Would your life be different if you were treated daily by others and yourself, as if you lived up to the full measure of your potential not only as a singer, but as a whole human? What would that look, feel and sound like to you? Our country has spent several decades “dumbing down” all that we stand for to include those that can’t or won’t reach up to their potential. Somehow we felt if we came down to their level, they would feel understood and want to get out of the hole they had dug for themselves. What happened instead is that in spending so much time helping them dig out of that hole, we found that we were in too deep ourselves and couldn’t figure out how to get ourselves out. We stopped modeling excellence and started modeling FEAR and FAILURE all with capital letters. We stopped asking questions of ourselves like, “What if? How does that help? What will be the outcome if I do that?, Is that what I really want and is it truly right for me where I am right now? Do I have the groundwork in place? Have I laid a solid foundation before taking the next step? Am I comfortable and confident that I am building my own path that moves at my pace to reach the full measure of my potential? Instead we tend to put our complete trust and belief in what others are telling us is the truth, that there is really only one way to get to our goals; that there is only one path to follow and that is “the path”. We have stopped thinking for ourselves, trusting our own instincts and questioning if the information given will work for us personally.
“Wisdom is knowing what path to take next… Integrity is taking it.”
~ Robyn Elpruhzlein
We have been told as singers that there is “THE PATH” that must be followed and adhered to if we want to have a singing career. That everything must be accomplished by a certain date on “that” calendar and we can’t exceed “the” certain age if we are to succeed. So, believing that to be the truth, we have to put our nose to the grindstone and keep it there never missing an opportunity that might show up whether we were ready or not. We have been told that we must do as much auditioning as possible and win as many competitions as possible, be in as many apprentice programs and have as many roles as possible under our belts and on our resumes to get anywhere. It has to look good on paper. What they tell you is to get exposure, exposure, exposure! In many cases, you are putting the cart before the horse by jumping into auditions that may be beyond your present entry level before you have had the chance to really develop and polished your product. You try to fit your square peg, into “the” round hole. Wow, even just writing this makes me feel tense and stressed out. I feel like I am behind and better get busy if I want to keep up. There is no time or energy left to question anything. Questions like: is my whole life in or out of balance and what do I need to do to bring it into line or am I at the point of being ready for this stage of my career?
What has failed to be mentioned is that to be a success at a singing career, you have to have a solid foundation on which to build your career. In our industry a solid foundation means taking the time to establish a solid vocal technique before starting the actual career process.
“It is what we think we know already that often prevents us from learning.”
~ Claude Bernard
What “they” also neglected to tell you is that even if you are vocally solid, following “The Path” doesn’t necessarily guarantee anything. It can keep you frantic, stressed out and at the edge of your sanity level because you are over your head and out of control in every way, trying to keep up with everyone else. This kind of stress often can be read by those for whom you are auditioning and cause a negative reaction. It may also be one of the reasons you do not audition or perform up to your optimum potential because your mind is only on getting to the next event so you can load up your resume. You may be running on someone else’s path. The primary reason you feel frantic and out of control is because you have given your power away.
Want to get your power back, feel productive, have a balanced and healthy life, have confidence and be in control of your own destiny, win some competitions, get into that apprentice program or get hired to sing that role? Want to create your own unique, authentic and manageable path to success? Let me give you some suggestions on how to make this happen.
“I hear and forget. I see and remember. I do and I understand.”
There are prerequisites, so let’s get those out of the way first. I am assuming that you have a very solid vocal technique and know which fach suits you right now. If not, as I just said, that is the first step. Find a teacher/coach with whom you can communicate, feel comfortable and can trust. It doesn’t have to be someone famous and it might take a while to find the right one. Trust your intuition as well as the other things that help you make a decision. Talk to your teacher/coach about approximately how much time they feel is needed to get you settled into a solid vocal technique. Make that your first point of business, your priority, your goal and give yourself the time it takes to accomplish this. Spend all of your time, energy and money making this happen. Don’t put anything else on your plate. Don’t try to audition while you are in the process of getting your vocal technique solid. That will just cause added fear, insecurity, frustration, and unnecessary stress. You will be the most successful at auditioning when you feel you have a polished product to present to the world. Then you have the confidence to offer your unique and authentic self with panache.
Let’s continue to cover the basics. After establishing your solid vocal technique, the next step to having a polished product, is spending your time, energy and money interviewing and hiring the best diction, repertoire and drama coaches you can. Clear communication is key. Once you have made your selections this process moves fairly quickly because you are solid vocally and this polishing modus operandi becomes part of an ongoing process as you continue to learn new pieces and roles.
Part of feeling professional happens when you realize you are both a business and the product. You are the CEO and President of your company. The first step to running an effective and efficient company requires a well equipped and organized office. That means devoting at least one half day each week to doing business and do it religiously. Setting up a designated office space in your apartment or home is of paramount importance. This helps keep your business organized and you thinking as a business person. It allows all of the materials you need to run your business to be in one place readily available when a PR packet is needed or you need to check on and keep track of your upcoming auditions. Another part of running a successful business is creating a strategy and then the tactics to put that in place. That means setting both long term and short term goals. You might have one big long term goal to keep you motivated as you continue to move forward on your career path, but giving yourself some short term goals that support your long term goals helps keep it real, in your face and shows you that by chunking it down into manageable bites, it’s very doable. A short term goal can be anywhere from one week or month to 6 months in length. The next step is to break those short term goals down into doing just one small task each day. I have found that if I do just one small thing every day to move my business forward like buying stamps, up dating my web site, doing follow-ups, researching upcoming auditions or job opportunities to find the ones that are right for me right now, up dating my resume and making hard copies for my PR Packet, it is a lot easier to feel accomplished and successful by the end of each week. And you begin to reap the rewards of these small daily tasks as you see the results they rack up weekly, monthly and yearly. Trying to make it happen when it becomes crunch time causes undue stress. Use your time, energy and money wisely and set up an organized office that runs like a well oiled machine so you can promote and sell your product. You will feel more professional and this will add to your confidence, I guarantee it.
“A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.”
Another aspect of running a successful business is having a trusted Team of people you can call on when you need to talk something over, need advice or ask for help. It should mainly be made up of people in our profession who already have had the experience. It could be your voice teacher, your coaches, a colleague, a conductor, etc. It doesn’t need to be a large group, just perhaps 3 -6 people who want to support your foray into the singing business because they believe in your potential. Trusting their input is important and you may or may not always agree with their advice, but it gives you a sounding board that will help you make the right decision for where you are right now.
When you and your team feel it is time for you to step up to the plate and do some auditioning, do your homework in finding the perfect fit for you right now. Now a days, there are so many vehicles available to help you know not only what auditions are coming up but give you a way to keep track of them, so use them. (YAP Tracker – IVOX for example) I have found that knowing all that I can about the people/organization/company I will be auditioning for makes it all more personal for me and allows me to see them just as another human doing their job. They are not just judges’ anymore sitting way out there, but they have become real people who have a life just like me. So, do you homework by finding out all you can about the people running the programs or adjudicating the auditions. Know the history and exactly what the programs, competitions and companies are all about. The more you know the better prepared you will feel and you will be getting a new kind of education that is invaluable. Make sure that you will be gaining the experience that is right for you right now through these auditions. It’s much more about you gaining the right kind of experiences as you move forward than adding more names and places to put on your resume.
“We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.”
~ Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962
As you start the auditioning process, know that each judge or person doing the hiring will have their very own subjective tastes, opinions, ideas and needs of what they are looking for when making their selection or choice. No matter how great your potential, they are looking for the whole package so don’t start this process until you are ready to present your polished product with confidence. When you do audition, don’t worry so much about winning. Instead, set an agenda for yourself each time you audition. If you have achieved that, you should be thrilled. If you win on top of that, it’s the icing on the cake. Just like thoroughly learning any process, you will continually expand your foundation by gaining the right kind of experiences. Also, when talking with the judges or those hiring, don’t act complacent or apologetic; stay up and strong no matter what’s going on inside. Don’t beat them to the punch by telling them before they have had a chance to give you their thoughts, what you did wrong, or how bad you were, or that you have a cold. Nobody likes or has time for a complainer. And know that competitions don’t always make careers. (Just ask Joyce DiDonato the current reining coloratura mezzo of world wide fame. Go online and read her story.) Always ask for comments from the judges if it is possible. Being both the product you are selling and the manager of that product can be a challenge. So when you listen to the judges comments, do so as your manager, not the singer. Their feedback may be similar to comments you have received from several differing auditions. If so, there might be something to be taken seriously. Bring it to your Team to see if it is viable. If you are really feeling down after an audition you have two choices, you can get depressed and sad and stay that way for days or you can give yourself 30 minutes to roll around in your bad feelings. When the 30 minutes are up, stop feeling sorry for yourself, leave the emotional feelings over there and move on to what comes next in building your career.
“To free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves-there lies the great, singular power of self-respect.”
~ Joan Didion
Becoming more aware of the person inside the singer, gives one great confidence, poise and professionalism. It helps keep you balanced. Are there areas within you, which you would like to strengthen? Here’s one way to perhaps gain that particular strength. Who do you know that attracts and fascinates you with their positive energy and magnetism? What particular aspect of their behavior would you want to emulate? Perhaps you love how they communicate, interact with others, are confident, genuine and authentic and seem timeless and interested in really living their whole lives. Everyone loves them and wants to be around them. You probably know several people like this. How do you get to be more like the part of them that you would like to emulate? You start by modeling or trying on their gestures and language patterns that create the desired behaviors you like. You do it from the inside out. You try them on like putting on a coat and see if how they move makes you feel like more of who you are in the process of becoming. We all do this unconsciously, but I am suggesting that it can be a useful tool to enhance your own life. It’s not imitating, it’s becoming, like when you become a character in an opera, it’s from the inside out. Here’s an example. A group of people were asked in a blind NLP study to watch a very short film of a dog and cat having an altercation. After it was over, the study group was asked what they saw. They said that they saw a dog and cat having a fight. Then this group was asked to watch again, but this time to pay attention to just how the dog and cat were displaying those emotions and behaviors in their physical bodies. After the film, the group when asked again to talk about the film, all suddenly became animated dogs and cats. They each actually did the physical motions and incorporated the sounds they had seen and heard which changed their behaviors and language as they related the story this time. Find someone you really respect and love and try on their physical gestures and attitudes allowing your body and thoughts to be part of that picture as well. Then decide if any of this new behavior resonates positively within. If so, incorporate it into your own life style.
“When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.”
~ Alexander Graham Bell
I can imagine that what I have written is not at all what you expected to hear about how one wins competitions or gets jobs. What I am telling you is that it is all about being true to yourself by finding your very own personal path as you make your way into this crazy singing business. You don’t have to do it like anyone else. It may be that you want to devote your whole life to having a singing career, or perhaps you want to also become a parent at some point in your life. Or possibly you would feel more comfortable having a more stable life and income and want to be both teacher at an academic level and still have a career. You can see that your career path will always look different than the next singers no matter how you pursue your dreams. So take the time to first get that solid foundation in place so you are not just spinning your wheels and getting frustrated with the results. Know that when you have the courage to follow your own path, you will be satisfied, fulfilled and have reached your potential not only as a singer, but as a human being. Yes, as I just said, there are some basics that need to be in place, but then how you do what you do, is up to you. Those who adjudicate or do the hiring can feel the frenetic energy when you enter the room if you are following “The Path”. They are always looking for singers who have the talent, but more than that they are looking for singers that radiate calm, confidence and know they are ready for the adventure. So, create your own manageable time table to get to where you want to be at your own pace. Slow down and take the time to get each step completely and satisfactorily accomplished as you move forward in your career. The tortoise always wins the race. By following your own path, I can guarantee that you will feel less stressed, and more in control of your own destiny. You will have time to breath, and laugh occasionally. And when you are 88 you will look back at your life with deep satisfaction that you lived the full measure of your potential and did it your way.
“The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work.”
~ Emile Zola