Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Advice for young singers

As I look back at my years in educational institutions, and young artist training programs, I've realized there are some things missing from my preparation to be a solo artist.  Things I think are key to success in this business.  Ive compiled a few here in the hopes that someone might read this and pass this "wisdom" on to the younger generation of performer.

1. KNOW YOUR MUSIC!  Frontward and backward.  Not kind of, not sort of.  Not close, but have it learned AND MEMORIZED for the first rehearsal.  That also means knowing the translations.

2. BE ON TIME!  Don't walk in the door as rehearsal is beginning.  Be there ready to work (Mentally prepared, physically prepared ect) when the rehearsal is set to begin. If you are late, APOLOGIZE.

3. Dress appropriately.  Rehearsals are a work environment, please treat them as such.  Work out close are NOT appropriate attire (unless there is a lot of rolling on the ground, dancing, ect).  Men, A-Shirts are never appropriate, nor are sports bras ladies.

4. Be willing to try anything once.  If a conductor wants to go a faster tempo, try it.  If it doesnt work, then have a rational conversation about why you would like a slower tempo (and "because I learned it slower" is not a rational argument).  If a director asks you to sing your aria while doing cartwheels, try it.  If it doesnt work he/she will understand and work with you to find something that does.

5. BE POLITE!!!!!!  I cannot stress this one enough.  Not just to the director and conductor, but to your colleagues, to the rehearsal pianist, to the stage managers, to the wardrobe people, to the props department, TO EVERYONE.  They deserve your respect just as much as you deserve theirs.  I've heard it said "Be a better person than you are a singer.  If you're a great singer, then you have to work extra hard to be a better person."  Thats good advice.  It costs you nothing.  And it wont go unnoticed.  And trust me, some of those people can make your time on stage a living hell if youre mean to them.

6. Know thyself. Know your strengths and your weaknesses, especially when learning a role. If you struggle with languages, make sure to schedule extra time for language work. If memorization comes easy to you, don't spend as much time on that. If you have great coloratura but poor recit skills, well you get the idea. Also know thyself as a person. Know how much work you can do in a day, know what is best for you to eat for dinner before a big show, know what music you can listen to to help you to relax, know how much singing you can do in a day without hurting yourself, and ...

7. Know who you can trust.  As a performer, you need to have a small group of people you can always count on to give you the best advice for YOU, not THEM!  The 'Brain-trust' is different for different people. Mine involves my significant other, my teacher, one of my very close friends, and one of my coaches. They know me, they know my voice. Everyone is very found of giving opinions. ('Opinios are like butts, everyone's got one and they all stink.') I tend to believe no goes out with the intend of giving bad advice, but not all advice works for you at that specific time. Maybe one day you'll sing Brunhilde, but you might not need to start looking at it tomorrow just because a famous coach said to. Also, some people in this business like to put their 'stamp' on a singer. 'I taught them,' or 'I discovered them.' Ect ect. They might be on your side, but their motives are selfish too. That's why I suggest keeping you Brain-trust small.

8.  Know how to do your taxes, or at least know someone who does.  Taxes are a very tricky business, especially for singers.  In the end, you are responsible for them.  YOU need to know what you can deduct each year, YOU need to know how much you need to save out of each paycheck, YOU need to keep good track of receipts.

9.  STAY POSITIVE.  This one can be hard at times.  The music industry is quite an interesting one.  Its prime goal is to bring entertainment (a form of happiness) to its audience members.  Yet, the build up to an actual performance is quite negative in nature for singers.  We pay a teacher to tell us what we are doing wrong, we pay a coach to tell us what we are doing wrong, we pay language teachers to correct us, we go to stagings to have directors tell us what to do, we go to music rehearsals so conductors can do the same, and we go to auditions to and are often told no (Auditions are an entire other monster, and one I might write about another time).  Mostly negative if you think about it.  Its hard to keep a smile on your face when when no is what you often hear.  But you can, and must stay positive.  If you dont, the business will suck you down and you will have a very hard time finding happiness in what you are doing.  And lets be honest, thats why we do what we do!  Its the joy we have making music, performing, and communicating with others on a level we cant really describe.  If you lose that, this job will become very frustrating, very fast.  Keep reminding yourself why you do this.  Remember the good times on stage, forget the bad ones.  Stay close to your friends and family. Our modern age is granted us many different and convenient ways to do so.  Take advantage of them!  And remember, its just a job.  A really great job at times, but still, just a job.  Opera isn't all there is to life.

10.  Have other interests besides classical music.  This might seem like a no brainer, but it might be harder than you think.  When so much of your life is controlled in one way or another by this career, it becomes very hard to shut that part down and relax (ever notice how if you have dinner with other singers, most of what you talk about is singing related?). Have a hobby.  Something that takes you away from opera, even for a little while.  Working out, knitting, reading, video games, art museums, drinking, volunteering, writing.  Anything.  Just make sure it makes you happy.

12. NEVER STAY COMPLACENT!!  Never quit trying to improve your craft.  Never stop learning.  In terms of the voice, we are dealing with a constantly changing instrument.  Whether it be weather outside or in, illness, time of day, time of month, altitude, our voice is changing.  Never stop trying to understand how your voice works, and how to improve it.  The day you think you've figured singing out (or even an aspect of it) is the day you dont.  In terms of stage craft, always look to improve as well.  Watch great actors and actresses do their craft.  Study the characters you are portraying.  Find what makes them do the things you do.  Try new things and...

13.  DONT BE AFRAID TO FAIL!!!!  You will fail.  At some point in your professional life, you will fail.  You will crack a high note, you will forget a word.  You will forget your blocking, and you will bomb an auditions.  So what? So has EVERYONE else.  And the best part about our job is that if we mess up, no one dies.  We're not surgeons.  We are entertainers.  That is all.  Failure is not the end of the world.  Its part of life, and a BIG part of our business.  Ask any singer, they will have a story in which they failed in some way.  As Billy Joel said "Mistakes are the only thing you can truly call your own." If you mess up, you pick yourself up off the ground, dust yourself off, and you go back and fix it, or work harder so it doesn't happen again.  Thats all you can do.  Worrying does nothing.  Easier said than done, but move on.  Plus, any great failures will make an awesome chapter for your memoirs one day:)

14.  Be realistic.  What Im about to say is harsh, but true.  Not all students who go to school will go on to work as singers.  Not even half.  Not even 1/4.  Very few of those who do go on to perform will have major careers.   Even fewer will be "super stars."  This business is tough, and at the time, over saturated with great singers.  Work is not easy to come by, and the work that is available is fiercely competed for.  Since the economic collapse, many opera companies have closed their doors, or shortened their season, driving the amount of jobs down even further, and the need for any work even high for singers.  Fees have been cut for singers by the bigger houses. Top tier singers now sing a C houses therefore making it even harder for up and coming singers to get their foot in the door.  This isn't said to frighten you, or to dissuade you from following this path.  It's said to be open and honest.  You need to know that if you do pursue this career, it will be hard, it will be frustrating, it will be expensive, and it might not work out.  You need to be realistic with yourself about what you want in life, what this business can offer, and if the two are in sync.  You also need to be realistic with yourself about your talent level.  Harsh, but true.

15.  On a completely unrelated and more upbeat note... HAVE FUN!  This is the most important thing I can say to you.  This job is pretty amazing.  Not many others can say they do what we do, and while it is stressful, full of hard work, and long hours, the rewards are innumerable.  All of us got in to singing for different reasons.  Always remember why you did, and keep those reasons close to your heart.  They will keep you going, and remind you how wonderful this art is.

Well, thats more than I intended to write, but looking back I think its a good list.  One I wish I would have had when I was younger.  Thanks for reading!


  1. I love you, but I HATE reading white text on a black background. My eyes get all weird. Am I alone here? GREAT idea, LOVE the info, Can you make it black on white? Is that racist? I'm sorry.

  2. It also happened to me at the end, I was seeing really weir stuff even that I enlarged it. haha! Awesome recommendations, will keep them in mind!