, in a workable, comfortable space. Make sure you have sufficient lighting. Without the right kind of lighting, one tends to get tired and easily distracted. Once you have your office space set up, in your minds eye, imagine a circle enclosing it. Make it as large as it needs to be for you to feel comfortable while working in it, and give it a color. Then standing outside the circle before you start working, with your eyes closed, look down at your feet, relax the back of your tongue. Three times, take a deep breath in through your nose and blow it out through your mouth as if you were blowing out a large candle. Immediately open your eyes, step into your office circle and start working. This allows your thinking mind to leave the last activity behind and start the new activity fresh, with focus.
Most of your record keeping will probably be done on your computer. Make sure you back up all your documents and also keep a hard copy in case there is something you may need one day when your computer is on the fritz or the electricity is out. It does happen.
“Do you remember the things you were worrying about a year ago? Didn’t you waste a lot of fruitless energy on account of most of them? Didn’t most of them turn out all right after all? ”
~ Dale Carnegie
Creating PR Packet materials
If you want to be perceived as professional, you need to have consistency with your materials. This is your initial and often times, your only opportunity to present yourself to a particular venue, so make it an outstanding one. It is also going to be one of the most expensive items you will have to produce. So take your time in creating materials that represent what you are about not only as a singer, but say something about you as the person. If you don’t have any idea of what makes for good design, browse through some catalogues at a print or stationary shop. Think about what colors, design and style of lettering would best represent you. Rule of thumb: simple is better. So be innovative but clean and simple with your design. Make sure you use good quality paper with these items. Pick a type font that is legible and clean. If you want to use a logo keep it simple. If you are incorporating color in your lettering/logo/presentation folder, use it sparingly to make a statement that is consistent with how you want to be perceived, your brand. On your stationary and business cards, you want to include your name, address, email address and phone numbers. If you are worried about giving out your physical address, make sure that at least your email address is included. Show your friends, family, teacher, coaches what you have put together. Ask them if they feel this represents you as both singer and person. Be open to their advice, but follow your gut. Asking for their opinion may or may not change yours. It has to feel right to you. Once that is accomplished, either take your materials to a printer, find one online, or print the materials yourself on your computer. This will include your letterhead stationary, envelopes, business cards, address labels, CD labels, and PR packet folder
These items can be pricey but well worth your time, energy and money, because they will be representing your product, your brand and will be your first introduction and impression on whomever you are sending them to. It will speak volumes about you without you even being present.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. ”
~ from “Light” by Marianne Williamson
What goes into a PR Packet
Your PR Packet will contain:
Letter of introduction – Do you know someone of influence whose name you can use as a reference in the opening sentence of your letter? That is always the best way to get the attention you want. If you don’t have a reference, let them know how you heard of them and why you feel you are qualified to audition for them. Then state what you are interested in whether it is a specific role, information, materials, an audition and close with, “If I haven’t heard from you by such and such a date, I will take the liberty of contacting you.” Then do it.
Publicity Photo – Choose one that lets everyone know who you are; a warm, caring, dynamic person. Someone who will be a great colleague, come prepared, act professional, and will not be a problem to management; someone the audience will love and want back next year. Put on the upper back, left hand corner your sticker with your name and address.
Resume – This is a summary of your experience to date and possibly what you have coming up in the future.
Short Bio – Three dramatic paragraphs that will catch the fancy of those hiring. Something that represents where you came from, what you are known for and doing right now, and what you have coming up in your future.
Reviews – If you have reviews from newspapers or magazines, cut them out including the name of the paper and date. Either scan them into your computer or paste or tape them onto a piece of paper and make copies for your folder. Highlight what the reviewer said about you. If you don’t have any, put on your stationary some of the comments made by the people you have worked with about a specific performance; conductors, stage directors, colleagues who have had more experience than you, etc. and possibly even audience members, voice teachers and coaches.
Letters of Recommendation – Letters written by influential members of the singing community on their letterhead stationary, stating how long they have know you, your potential, your work ethics, etc. Their comments should be about you as the performer, the artist and you the person.
CD – Only if it is requested should you put this into your PR Packet. Make sure it has a label consistent with your other PR materials. Believe it or not, it can actually create a bad impression if it is not requested and you’ve included it in your offering.
PR Packet Folder – In the right hand pocket of your folder goes your letters of recommendation, reviews, resume, and short bio and on top, your photo. Your CD (only if required) goes into the right hand pocket as well. Your business card is attached prominently on the face of the pocket on the left. Your letter of introduction goes into the left hand pocket.
Have someone else proof read all of your materials before you make copies. Make sure all the spelling is correct. There is nothing more unprofessional then misspelling names and pieces of music. Once that is done, make sure you print each of the above items on your letterhead stationary. This way if one piece is separated somehow, they will know how to get in touch with you.
“There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when it’s convenient. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.”
~ Ken Blanchard
Organizing office materials
- Create an individually marked folder for each of the items in your PR Packet.
- Make ten copies of each item and put it in its designated folder.
- Make a folder marked “Originals” and put all of the original items in this folder. These are what you will make all future copies from. Some of you may choose to keep the originals in your computer.
- Make 5 complete PR Packets and keep them in a folder so named. Replace them as they are used.
- Go to the PO and get 20 Flat Rate Envelopes and buy the appropriate stamps for them.
- When you get home, put the stamps on the envelopes and put them in a folder.
- Put all of the above folders into your hanging file labeled PR Packet Materials.
When you need a PR Packet, you don’t have to try to find all the parts and feel pressured. It is all there at your finger tips, well organized and neat. All you have left to do is to write a letter of introduction on your letterhead stationary and put it into your already made up PR Packet Presentation folder, along with a CD if it is required, address and mail it.
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
~ Albert Einstein
The next Step – Finding the appropriate performance venues
An important part of being a professional is to know which venues are the appropriate ones for your level of experience. I have heard it said many times by managers, general and artistic directors of opera companies and apprentice programs, that receiving materials from someone who has not done their homework leaves a bad impression on them. You will be remembered for the wrong reasons, so do your homework and find the perfect venue for you. The rule of thumb is:
- If you are just starting out and don’t yet have much performance experience outside of what you did in school, you would look at the D, E, F companies. These would be the more local, non or semi professional companies that probably don’t pay, but will allow you to gain the experience so necessary in moving up the professional ladder. You could also gain experience by finding some of the community orchestras and audition for them. Finding a paying church job will also give you performance experience and the ability to network with some of the other soloists.
- Once you have some of this type of performance experience under your belt, you can start auditioning for C & sometimes still the D companies. These might pay something and are perhaps a bit more organized. Continue to look for local or community orchestras and good church jobs that pay well. There may be restaurants who hire singers or where you might just be able to practice your audition arias in front of an audience.
- When it is time to audition for the B opera companies and orchestras, you want to make sure you are ready to be reviewed and have your name out there. These are what are called regional companies, like the Arizona Opera, Baltimore Opera, etc. It would not be a bad thing to audition for a smaller part to start, so you do not have the responsibility of carrying a leading role, but still allow the company to get to know you and what you can contribute. This is an easier way to work your way up to leading roles. Continue looking for orchestras to perform with.
- To be hired by an A opera company and orchestra take lots of performance experience and making a name for yourself. These will be the leading opera houses of the world.
Nothing here is written in stone. These are just some possible guidelines for you to have some understanding of how the progression of gaining the needed experience works. If you can successfully do it another way, go for it. Always be networking and looking for work. Continue to do competitions, summer and apprentice programs. It’s about getting the experience that allows you to feel comfortable and confident about performing as your voice continues to grow and mature. The Opera World is a small one, so each time you do perform your name and how you behave will get better know in the performance community. General and Artistic Directors of companies talk to each other quite often exchanging information about someone they have worked with or want to inquire about. So don’t think you are not making some type of impression each and every time you perform. And it’s not just about your beautiful singing or performance abilities, but also about how you handle yourself as a person, your behavior.
There are many places to gather that information today:
- Musical America can be found at any music library if you can’t afford one and it is my favorite. They are pricy, but worth the bucks because they cover all venues that have to do with classical singing from managers to opera companies, competitions, apprentice programs, summer programs, festivals, orchestras, etc. www.musicalamerica.com
- Opera America is another great source. They are now located in NYC and not only offer information about auditions of ever kind, but seminars and workshops as well. www.operaamerica.org
- Classical Singer is a great magazine for reading about others in your chosen field, plus information about auditions of every kind. www.classicalsinger.com
- Opera News is filled with great articles about your industry and if you are interested in seeing which operas are performed most frequently to help you better understand what roles you might be hired for, check 6 months to a years scheduling in their previous magazines.
- Back Stage is a newspaper you can pick up at newsstands in NYC that will give you audition information about musical theater auditions, crossover auditions and quite often now, smaller opera companies looking for singers.
- Start in your own back yard. Of course, asking your colleagues or doing a search on Google or some other search engine, will give you a good start on finding opportunities in a 50 mile radius of where you live. Then it is up to you to do the research on each company to know if it is right for you or not.
I know that some of the smaller venues charge singers to perform in their productions. Here are my thoughts on this subject: If you have absolutely no experience, or need to gain the experience of performing a particular role before you are paid to do so, paying to sing it is not a bad idea. Also know that it is possible that some of these companies might not be as organized or reliable as others, so do your research. If you choose to work with one of them, always represent and present your brand. Be professional at all times.
“Do you know the difference between education and experience? Education is when you read the fine print; experience is what you get when you don’t.”
~ Pete Seeger
Organizing performance venues
If you already have a system that works for you, congratulations! If not, the next step is to create a folder for each of the performance venues you feel will be right for you right now. Keep all of this information in a hanging file called Prospects for Performance. That means competitions, opera companies, apprentice programs, etc. If you correspond with them either over the phone or in writing, keep a record of it in the appropriately marked folder. Write down the dates, times and to whom you have spoken if it is a phone conversation, on the left inside of the folder. If it is by mail, keep their letters to you and a copy of your filled out application plus copies of your responses in the folder. Do the same for emails. This way there can be no misunderstands on your part and if you need to reconfirm a date or time or a particular conversation or need to resend an application, it is there at your fingertips. When you get an audition, mark the date in red on the front of your folder, put it on your palm pilot, computer or hard copy calendar, whatever system you use and immediately secure your favorite accompanist to play for this audition. The inquiries that receive an audition or positive response are put in front of that hanging file. The inquiries that didn’t get a positive response go in the back of the file and will continue to be worked, but only every 3-6 months.
This is the beginning of your mailing list. In the beginning you will have just one list. As you gain experience you will eventually have an “A” and “B” list. The “A” list will be comprised of people of influence or venues where you have already performed or would like to perform or patrons. It’s the professional list. The “B” list is for family, friends and fans. It’s very important to keep everyone in the loop with an invitation or short email apprising them of any upcoming performances you have or competitions you have won. This does two things; it keeps your name at the forefront of their minds, and lets them know you are gaining experience that they might want to benefit from in their future productions. It also helps to create an audience for you when you do perform.
With this type of organization, all of the preparation has been done and leaves you free to focus on preparing for your audition or performance. It also let’s others know you are a professional and serious about your career
“Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back.”
~ Harvey MacKay
Business ethics and etiquette
Knowing and using these few rules, will make you appear more professional thus opening the crack in the career door just a little further with each use.
- Unless it is an emergency, always make business calls Tuesday – Thursday. Monday’s and Friday’s business people are usually either catching up or trying to get everything off their plates and you will not have their full attention.
- When you call someone, always say “To whom am I speaking?”, then jot down their name and use it in your present conversation. If you need to speak to them again it is impressive to use their name. If you are not speaking to the right person, ask for the name of the person with whom you should be speaking. Proper use of the English language makes you more of a professional.
- If you have to leave a message, speak in a deliberate and professional way. Leave your name, number and the best times to reach you. Make the message short and concise. This let’s them know what to expect when they call you back.
- When you do talk with someone on the phone, it is a great courtesy to ask if this is a good time to talk. It gives them the opportunity to either give you all of their attention or ask you to call back. If they do ask you to call another time, always get the best time to do that and then make sure you follow through.
- When you do call back tell them you were asked to call at this time and give them consistent information about what you said you were calling about.
- Write a hand written “thank you” note to whomever you have auditioned for simply thanking them for this opportunity and the possibility of working with them in the future.
- Never get involved in the internal politics of a company. Never get too personal with those in power. Remember this is a business, keep your behavior professional.
- Keep your E-mail address “Professional”. For example; [email protected] works; cutesy names or voice category references do NOT look or sound professional.
- Reorder/recopy material and supplies before they run out.
There is no excuse to not have a web site today. They can be over the top or simple and inexpensive. Whatever you choose, make sure that it matches all of your PR materials as far as color, style, font and presentation. The benefit is that you will have a place to send anyone interested in knowing more about you. It needs to contain all your pertinent information – what’s in your PR Packet, including your PR photo and possibly some performance photos, and an audio clip or two from your CD or a recent performance. It must show as complete a picture of you, the person and performer as possible and must represent your brand. Your main job, once it is done is to keep it updated.
“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; but remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”
Keeping track of finances
Create a weekly professional expense form to track your business expenses with categories like:
- Professional services – This will include things like voice lessons, coaching, etc.
- Resume Packet
- Equipment – I pods, piano – etc.
- Dues – Organizations you belong to.
- Music, Books, Publications
- Performance/Audition expenses
- Travel Expenses
- Business Supplies
Record your weekly expenses and totals for the week on this form and staple the actual receipts onto the back of this form. Keep them in a separate file. When it is time for taxes the hard work has already been done. You just have to add figures together. Then you can put all of these forms for the year into a large envelope with the date marked on the front. If you are ever audited, you have all the information with your accurate backup at your fingertips. (If you have my book, “ARIA READY” The Business of Singing, you will find a sample expense form in the back.)
Yes, managing your singing career does take a lot of your time, energy and money. Yes, you have to make sacrifices if this is what you really want, and Yes, it’s up to you to spend these resources wisely.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
~ Annie Dillard
Now that you have been shown one way of organizing your business and office, give yourself a target date to make it happen. Start consciously spending your time, energy and money efficiently. Whatever you do, don’t put this information away some place and say, “Oh, I’m too busy. This is too much extra work. I don’t have the time right now. I’ll think about doing it later.” There will never be a better time to start then now. When you take charge of your own career by creating an infrastructure for your business by creating an organized office, you feel more productive, responsible and professional. It helps keep you motivated and moving toward your ultimate career goals. It feels good to take pride in your achievements however large or small they are because each one takes you closer to your goal. Having done the work, you will have a better understanding and appreciation of what your future manager will do for you. All of your business and organizational skills are easily translated by those hiring you, into an understanding that you will bring these same traits as an artist to their company or program. Because you are feeling more congruent on the inside you start projecting more confidence on the outside. You are representing and presenting your brand in all that you do. You are poised for success as you consistently grow your business each and every day by doing just 1-2 small things that are on your “to do” list. Pretty much like everything else in life, it is a process that gets better and easier with each and every experience. Congratulations, you are making it happen!
“We make our habits and our habits make us. Practicing bad habits over a long period of time can ingrain attitudes, beliefs and feelings so firmly that escape seems impossible. In such cases, you must exhibit change – do it, perform its outward manifestations – before you can learn to believe in it. You will find that by learning and repeating new behavior patterns you can change your habits and your life.”
~ Denis Waitley