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Opera singer career startup. Welcome to personal entrepreneurship

The traditional ways for a young opera singer to get a job have greatly changed, given the sheer number of graduates from music conservatories on the one hand and the decreasing numbers of opportunities to perform on the other. So how can young opera singers become increase their self management and self marketing? The first international edition of our Arts Management Webinar will answer this question on April 19th. It’s speaker Zenaida des Aubris offers some insights into online platforms, social media and good old personal contacts in this article.

Picture: Kazakhstan's Astana Opera in winter

An extensive study by Music School Central, involving over 150 different institutions and 1434 respondents from the US, showed that over 50% of music school alumni found work relevant to their major within four months of graduation – whether one of the decreasing job opportunities in the major opera houses or in the increasing sector of musical theater at smaller, regional companies and theaters. Nonetheless, it is getting more and more difficult today for singers to find agents who will take the time to listen to them, let alone take them on and be active on their behalf for the dwindling number of “fest” or guest engagements worldwide. It is therefore no wonder that the many young singers are choosing an independent path in order to building their career. The logical next step nowadays is to engage on the internet and include digital ways of presenting themselves – do it yourself management, if you will.

Self-branding as an artist

Here are practical tips to help the young opera singer on her/his way to stardom: Think of yourself as a commodity, a product, a brand. In fact, agents, artistic directors, stage directors and conductors often think of artists as brands, of having the ability to convey specific traits, even if they may not express it as directly as that – the young ingenue, the grand diva, the comic tenor, etc. It is the congruence of these aspects that will make an artistic director look for a specific singer: The conductor’s and stage director’s vision for a part ideally will have to match in order for the call to go out to find the perfect fit. 

Therefore it is well worth investing time and effort in taking classes in self management, self promotion and self branding – consider yourself an entrepreneur. Very slowly, music schools and conservatories are starting to offer such topics as part of their regular curriculum. Experienced agents who offer such masterclasses are often surprised at the lack of knowledge of students on how to present and market themselves. 

If the realization sinks in that your talent only will not make you the next Callas or Caruso but you cannot imagine a future without singing on stage, there is much that speaks for being a member of a chorus. Professional choruses at opera houses offer a dependable income. Or concentrate from the start on character roles. If you have a particular talent for comedy or tragedy or have a particular physical trait – very tall, short, thin, fat, and most importantly a distinctive vocal timbre – capitalize on that. The old saying “the riches are in the niches” applies to opera as well. 

Digital platforms

Given today’s digital world, there are increasing resources and opportunities for self-management and presentation:

  • YAP Tracker is a resource for any singer looking for competitions, master classes, summer programs, young artist programs and so on
  • Hello Stage is an online community for singers wanting to present themselves digitally and looking for contracts 
  • Opera Musica offers a similar digital community for singers as well as managers and promoters 
  • Gigmit is a platform with a stronger orientation towards bands and groups of all genres who can set up their own artist pages and conclude contracts 

The advantage of being a member of these platforms is being searchable in their respective databanks and profiting from the companies’ very active social media activities. But a personal website has become a must as well – it is an essential digital business card without which the artist does not exist either in the real or virtual world. “Buyers” such as agents and artistic directors alike emphasize the importance of a good digital first impression. Uploading high quality material onto YouTube or Vimeo in addition to your personal website increases visibility. Additionally, keeping a professional Facebook page and joining relevant groups there; having a Twitter, Instagram or YouTube account are all relevant options that will increase the artist’s visibility, fan base and community. 

There are many websites that also post job openings for singers:

  • Musical Chairs 
  • the German government sponsored job agency ZAV (in German with intermittent English translation)
  • US-based Opera America offers resources for singers, such as feedback auditions or help with putting together press kits
  • Music Biz Academy offers tips for independent musicians, which can also apply to opera singers
  • Vocalist is a UK based website full of resources
  • StagePool is a platform with job offerings from a wide range of artistic disciplines 
  • Promote Classical is a company based in the United Kingdom with an accent on fundraising and getting young artists start up on their own projects 

Consistent and continual work, whereby the accent is on consistent – an update once a week is a must on your personal website as well as daily postings on your Facebook and Twitter accounts are a minimum. Remember that all of these sites need to be kept “fresh” – not least for Google to keep you on their “alive” algorithms. 

Digital is useful, but it’s not enough

Sending out resumes, doing the rounds of auditions for agents, taking part in competitions, young artist programs and summer master classes and workshops all continue to be equally as important. Maybe even more so, since it gives young singers the opportunity to network and helps them hone their social skills. Even highest recommendations from colleagues or teachers cannot take the place of personally experiencing the entire personality of a singer on stage. That is why live auditions will never go away and will remain the ultimate platform to clinch a deal. Again, visibility is power. 

It does not hurt to know how arts institutions operate and communicate with their visitors and communities, either. The digital platforms have contributed to making the day to day workings of artists managers and artistic administrators easier on the one hand. On the other, however, they make it more important than ever for these decision makers to know what they are looking for. You will thus have to cooperate with and develop an understanding for the arts managers, marketing and fundraising departments who work to promote the shows as well as for the sponsors and fans. It will benefit you in the long run by building up your off-stage persona, credibility and trust – all essential components of a successful on-stage personality. 

Zenaida des Aubris is Consultant for International Cultural Events. She has over 30 years experience in management and production of classical music in the United States, Europe and Asia, where she worked e.g. for the San Francisco Opera as personal manager of Jean-Pierre Ponnelle and Lorin Maazel, as general project manager of Puccini's "Turandot in the Forbidden City", Beijing, and general and artistic director of the Hangzhou Grand Theater in China, as well as the inaugural seasons of the Palau de les Arts in Valencia, Spain. 

This articel has in length first been published in Arts Management Quarterly No. 124 on "An entriely new Arts Management".

All information on the Arts Management Webinar „Starting a career in opera“ on April 19th at 3 pm CET can be found here.

Management Topic: Job & Training
Cultural Area: Music+Concert
Submitted by editor-in-chief on Apr 10, 2017