Career – a word that can haunt you for many years.
Is that already a career or does it fall under job? When does it become a career? Can I talk about a career if I haven’t done as much as XY? If I am a permanent member of an Ensemble and intend to stay there – is that a career at all?
„Career“ is very often used, especially by young singers, in connection with the verb „to dream“, as if the career just happens or doesn’t happen. And above all, as if career is something to which – apart from practising – one can actively contribute nothing.
The good news is: yes, you can!
The not-so-good news is: it takes quite a lot of energy and work outside of dealing with your own voice.
A short etymological excursion:
Career originally comes from „cart“ The cart – the way for the cart, then as Italian „carriera“, which meant both „the racecourse“ and „the fastest gait of a horse“. Later, via French, the word carrière acquired the meaning „stretched gallop“.
A life at a stretched gallop –
Is that your path? Is that what you want? Can you do it?
The big career
By „big“ career we commonly mean the highly visible, „loud“ career, i.e. big parts in big opera houses with a lot of media echo. The size of a house does not necessarily say anything about the quality of the singers. There are singers at small and medium-sized opera houses who do fantastic work and are happy with what they have to do there. That too is a career.
How to start?
A tenor with a golden timbre, a soprano with a fantastic topnotes, a low alto or a real bass have to „work“ less to start a career than those singers whose “Fach” begins with „lyric“. These vocal categories are rare and it is relatively easy to get an audition or even to get hired. But whether the career then lasts has a lot to do with the personality of the respective singer.
It is not BETTER to jet around the world and sing in big houses than to do quality work in a small or medium-sized house, it is just DIFFERENT. And you should find out what suits you and your life plan.
Answering the following 3 questions can help you to find out:
1. What can you expect with your current vocal conditions?
2. What sort of life do you want and, above all, what don’t you want?
3. How much energy are you willing to invest in order to fulfil your expectations and not only start a career, but also to HOLD it?
So here we go:
1. What can you expect with your current vocal conditions?
If your voice doesn’t have a certain volume, a certain „width“ to produce the „primal sound“ expected in the biggest/most important houses, then you have two choices:
a. You sing small parts in bigger houses
b. You sing larger parts in medium and smaller houses.
2. What kind of life do you want and, above all, what don’t you want?
Do you need the challenge of a big role, or are you happy with medium/small roles?
Do you need a fixed location, or do you like to be on the road?
Do you like to be proactive, or do you prefer to leave decisions to others?
Can you cope well with constantly changing stress, or do you rather need stability?
Do you need daily physical contact with your partner/children or can you handle weeks of video calls?
Again, one is not BETTER than the other, it’s just DIFFERENT.
A good freelance career in the international „circus“ means:
- International travel to big cities
- Working with good orchestras
- Working with good colleagues and well-known conductors/directors
- Growing with the professional environment
- Easier to get a feature in a professional journal
Not only starting your career but also keeping it alive implies:
- Organising and paying for your own repetition lessons and voice coach early on so that you show up perfectly prepared for your first rehearsal.
- Manage the money you earn well so that you have some left over for your old age.
- To travel a lot (=to be at home very little).
- To always deal with new colleagues and their idiosyncrasies.
- Always conquering new audiences
- Being under constant observation
- Not being able to hide a bad evening, but (probably) reading about it in some paper/on some blog
- Going home quickly after the show – because you’re singing again the day after tomorrow
- Not knowing if you’ll have enough work next year/ the year after that
- Not knowing how long your relationship can take the absences
- Not knowing what your children think of you right now
- Coming home and feeling like a stranger for a few days because things are going well without you and you are a bit of a „nuisance“
- Weighing up the guilt of being away all the time against the fun of singing and the money you make from it.
3. Il segreto è DURARE!
How much energy are you willing to invest in order to fulfil your expectations and not only start a career, but also to HOLD it?
This goes from regularly working on technique, tweaking phrases even in arias you’ve sung a hundred times, thinking about possible new roles, regular contact with the agency (or regularly sending out applications), updating the website and some form of visibility on social media. More on that below.
Yes, it also takes luck to be in the right place at the right time. But career people are willing to actively contribute at the next opportunity so that, for example, „important“ people, i.e. decision-makers, attend a performance, know about it or get to see a snippet of it digitally….
The agency (there’s a separate BLOG post on this topic from February 2020, when the music world was just „normally“ complicated, remember?).
The agency’s part in your career is important, but that part only works in active collaboration with you. Even if you have a good agency, you can’t sit back and think that everything is done. If you don’t (yet) have a clear idea of your path, ask your agency to talk to you and try to clarify together where you want to go. Your agent MUST know what is important to you, only then can he/she advise you wisely. By the way, even the best agency can’t always achieve everything it wants. That starts with the audition: it is difficult (also for an agent) to get an appointment for an audition, and even that is usually only possible if the agency sends a video in advance that arouses interest in the artist. Which brings us to what is almost the most important point:
GOOD VIDEO RECORDINGS ARE AS IMPORTANT AS A STABLE SINGING TECHNIQUE!
No agency can work without recordings. Nowadays, it is no longer witchcraft to produce recordings. One camera to film is enough, the sound quality has to be good and you should be seen in full. If someone can film with 2 different cameras, it’s obviously more entertaining, but if you don’t have that, record one aria in full-body mode and one with just your face. Outfit: the same as for the audition, no evening dress needed!
It is helpful to be able to understand and speak the „European mix“, i.e. English, Italian/Spanish, French and German; being able to decypher Cyrillic is also good.
Singers who will be engaged again were at rehearsals:
- Perfectly prepared
- Freshly washed
- Well dressed
- And had replied quickly to emails and phone calls
No one has gotten an engagement yet because she/he has a social media presence. BUT if you are still building up and aiming for a „loud“ career, you should know that some agencies and casting people will pick up an info or two on Social Media if you act smart there and post professionally relevant information.
Personally, I find maintaining social media quite annoying, but you probably wouldn’t be reading this now if I hadn’t posted it on Instagram or Facebook, right?
Build your career to fit your (!) life!
Your career has to be coherent for you, no matter how big, small, medium, freelance or Ensemble-based it is. You make your career for you (!), because already the next generation of singers will most likely not know your name anymore. So weigh well how much sacrifice it is worth to you.
If you are cut out for a great career, you should definitely do everything you can to make it work. Those however who want to have a great career without actively contributing to it themselves, probably need to keep dreaming.
Enjoy finding your own personal career path – you have more influence on your career than you might think, but also more responsibility than you might like.
All the best, and see you soon,
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