FAQ For Developing Singers
Information and resources to get you started on your journey to a performing career!
Answers to the most often-asked questions Cindy’s received over the years and a list of resources on a variety of singing-related topics.
If you're a young singer, don't forget to check out our FAQ for High School Singers and the
WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE A PROFESSIONAL SINGER?
It's a lot of hustle and heartbreak. It's also glorious fun when you're successful. Over and over you will hear from people that the art of singing is incomparable, wonderful, compelling. It's the business of singing that can be hateful.
The up side: you get to sing some of the greatest music the world has ever known. You get to work with wonderful, creative, interesting people. You get to travel. People you don't know make over you. There's a certain amount of glamour, fancy parties and beautiful locales. You're your own boss.
The down side: You may find yourself at the mercy of mean or unscrupulous people who rank higher in the business than you. You spend a lot of time on the road, living expensively out of a suitcase and not spending time with your loved ones. Fancy parties stop being so glamorous and begin to feel like work after you've been to a few of them.
You are constantly interviewing for your next job, and always looking for that next opportunity. You are in a highly competitive field with many, many qualified applicants. You may be perfect for a job and lose it anyway because the people hearing you didn't like the dress you were wearing or thought you could stand to lose 10 pounds.
You have to be able to co-exist with quite a lot of uncertainty. It's hard to plan ahead, especially long-term, because you never know from year to year where you'll be or what you'll be doing. I often hear from non-singers, "I don't know how you live with all that uncertainty!" It works for me. I'd rather be doing this than be stuck in an office from 9 to 5 every bloody day. A professional singer has to be something of a free spirit --- with lots of patience, resilience, and thick, thick skin.
WHEN IS IT OKAY TO FOLLOW UP ON AUDITIONS?
Truth be told, if they want you, most of the time you’re going to hear from them pretty quickly. But there are extenuating circumstances, so if you want to be proactive and follow up, here’s a good timeline to follow.
For Young Artist Programs and pay-to-sings:
For mainstage (unmanaged singers only; managed singers should allow their agents to follow up):
WHAT CAN I DO IF I CAN'T GET ANYONE TO HIRE ME?
It can be really tough to get a singing career off the ground; and all artists go through dry periods when they aren’t getting a lot of work. Unfortunately, there are no magic formulas, no quick fix. But there are some things you can do.
If you aren't getting hired at the level you want to be, there are several things you can do.
1. Take inventory of your skills, with special notice of your strengths and weaknesses.
2. Evaluate the competition and where you stand in comparison.
3. Reassess the level at which you’re currently auditioning and make sure it’s appropriate for your
skill level and experience.
4. Outline your goals and take 'em one step at a time.
5. Create work for yourself.
HOW DO I FIGURE OUT MY VOICE TYPE?
Determining your Fach is overrated for beginners --- in fact, it can be detrimental. When you’re starting out, just concentrate on learning to sing well and singing things that you feel and sound great in. Later, when your technique is well-established and your artistry begins to really develop, you can refine your repertoire under the guidance of your teacher and coach, with feedback from other industry professionals that gives you clues as to what you are marketable for. And you will need to decide, at least temporarily, what general Fach you fall into before you go out and try to market yourself for singing work. How can you audition for opera roles if you don't have any idea of what you can sing?
But here's a hint: find out what you sing, and sing WELL, and don't worry too much about labels. For one thing, the type of voice hired for certain repertoire may differ greatly house by house. For another, people are going to hire you to sing what they think you sound good singing. You do not need to write "Fifi LeBouvier, Lyric Soprano" on all your materials. "Fifi LeBouvier, Soprano", is enough. They will judge your voice type by your offerings --- and by how well they suit you.
That said, your audition arias have to make senses as a group. You can't offer "Mi chiamano Mimi" and the Immolation Scene at the same audition, even if you sing both really well --- the judges will think you don't know what you're doing. It's ok to offer one thing that's a bit of a stretch, to show where you think you might be in a few years, especially as a young artist. But all in all, your audition repertoire should show a general sense of direction.
HOW DO I CHOOSE A SCHOOL?
First of all, do your homework. You are going to need to do some research. Start by asking yourself some questions:
For people who want to be performers, the most important choice is the teacher, not the school. To make connections with teachers, you need to visit the schools you're interested in and take a sample lesson; and also observe other people's lessons and studio classes. You can also participate in summer workshops, where you get more time to work with teachers. Aspen, Tanglewood, Brevard, and the Seagle Colony all offer programs for high school kids, and they are all reputable programs. You must research pay-to-sing programs carefully to make sure they offer what you need and want, and have a good reputation.
Every school is very different and a lot of what you get out of them is going to depend on what environment suits you best, and whether you really connect with your teacher. Your education and the training of your voice is YOUR responsibility, so choose wisely. Don't be afraid to re-evaluate whether the school and teacher you've chose are meeting your goals, and don't be afraid to make changes if your goals aren't being met.
WHAT ARE MY OPTIONS FOR LEARNING TO SING IF I CAN'T AFFORD TO TAKE PRIVATE LESSONS?
CAN YOU RECOMMEND ANY INSTRUCTIONAL MATERIALS FOR BEGINNERS?
Sorry, but you simply can't learn to sing properly from books, tapes, or Wikihow articles. They are a waste of time and money unless you use them in conjunction with a good teacher; and anything that promises to teach you singing in "6 Easy Lessons" is quite simply worthless.
Learning to sing is a process. You need personal feedback and demonstration to learn to sing properly. You might as well learn to do it right from the beginning rather than get it wrong and then have to undo what you've already learned --- a painful, slow, expensive process.
If you can't afford private voice lessons, look for a singing class at a community music school, where lessons and classes are often more affordable than going through a private source; and sometimes scholarships are available. Look at junior or smaller colleges with music programs in your area as well. Also, check with NATS (National Association of Teachers of Singing) for teachers in your area who might offer group lessons. Or approach a grad student at a local university --- often they are great teachers, but charge less than an established professional.
Another option is to find a teacher who will accept barter. Maybe you have skills or products a voice teacher would take in exchange for lessons. In the past, I’ve bartered for lessons with aesthetician, personal trainer, and massage therapist!
Guidelines for choosing the right teacher may be found on my Resources page under Voice Teachers. There is also an excellent article on David Jones' website.
HOW DO I LEARN A NEW ROLE?
Everybody has a slightly different technique. Experiment; you'll figure out what works best for you in time. Here's what I like to do:
First, I read the score cover to cover, sometimes while listening to a recording.
Then, I translate the sucker. Word for word. Usually I just do the scenes I'm in, and later when I have time and the inclination, I do the rest.
I like to find and read the source material if at all possible.
I make sure I can pronounce all the language with ease.
I learn the rhythms on a neutral syllable, intoning them so as to reinforce support and legato.
I intone the words in rhythm (no singing, but support and legato).
I learn the pitches on a neutral syllable, from the back of the piece to the beginning.
I put language, rhythm and pitch together, still working from the back of the score forward.
By the time I reach the first page, it's memorized. This is a slow and painstaking way to learn (and I do cheat when it gets too boring) but it is also very, very thorough.
Once I've learned all the notes and have started to sing it into my voice a bit, I will sing the ensembles along with several different good recordings, to be sure I get the color of the orchestra in my ear and understand aurally where my place is in the ensemble. I also use this to test memorization. You just have to be really careful not to get too attached to any one recording, so that when you're with a live conductor you're able to take his tempi and interpretation without feeling weird about it. For important roles/company debuts, I will sometimes hire a conductor and pianist, and invite friends to sing through the score with me before I have to show up for rehearsals.
Good luck and have a great time!
HOW DO I FIND AUDITIONS?
Researching and arranging auditions is a vital skill for every singer. Of course it’s easier if you have an agent, but until you do, you need to know how to fend for yourself.
Chances are, as a young artist, your first auditions will mostly be for pay-to-sings and Young Artist Programs. You may also have mainstage auditions for small local companies, and others for chorus or church jobs.
New York City is the mecca for auditions. Many YAPs, big regional opera houses, and smaller companies make an annual pilgrimage to hear singers there - though not as many as in past years. YAPs and pay-to-sing programs often tour their auditions to major cities, and some accept video auditions, at least for preliminary rounds. However, if you don’t live near NYC, chances are at some point you will need to travel there to audition.
The major times for year for auditions in the US are September – early December, and early spring. If you're on the Young Artist circuit, December has historically been the most important time to be in New York.
It can be very difficult to get heard if you are not managed. Some houses do reserve a certain number of slots for unmanaged singers; or will hear you if they have cancellations; and some will allow you to "crash" if they have the time. How can you find these auditions?
Know which companies to target - generally no more than a step above the level at which you have already worked; they produce the repertoire you have to offer. Write a great cover letter, send your press kit, and hope for the best.
HOW LONG DO I HAVE TO KEEP "PAYING MY DUES"?
Think of your career as a long, long, long staircase. Every time you get to another landing, you get to enjoy it while you look down at the long way you've come, and then you realize there's a long way to go up. And on every level, there's a new set of dues to pay.
My path from school to regular work was fairly short because I lucked out and got into the Chicago apprenticeship almost immediately; and after that I was able to get a lot of gigs here and there. But what I discovered was that there can be dry spells even in a career that's going pretty well. You spend one season working constantly only to wake up the next fall and realize that you don't have any work because you were too busy working to audition (this is always a problem). Or, you find yourself going through a vocal transition. Or your agent isn't really working for you anymore and you have to get out there and find someone who does. Or any of a million different things.
The path is different for everybody, and you'll save yourself a lot of angst if you don't beat yourself up for not being where someone else is. On the other hand, comparisons can be valuable tools --- you can look at someone else who started off in the same place as you and see what they might have that you don't. However, I don't think that whether or not you make it into a YAP is necessarily a good indicator. Yes, there tends to be a certain level of accomplishment in YAPs, but there are so many other factors and a lot of it just depends on what the company needs that season.
I think it's a good idea just to concentrate on getting up that next step, getting to that next level. Decide what that is for you, and then figure out what the little steps are that you need to get you there. Then take one of those baby steps at a time. Breaking big goals down into little ones really helps.
IS IT TRUE THAT SUCCESSFUL OPERA SINGERS CAN'T BE MARRIED OR HAVE A PERSONAL LIFE?
It's simply untrue that successful opera singers can't have personal lives or long-term relationships. What boring, unhappy, unbalanced people we would be if we didn't! I am very happily married to a software engineer. He is extremely supportive of my career, even when it takes me away from him for long periods of time (which is hard on both of us)! Many of my colleagues are married or in long-term relationships. When we're on the road, we spend a lot of money on long distance and plane tickets for weekend visits. When we're together, that time is extra special.
Superstar soprano Renee Fleming is a mom; when her babies were little she took them with her on out of town gigs and had a nanny stay with them in the dressing room or hotel. I've known a number of colleagues who traveled with their entire families; often the partner who wasn't working at the moment home schooled the kids or was the primary caretaker.
People who claim that opera singers must be married to their art will probably also argue that personal lives get in the way of creating art. I think this is ridiculous. As artists, we need to LIVE life, not restrict ourselves from it. We need to get out there and wallow in it. And we need BALANCE to stay healthy, sane, and productive. That means a refuge from the craziness of the industry; a semblance of normality in a sometimes very unreal lifestyle; and what better to offer you that stability than a happy relationship and strongly developed personal life?
To those who claim that our art demands total sacrifice, I respond that in these busy times, there are plenty of couples who spend a lot of time apart and who have very emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually demanding careers. It's not just singing couples, either! Think about all the lawyers and executives who regularly work twelve-hour days and go on business trips all the time. My big brother is one of these, and on a day-to-day basis, he makes sure he is home to tuck the kids into bed, even if he has to go back to the office afterwards, and the weekends are dedicated to family time.
It is eminently do-able, and one person does not necessarily have to sacrifice his or her career for the other. You will certainly make sacrifices; but they are generally negotiable to some degree. The important thing is to find out what works for you and your partner. If you listen to each other and respect each other's needs and wishes, you'll be able to work just about anything out.
Above all, listen to your heart. There are people who are happiest alone or in a series of relationships. There are others who absolutely need to be in a loving relationship to be at their best. Choose what is right for you and don't worry about the naysayers.
I CAN SING MY OWN LINE JUST FINE, BUT PUT ME NEXT TO OTHER SOLOISTS AND I GET CONFUSED. HOW DO I LEARN TO SING IN AN ENSEMBLE?
Ensemble singing can be tough when you're starting out. So here is Auntie Cindy's prescription for learning to sing ensemble:
1. Make sure you know your own line COLD.
2. Once you know your own line backwards, forwards, upside down and in reverse, sing it very slowly while you play the soprano, bass, or tenor line along on the piano. Listen carefully to how the harmonies fit together. Note where you are above or below the other lines. Note where you are doubling another line. Note where your pitch sounds weird with someone else's. Go over each of these points until you're very, very comfortable singing your own line strongly against the piano.
3. Once you can sing your own line with confidence against another voice played on the piano, add a second voice; then a third if you can manage it. BTW, there is NO SUBSTITUTE for doing this yourself, without the help of a third party. First of all, having a third party for this process will make you nervous and frustrated, because it is somewhat painstaking and you're already embarrassed about having difficulty with it. Second, you need to do this at your own pace, as many times as it takes, and the whole point is for YOU to figure it out and teach your ear to hear your part in relationship to the other lines.
4. Once you can more or less sing your own part while you play the other lines on the piano, THEN take it to a coach and get them to help you by adding in all the voices at the right tempo in little chunks at a time. When you can do that, add the accompaniment.
5. Sit down next to the CD player with your score, a pencil, your keyboard, and a big glass of your favorite beverage. Play a short section of the score and play your own line along on the keyboard. Sing your line along with the recording while you play it on the keyboard. Listen to how you fit with the other vocal lines and the orchestra (this is going to sound very different than the piano, because there are so many different colors now; but you should be very secure with your own line by this time and even if you get off, you will probably be able to find your way back).
6. When you can pick out your line and sing it well against the recording with the help of the keyboard, try it without. Then just keep plugging away, noting points of particular difficulty. Take these to your coach and ask for help --- what especially can you listen for to help you get your pitch, etc. Continue to practice with the CD and the keyboard as necessary. Also, you might want to use more than one recording for this practice, since you don't want to get married to one singer's interpretation or one conductor's tempi.
Now, if none of this works for you ... I would respectfully suggest you look into an ear training course, because that's what the issue is (along with inexperience. And that's curable.)
WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFORMATION ABOUT BEING AN OPERA SINGER?
Cindy Sadler’s Resources for Singers
Well, duh. ☺ Free directory of singing services & info. While you’re on my site, be sure to sign up for the free newsletter, and check out my blog, www.MezzoWithCharacter.com, which features all kinds of useful business of singing articles.
Classical Singer Magazine www.classicalsinger.com
The premiere (and only) American magazine by and for singers. Articles and an audition listing, as well as an annual convention.
Classical Vocal Repertoire
www.classicalvocalrep.com (Hard copies)
Glendower Jones and Classical Vocal Repertoire are national treasures. If it can be gotten, Glendower can get it or already has it. He is a one-man encyclopedia of information about published music and the last bastion of personal service. Singers in the know always #GetItFromGlendower.
The New New Forum for Classical Singers (Facebook group)
Besides being the best forum for singers and a great place to ask questions, there are some interesting and educational documents on file. You need permission to join the group – make sure you either PM one of the admins or that your profile shows that you are an opera singer. Also, be sure to read the group description and rules before posting!
Opera America www.operaamerica.org
This organization offers a series of guides for developing singers, a newsletter, membership discounts, courses and master classes, and many other services. Their beautiful New York space is a favorite for auditions, and you can even borrow scores from the library!
The Sybaritic Singer www.TheSybariticSinger.com
Mezzo-soprano Meghen Ihnen serves up intelligent discourse and business advice on a variety of musical subjects.
Kim Witman’s Wolf Trap Opera Blog http://opera.wolftrap.org/blog/
Senior Director Kim Witman’s blog is a must-read for all working singers.
This subscription audition info service is the single best investment you’ll make as a developing or unmanaged artists. It features thousands of auditions listings for young artist programs, vocal competitions, training programs, and even mainstage opera; and you can track your auditions, receive audition and deadline notifications, and even conveniently apply for opportunities through their service.
Other highly useful sites:
Boston Singers Resource www.bostonsingersresource.com
What started out as a small organization of singers helping each other get auditions and education has grown into a singer-run producing organization. BSR still sponsors an annual audition-thon featuring local producers, and offers classes, articles, discounts for Classical Singer Magazine and health insurance, personal web pages, and a host of other goodies for members. They also produce well-reviewed and respected shows. Membership is a must for New England singers!
The Bulletproof Musician http://www.bulletproofmusician.com/blog/
Specializing in performance issues and managing performance anxiety.
A treasure trove of online, downloadable scores, including many full operas.
Jenny Rivera Rice and Suzanne Mentzer’s blogs on Huffington Post
What is it about us mezzos and info-sharing? Read both of these talented artists for been-there-done-that advice and advocacy.
Joyce DiDonato’s Yankee Diva YouTube Channel
Superstar mezzo Joyce DiDonato’s YouTube channel has teaching and inspirational videos, as well as clips of her performances.
Laura Claycomb, soprano www.lauraclaycomb.com
OK, sopranos do their part with the advice and help, too. Lots of terrific advice for young singers in Laura’s Young Singers’ Corner!
The Liberated Voice www.claudiafriedlander.com
Voice teacher and fitness coach Claudia Friedlander blogs about vocal technique and industry topics.
Lone Star Soprano http://lonestarsoprano.blogspot.com/
Natalie Bradley is a highly talented young soprano, equally talented voice teacher, and newlywed who blogs about her studio and struggles to support herself as a young artist. She has some great advice for teachers and singers alike.
The Musical Exchange http://musicalexchange.carnegiehall.org/page/audition-handbook
Articles and videos to help young musicians learn the business, sponsored by Carnegie Hall.
Notes from the Bench http://studio113productions.com/
Coach Mikhail Hallak’s invaluable and intelligent vlog about the music business.
Once More With Feeling http://susan-oncemorewithfeeling.blogspot.com/
Opera/Musical Theatre voice teacher Susan Eichhorn Young’s musings on honing your craft.
Opera and a Coffee https://operaandacoffee.wordpress.com/
Mezzo-soprano (see? SEE?) Candice Shaughnessy’s blog is dedicated to “aggressively finding ways of creating income and methods of living that will work for me as an opera singer”.
Written in a lighthearted style by young singers, for young singers. I admit that I find the name and the Brunnhilde-gives-a-blowjob logo distasteful, but then, I’m not the target audience. Interviews, articles, reviews, and fun silliness on all aspects of the opera world.
Free registration for this slick site featuring articles, news, performance calendar, and various services.
Composer Glenn Winters, Virginia Opera’s Community Outreach Director, offers up in-depth character analyses and other worthy operatic musings.
Articles and reviews on opera and singing-related topics.
Renaissance man Fred Plotkin’s blog on all things opera --- news, reviews, commentary, and more.
Articles, videos, searchable listing of opera companies and artists, and a newsletter.
And every art song resource you could ever wish for (thanks to Juliana Hall for sharing this list!):
African American Art Song Alliance: www.darryltaylor.com/alliance/
Art Song Foundation of Canada: http://artsongfoundation.ca/
Art Song Lab: www.artsonglab.com
Art Song Perth: www.artsongperth.org.au
Art Song Preservation Society of New York: www.artsongpreservationsocietyny.org
Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago: www.caichicago.org
Florestan Recital Project: www.florestanproject.org
Latin American Art Song Alliance: http://laasa.org/
Leeds Lieder Festival: www.leedslieder.org.uk
Lieder Alive! http://liederalive.org/new/
Song of America: www.songofamerica.net
Sparks & Wiry Cries: www.sparksandwirycries.com
The Art Song Project: http://theartsongproject.com/
The Hampsong Foundation: http://hampsongfoundation.org/
The LiederNet Archive: www.lieder.net
I’M FRUSTRATED AND SCARED AND NOT SURE I’M ON A LEVEL WITH OTHER SINGERS MY AGE. WHAT’S MISSING FROM MY EDUCATION? WHAT DO I DO NEXT?
Singing can be a scary, overwhelming business, and it's not weird or unusual for you to feel a bit frustrated and unsure of where to look next. It’s smart to take a look around and see what might be missing from your education, and while you're still in college is a good time to do it. But if you're post-college, you can still continue your education through private instruction, reading, workshops, and networking with your colleagues.
Colleagues are a terrific resource. There is always someone who's been there before you and knows more than you, and is usually happy to help when you ask nicely. Talk to as many other singers as you can --- particularly those who are ahead of you in the game. Get their opinions and listen to their experiences. At first it may seem frustrating, because you will hear so much contradictory advice. You have to look for a consensus, and you have to assess the information you're given and decide what is right for YOU. Even if you're a student, YOU are the CEO of your corporation. You are in charge of your career, your voice, and your life. And believe it or not, you know what's best for you!
Try not to worry about being on the same level as the other singers. It’s fine to use the information to see where you’ve been and where you need to go, but beating yourself up is self-defeating and counter-productive. Be a good business person and disregard the things that won't help you; or as my friend Kellie says, "Bless it and release it!"
Concentrate on yourself and compete with yourself. In the world of professional singing, there are so many elements going into who gets hired, and it is not always the most talented person or even the right person for the job! You let yourself in for endless frustration by trying to "keep up". Besides, school isn’t the same as real life. 85% of the singers who are big shots at school won't be big shots once they get into the big pond. And there will be some surprises --- people who no one thought would succeed turn out to have the best careers.
Now, about not knowing what to do next. You do what anyone does when they need to become an expert on something --- research, research, research! --- and learn about the business of singing. You’re pretty much on your own, though resources are available. (You’re in the right place --- lots of free resources on this site).
A good summer training program or Young Artist’s Program will help you gain some of the knowledge you need. Look for one where you will be working with people who are connected --- this will help you later. Check each program you're interested in very carefully to make sure that it has a good reputation and that it offers what you most need and want.
Your research should give you an idea of the direction you need to head next. Try to establish where you are in comparison to other people your age/experience level without beating yourself up or worrying about it. You need a reference point so you’ll know what companies and agents will be likely to hear you right now.
Work on establishing connections. The music business is all about networking. You get more work from networking than from auditions!
Finally, don’t get overwhelmed. A director friend of mine, Marc Verzatt, says, "Do one thing every day for your career." It’s good advice. Keeps you moving forward, breaks the work down into manageable tasks. And you’re worth the investment!
AS AN OVER-30 SINGER JUST STARTING OUT, WHAT ARE MY CHANCES OF HAVING A SINGING CAREER? WHERE DO I BEGIN?
There are many factors that go into determining your chances of a career, not the least of which is just plain luck. The first step is to assess your goals. What kind of singing career do you want? Do you want to be a big star at the Met? Do you want to have a solid career singing in regional houses? Would you be happy singing in the chorus of a major opera house and doing solo work on the side? Do you want to do mostly local stuff and teach voice on the side? Depending on how developed you are technically, how good your package is, and your voice type, some of these goals might be more realistic than others. Define for yourself your ideal, and what you'd be happy to settle for.
The next step is to assess your current skill level and package. Just having some vocal training and a lot of nice feedback from teachers and coaches does not mean you are ready for the big time. Before you can begin any kind of career, you have to have a solid vocal technique. The older you are (and look), the harder it's going to be to get started if your technique is not absolutely ready to go. Over 30 is a little late to start. That doesn't mean it's too late, but it does mean that you have some catching up to do, and some of the traditional aides/paths to a singing career might not be open to you (more on that later). So, take a good hard look at yourself. How close are you to technical solidity? What other training do you have? How are your languages? How is your musicianship? Do you have any stage experience? Have you learned any full roles? What do you have to offer an opera company right now? Why should they hire you right now?
These are questions you must answer for yourself first, because your potential employers will be asking them, too. I strongly suggest going outside your regular circle of teachers, coaches, and supporters for this kind of assessment, especially if you've been beating down doors for a while without much success. You may need a fresh perspective on your strengths and weaknesses, and sometimes the people we work closely with are no longer objective enough to help us.
What voice type are you? If you're a soprano who sings soubrette roles, for instance, you've got a lot of younger, fresher competition who more closely fit the "type". On the other hand, if you are a rare voice type --- a dramatic soprano, a bass, a contralto, a dramatic tenor, or a Wagnerian anything --- that might be a different story. I have a basso friend who never took a lesson before age 40. He did have extensive instrumental training and he speaks several languages fluently. He also had a successful business to support himself and his family. He joined an opera chorus for a while, then got himself an agent and started doing small local gigs, which quickly became bigger local gigs, then not-so-local gigs. Then he moved to Germany and worked his way up from the smallest houses to the biggest, where he is a regular. So it's not impossible to start late --- but you need to have other skills in place to help you along.
You also have to look at your support system, financial and emotional. Do you have commitments that might limit your flexibility, such as a home with an expensive mortgage, a partner who wants you there day-to-day, children? Do you have some money put aside? How are you going to pay for this very expensive singing career? Singing is NOT a high-dollar career, unless you make it very, very big. Most aspiring singers have a day job to help them make it in between engagements. Will you be able to do this with your current commitments? Do you have a supportive family and friends? You'll need them. What about your significant other? You should know starting out that some of the traditional roads to a career, such as Young Artist's Programs and major competitions, may be closed to you as an older singer. Pay-to-sing programs would be available, but can be expensive.
All this can take an emotional toll. Do you have the personal resources and support system to withstand this, and other, hardships?
I am not in any way trying to discourage anyone from seeking a singing career. Only you can decide what's right for you. No matter how hard you think it's going to be, I promise you it will be harder. That may not ultimately matter, if you're truly "called" to the singing lifestyle. But you have to do some soul-searching and some major research before you can make an informed decision.
At 23, THEY SAY I'M "TOO YOUNG" FOR A YAP -- BUT I 'M READY TO SING SOMETHING!
If you have done a number of auditions and have heard the same feedback from several people, not just one or two, you know you need to pay attention to the criticism. Always look for a consensus of opinion. It's impossible to make a "diagnosis" without hearing a singer, but for what it's worth, here's my two cents.
While twenty-three is young as singers go, it certainly isn't too young to do a pay-to-sing or an apprenticeship. In fact, many YAPs have multiple levels of participation, with a sort of junior level for people in or right out of college (generally you do chorus, cover comprimarios or leads, maybe get to sing a small role or a student production, and do lots of concerts and scenes programs). This leads me to wonder whether the YAPs you have sung for are really saying that you aren't quite developed enough as a singer to handle their programs, which can be very vigorous. Having studied roles is not the same as having performed them. I know, it's a Catch-22! Have you discussed the results of your auditions with your teacher and with the YAPs? If not too much time has passed, you could write a very nice, brief letter asking for feedback, specifically, why they think you are too young. Avoid being confrontational; thank them for their encouragement. But try to find out what it is they find lacking.
If you don't already have them, it's time to get some full role performances under your belt. Have you done any pay-to-sing programs which allow you to sing full roles? Perhaps that's where your focus should be. Application deadlines are usually in the fall and auditions are often in November-December-January for programs that start in the summer. Look at www.classicalsinger.com and www.operaam.org. In the event that you can't get into a reputable pay-to-sing (and you MUST research them carefully, as some are a rip-off), how about getting your singer pals together and presenting an opera showcase this summer? Find a coach and create your own pay-to-sing. Pick an opera YOU really want to do and put together a modest staged production; or a scenes program (do one act from each of three different operas --- gives everybody a chance to star).
The point is --- and this goes for singers who are past the YAP stage as well --- if you can't sing for pay, pay to sing, and if you can't pay to sing, make up your own "program"! Organize church recital series, opera scenes programs, and showcases. Put together a short version of an opera and tour nursing homes and schools. Audition for community theater musical productions. Form your OWN community theater. Organize benefit concerts for your favorite cause and get all the publicity you can. Get your experience in any way you can, and when you've got something on your resume, try to take the next step up. Even if you're not making money, you are adding to your experience and your resume, and this may help you land a paying engagement, or show you a new direction you'd never previously considered.
DO I HAVE TO BE RICH TO BE A SINGER? HOW CAN I SUPPORT MYSELF?
Singing is an expensive business. Here's a brief list of some of the professional expenses you may incur:
These items add up quickly, and most people also have major student loans or credit card debt to pay off. Therefore, most aspiring singers (and even some pretty successful ones) must have a "day job" to support themselves while pursuing their dream. In fact, that most professional musicians depend on multiple income streams in addition to performing.
Many singers choose to temp, although the market is not what it used to be. It doesn't usually pay well or provide good benefits (though some temp agencies do offer a few bennies for their regular temps), but it provides flexibility. How are your computer skills? You need a reasonable command of software programs such as Word, LotusNotes, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, and Access. Legal secretaries often make the best money, especially in bigger cities. If you have computer and office skills and good typing, you will be able to temp anywhere you go and have the freedom to take off and pursue your singing whenever you need to. If you don't have skills like these, acquire them! You'll need work that is flexible.
Other people choose to find a steady job that allows them some flexibility. I have friends who work fulltime as legal secretaries for large firms who like them so much, they will give them time off for rehearsals and performances; and other companies will let you take a leave of absence to go out of town. In between singing jobs, I maintain a voice studio. Other people may teach, have a church job, maybe conduct. I know someone else who cleans houses and can set his own hours. Flexible work is out there. It's usually not the best paying and often doesn't have benefits, but it will allow you to pursue your dream.
Increasingly, people are finding jobs that allow them to work from home and have some flexibility. Many kinds of consulting work, sales, and self-employment areas such as photography, massage therapy, web design, graphic design, editing, technical writing, etc. permit flexibility. Of course, if you’re working for yourself, you also have to spend a considerable amount time administering and marketing your business.
I’M NOT MAKING IT IN THE US. SHOULD I GO TO EUROPE?
Short answer? If the only reason you want to go to Europe is because you can't get hired in the States: No.
Europe is a can of worms. In the past, it was often said that American singers were welcome and even prized. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the opening of many communist borders, that's not as true as it once was. Add to the many fine Western European singers already in the German market, a large number of experienced and accomplished Eastern European singers. On top of that, post 9/11 the world market is just not what it was. Being an American singer in Europe probably won't be a disadvantage, but it won't be an advantage either.
It's not my intention to be brutal, but this is something you have to think long and hard about, because if you go to Europe you will be spending months of your life and thousands of dollars. Consider: if you aren't getting hired here, is Europe going to be any better for you? And are you ready to handle the difficulties of the audition process (which are not any easier overseas) in a foreign environment and language?
Here are several factors to consider in deciding whether to go to Europe.
• How good are your languages? You will need to sign contracts, take direction, and sing convincingly in the native language.
• Do you have several months and the money it takes to stay and travel in Europe for the audition season (usually the fall)?
• How solid is your technique, and can it withstand the rigors of a repertory-style house? European houses (particularly German) are notorious for running their singers into the ground with lots of performances and a rigid Fach system which may require you to sing roles that you wouldn't normally consider in the US.
• Are you prepared to sing roles outside your usual Fach? European houses are, in general, much smaller, so if you're usually a Musetta, you might find yourself singing Mimi over there. And you will need to prepare those things for your auditions.
• Are you prepared to do unusual, even bizarre concept productions? They're the norm in Europe, as opposed to more traditional stagings. I mention this because it's a difficult adjustment for some Americans.
• Are you allergic to smoke and can you deal, as a singer, with being in the presence of smoke on a regular basis? Many Europeans smoke like chimneys and it is EVERYWHERE, even backstage at the opera, even in rehearsals.
• How fit are you? European houses are as much, or more, looks-conscious than American ones. They want svelte singers.
Here are some resources for information about auditioning in Europe.
Some additional advice from my (admittedly limited) personal experience with auditioning overseas:
You will need to do lots and lots of research. See if you can find friends or colleagues who have worked in Europe and pick their brains! The best way to learn is to talk to people who have been or are now over there doing it.