Having a professional singing career is about intention, intensity and precision. The path is organic, logical, needs tending every day; a living entity that is adaptable and embraces change. Having a professional singing career is not for the faint of heart. Are you open to knowing some of the reasons you may not be getting that job? It can be frustrating, but if you are willing to ask yourself truthfully why this isn’t working for you, if you are ready to stop making excuses and lying to yourself, here is what it takes.
There are three key ingredients that have to be put in place and kept growing at a steady and even rate if you want to first, get into the game and second, be able to stay in the game of having a professional career. It involves mastering one step at a time which creates a solid foundation making it is easier to advance to the next step. There is no skipping a step if you want to improve the odds of getting that job.
- Solid Vocal & Performance Package
- Polished Personal Brand
- Understanding & Implementation of Your Business Plan
“Any fact facing us is not as important as our attitude toward it, for that determines our success or failure. The way you think about a fact may defeat you before you ever do anything about it. You are overcome by the fact because you think you are.”
– Norman Vincent Peale
Solid Vocal & Performance Package – I have already said it a million times, but I don’t mind repeating myself concerning the importance of having a “rock solid” vocal technique that you don’t have to think or worry about when portraying a role in an opera or doing a concert or recital. The voice must work easily and well allowing you to enjoy telling the story through not only your body, but more importantly through your voice.
If you are not sure where you are with regard to the technical aspect of the vocal process, go sing for others in our industry whose honest opinion you respect and listen to what they have to say. If two or three of them are giving you similar advice, take it to your current teacher to fix or perhaps try another teacher who’s students have impressed you with their technical vocal ability. Otherwise you are just fooling yourself by believing all the others are wrong about their opinions. And make sure that you sing for those that have already successfully started on their career path or perhaps a coach who knows voices and has worked in the professional world. Don’t continue to only rely on one or two sets of ears. You have to put yourself out there and listen carefully and mindfully to those that don’t know you and have perhaps never heard you sing before. And we are only talking about the technical part of a vocal technique which must be consistent.
Next comes working with an interpretive coach who can help you discover the best way to access and build the emotional intention of your character. It’s not enough to listen to recordings of other singers to learn about how to interpret a role; you have to build it from the ground up, so it suits you to a tee. Your character needs to be comfortable to wear, honest, real and compelling. You need to know this character inside out; what was happening in the rest of the world during this time period so the audience or those hiring are willing to be taken on the journey you have put in place through this character. Once you are satisfied with your ability to thoroughly embody this character and have it solidly in your voice, you have to get some experience performing it. Even if you are just putting your aria package together, it’s imperative that you know the whole story of the opera as this will help put your character and the aria in perspective. Having this depth of knowledge about the opera and how your character fits into the whole story gives a kind of intimacy and polish that becomes clearer and more convincing each time you perform it. Your character is no longer just one dimensional but a real person sharing his/her story. This also gives you great confidence and poise that helps create an overall impression of what those hiring can expect of you.
Now it’s time to go out and put what you have worked so smart and thoughtfully to achieve to the test. Know that even when one does have both the vocal and dramatic technical parts in place, adding the third element of performing requires as much practice as the other two did to get all three parts coordinated and feeling comfortable. This means you need to find all the smaller opera companies within a 50 mile radius of where you live; find out what they are planning for their upcoming season and if possible arrange an audition for them. You want the further honing of all your skills as a performer to be done in a safe environment where you can falter, make mistakes, make adjustments, try this or that and find your performance legs. The company doesn’t have to be professional, or use an orchestra or get reviews. What’s important is that you don’t feel pressured or stressed; instead you want to be able to try your wings and get good at this craft, so you need to practice it in several different safe venues as often as possible.
Once you have practiced the whole process enough, you might notice that you can then be a bit more spontaneous about your actions and reactions when embodying and portraying your character on stage while sustaining your trusted vocal technique and dramatic skills. As this process becomes habitual, you will be able to trust what you have practiced putting in place more and more until you own it as the performer. Now it’s time to move your auditions up a notch and practice the same process the same way at the next level.
“Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.” – Lou Holtz
Polished Personal Brand – Have you ever thought of you, the performer, as the product you are selling? Does your product carry a Brand Name and just like your favorite Brand, is it trustworthy and consistent in its quality? Is its value support by getting jobs? Most of the time, we don’t think about performing as selling our product and conducting business. We don’t separate the artist being sold from the business person selling this product. Instead we often make selling our product the last thing we want to do on your list and it then becomes a chore, difficult, personal and filled with emotion rather than business energy.
Knowing all aspects of your product means taking an honest look inside at what makes you tick. Most of our behavior is an unconscious reaction to old buttons being pushed, trying to second guess someone, or trying to please. And yes, it’s true that you already have a Personal Brand, your professional name; but does your Brand represent and allow you to present the authentic, unique and distinct you? Believe me when I say that you and others already know what you and they can expect of you and is that the Personal Brand you want to be known for? When was the last time you took a good look at the product that represents who you are to the world? If you haven’t gone through some kind of process to help you find the person inside the singer your actions and reactions tend to run on an unconscious level growing into a chaotic, frustrating and unpredictable state. Others might mistake this type of behavior as unreliable which could keep you from getting a job. Here is an example of an unconscious kind of Personal Brand: your behavior includes not only being late for auditions, rehearsals, but coming unprepared business wise, musically, and dramatically; you are not sure of what the rules are because you didn’t think to ask ahead of time or thought it would be unprofessional to ask; and perhaps you dress inappropriately. Who would want to hire that kind of performer, would you?
Wouldn’t you prefer to present and represent a Personal Brand that is authentic and unique, the real you down to the core? It does take some weeding and digging to find those core values but once you’ve discovered them, it helps you understand where that line in the sand is that you have drawn and will not go beyond in your behavior or your word. Checking in with your core values gives you a touchstone, someplace to evaluate if your behavior supports and is consistent with what you believe and trust in. There is freedom and courage in knowing yourself down to the core. It allows you to say “no” sometimes, stop playing the silly emotional games with others that don’t go anywhere and start truly believing in your talent. Probably those that you admire have these qualities whether working one on one with you or when schmoozing/networking within a large group of people.. They are at ease within themselves, actually listen to others, and are genuinely interested in what’s going on offering their own opinions not trying to sway others to it.
You too need to find the tools and skills that will help you build and show to the world your authenticity, value and uniqueness with panache. This means your word will be your bond; you will say what you mean and mean what you say. No more trying to second guess, impress, feel quilty or hide. You will stand up for what you believe to be your truth at the deepest level at all times. And this is a lifelong quest because we continue to evolve, grow and change. It also means that you can expect failure and make mistakes along the way. When that happens, and it will, you can choose to fall into a funk and cry “poor me” or you can look for the feedback that helps you become stronger as you learn what to do or how best to do it next time. And a Personal Brand spans all of your many relationships. It is not just about your career.
“If things are not going well with you, begin your effort at correcting the situation by carefully examining the service you are rendering, and especially the spirit in which you are rendering it.” – Roger Ward Babson
Understanding & Implementation of Your Business Plan – This is not as complicated or difficult as you might think. If you are looking for instant gratification you are barking up the wrong tree when it comes to doing business. This process is ever ongoing and requires daily attention. It’s about establishing and nurturing relationships, lots of them and continually following up once you have made contact. It’s not personal or emotional, it’s just business. You don’t even have to have some long term plan written down. You do need to decide what you want to happen in the next month and break it down into weekly segments then spread those out so there is something on your plate to do each day to get you to where you want to be by the end of that particular week and eventually by the end of that month. Then, just before you have reached your monthly goal, initiate next month’s goal and do it all over again until you get to where you ultimately want to go. If you have absolutely no clue about business, find someone who does and ask for help.
Keeping your name on the lips of those who do the hiring or doling out of the audition spots is of paramount importance. That means you need to create an “A” list of players you feel will be important in helping you along on your career path. That would be anyone with whom you have worked like artistic director, general director, conductor, stage director, colleagues, patrons, etc. Each time you have an upcoming performance or event, or when you receive reviews from those performances or events, you send your “A” list a short, concise email apprising them of what will be happening or what has just happened so they can be kept in the loop as your career develops and evolves. It becomes a mass mailing, blind copying everyone but you. The opera world is a small one and the folks that do the hiring regularly spend time talking to one another, exchanging information. And you want your name for all the right reasons, on their lips as often as possible.
Have a great web site to steer everyone of interest to and make sure it is regularly updated, is easy to navigate and read and has both visual and audio clips of you on it.
“Youth is not entirely a time of life; it is a state of mind. Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years. People grow old by deserting their ideals. You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubts; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair.” – General Douglas McArthur
Here is an addition comment sent to me from Francine Garber, Exc. Vice President, Regina Opera, Brooklyn, NY, that hopefully will give your further impetus to get honest about the reasons you are not getting that job! I’d like to add: reliability. It is a business practice also. Singers think that great voices are enough. And even if they follow through after auditions, they forget about the impression they have made with the organization they just sang for: Arriving late for rehearsal or performance or audition, or not being 100 percent prepared, just leaves a bad impression on the staff and their colleagues. If they’re not sure what time to arrive, or what time they are needed, they should ASK!! If they are not sure if they are supposed to have the music or role memorized, or just be able to sing through it with the score, THEY SHOULD ASK. If they are not sure what to wear to audition or rehearsal or performance – ASK. If they are not sure that the people listening to their audition expects them to ACT the aria (such as the “Doll Song” from “Hoffmann”, or the card aria from “Carmen”) they should ask. I doubt that the person setting up an audition will be annoyed to answer these questions.
“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” – Buddha
This is not, as they say, rocket science. It is doing the right thing on purpose even if it is scary, difficult and challenging. So take an honest look at how you have put together your singers package and notice where there might be some weaker spots or gaps and have the guts to fix them, ask for help from others, make your word your bond, stop performing until you adjust and strengthen your vocal technique, get that perfect audition outfit with all the accessories and makeup (for women) together, and take the time, energy and money to create a polished and confident product that becomes easier to sell.
Keep your suggestions for subjects coming. And I am still working on getting the free Skype Aria Ready Round Table Discussion group up and running. Also, the 2nd edition of Aria Ready: Transitions – Aspiring Artist to Prepared Professional will be available soon. I will keep you apprised on both accounts. Avanti!