First published in Classical Singer.
Can you advise me on how to get an agent or even just how to get an agent audition?
Here’s my handy-dandy formula for finding a manager. (Actually, it’s my handy-dandy formula for a lot of things):
6. Repeat as necessary
Naturally it’s not as simple as a neat little list, but it does give you the structure to break down this challenging and potentially overwhelming process into manageable steps. Let’s look at those steps one by one.
1. Evaluate. This means that before you get started marketing yourself (and make no mistake ---despite the fact that a manager technically works for you, the laws of supply and demand dictate that you are the one doing the selling at the start of the relationship) you have to know your product very well. You must have a realistic perspective on your strengths and weaknesses, where you fit in the marketplace, your selling points (not only to the manager, but to the market) and also what you expect a manager to be able to do for you. Are you looking for someone to help you get a promising career off the ground? Find you concert and recital work? Help you transition from regional houses to the big time? Take your career international?
In addition to evaluating yourself, you must understand what managers are looking for. Of course, they are all looking for spectacular talent, a certain level of professionalism and polish, solid technique, good acting skills, personality, and above all, marketability.
Different individuals will naturally define these qualities in different ways.
Be aware that there are few managers today who are willing to build a singer’s career from scratch. Raw talent is rarely enough to attract a manager. You must show a career in progress --- even a very young career --- with potential to grow.
2. Research. Thank heavens for the Internet. Information is at your fingertips and mostly free. Armed with perspective on your product (yet, one hopes, still open to other viewpoints), you can now research the managers who seem to have what you’re looking for. You can also identify, to some degree, what certain managers appear to like. Check out management company websites. See whom they represent and how your career compares to those singers’. See how well your fach is currently represented on the roster. Research these singers --- find out where they are singing and how often. Which opera companies hire which managers’ singers?
Don’t forget to take a good look at the agency, as well. Is it a small roster or large? High-powered or laid-back? Are there different divisions run by different managers and their assistants? Is there a lot of turnover among the managers or the talent?
Talk to your friends and colleagues about their managers. What do they like or dislike? Talk to opera company administrators who deal with managers every day. Ask them who they prefer to deal with, and why. Ask whose phone calls they won’t take. Ask whom they think might be a good manager for you personally --- and then ask if they will make a phone call on your behalf.
Finally, don’t fall into the trap of believing that any manager is better than no manager. An agent with a bad reputation or whom opera companies simply don’t like will do you more harm than good in the long run. Value yourself and your talent enough to be patient and hold out for a good match.
3. Target. When auditioning for opera companies, it’s a waste of your time and money to blindly sending out materials to every place for which you can find an address .The same is true of management auditions. Select those managers who not only fit your criteria, but also represent singers with about your level of experience and work with the companies by whom you might reasonably expect to be hired.
4. Approach. Managers are very busy people who don’t like to have their time wasted, but few are the scary cigar-chomping fire-breathers that many singers imagine them to be. Most managers are perfectly nice and accessible --- accessible to the people who interest them. The trick is to approach the right managers at the right time with the right materials.
Write a terrific cover letter, including references, quotes from reviews, or mentions of your upcoming engagements. Keep it professional and brief, and ask for an audition. Send it along with your one-page resume, brief bio, headshot, and page of reviews. If you have a demo CD, mention that it is available on request but don’t send it unsolicited.
If you have an upcoming performance that might interest a manager, include two tickets or mention that you will leave them under his name at the box office.
5. Follow up. This is the scary part, because it requires you to make personal contact. A positive attitude is essential to your success. Realize that you have a product that is valuable, and it might be a very good match for the talents of the manager with whom you’d like to work. You are offering a partnership that you expect to be mutually profitable.
You can choose to follow up first with email or a fax, checking to see if your materials arrived, if anything further is required, and if they’d like to hear your CD. Email and faxes are less intrusive to a person’s workday than phone calls, which require immediate personal attention. You may be more likely to get a response with an email or fax, especially if you state in the communication that you will be calling the office in the next few days to make an appointment. If you don’t get a response, then you must call.
Try not to call first thing Monday morning when managers, like everyone else, usually have a pile of work. Try not to call Friday afternoons when people are trying to clear their desks for the weekend. You’ll also be better off if you time your efforts for the off-season: spring and early summer, when most opera companies are off and the festivals haven’t yet started. You are more likely to get a busy manager to take your call if you catch him when he’s not quite so busy.
When you make the call, introduce yourself, inquire after the materials, and say that you’d really like an opportunity to be heard. Keep your comments brief and to the point. If a manager is interested, he probably will chat with you a little. If he’s not, he will probably tell you that his roster is full or they’re not hearing right now. Ask if you can keep in touch. You may get a definitive “no”, or you may get a positive response. If the response is “yes”, make sure that you send little updates via email or fax every few months. Do NOT send an entire new set of materials; a postcard with your upcoming engagements or a copy of spectacular reviews will do. Update your materials only when there have been significant changes, or once a year.
6. Repeat as necessary. Even if a manager likes you, he may not have room on his roster or may want to know more about you before offering a contract. It’s not at all unusual to have to sing for people two or three times (sometimes more) before they get serious about you. Keep a database recording your auditions --- who you sang for, when, what you sang, the outcome, and any notes regarding the performance. Program reminders into your calendar or PDA so you won’t forget to send updates. Keep offering tickets when they’re available. Don’t be a pest, but do stay on top of it. You never know when that “not now, maybe later” could turn into an “it’s time”!
Obviously, searching for a manager requires a great deal of good information, patience, and perseverance. Although it may seem like a catch-22, the best thing you can do to improve your chances of landing a good manager is to get as much work as you can on your own. Pile up the experience and positive reviews. Get recommendations from colleagues and ask people to put in a good word for you. You may be surprised to discover that being your own good manager is a great way to attract a good manager who wants to manage you.