HOW DO I START?

First published in Classical Singer.

Dear Erda,

Do I have to move to New York or Europe, or spend a big gob of money to get my career going? I'm trying to break out of the small time, but I live in a semi-isolated area. I feel like I've hit a ceiling with my resume: it's full of recitals, small company/orchestra stuff, and an A-level chorus, but I can't seem to get anything bigger. Will pay-to-sing programs really help me? With my amateurish resume, would I be considered for a YAP and is auditioning for B- and C-level companies worthwhile? What is the best way?

Sincerely,

Melyssa

 

Dear Melyssa,

Your resume is not at all “amateurish”; it reflects the work of a young artist who is right on target. But you’ve milked your current location for all it’s worth for the moment, and you rightly feel that it’s time to move on. That can either be a physical move to another part of the country; or it could mean staying where you are and broadening your audition horizons.

First, let’s address the money issue. Moving is an expensive proposition, and so is traveling to auditions. You are going to have to spend money in order to advance your career, whether you decide to stay at home or move.

How you spend that money to the greatest advantage is the real decision. All else being equal, would you stay put if you could just get more singing work? Or would you truly be happier in a new environment? The issue of Europe is another column’s worth of discussion, but I will say this: the job situation is just as challenging as it is here, and add the burden of doing it all in a foreign language and environment. For more information on singing in Europe, please refer to my FAQ and Resources page; to Laura Claycomb’s excellent website at www.lauraclaycomb.com; and to http://www.operastars.com.

You needn’t live in New York to be a singer --- many successful singers live elsewhere. Places like the Bay Area and Chicago offer many singing opportunities. However, for all but the most established performers, it’s necessary to travel to New York and sometimes other locations for auditions, and sometimes lessons. High-level teacher and coaches are out there, but not always in the concentration one finds on the East Coast. If you’re a regional singer, plan to travel several times a year. With the marvelous resource of the Internet, it’s pretty easy to find cheap plane tickets and hotel rooms.

New York living has advantages: the greatest concentration of auditions; a vibrant community of singers, coaches, and teachers; a smorgasbord of international level performances; and many performance opportunities, large and small. There are also more high-level singers competing. And of course, New York is famously expensive. Many singers choose to temp as a day job in order to have flexibility for auditions and rehearsals. In the current economy, the temp market isn’t as good as usual. It can be hard to find work.

What sort of auditions should you be doing right now? Pay-to-sing programs can be worthwhile if they’re offering something you really need --- an opportunity to add a full role to your resume, for example. While they don’t carry the weight of a professional gig, they can show that you’ve done your homework and are ready to move to the next level. YAPS are an invaluable source of professional experience and training. However, not everybody gets into one. It’s no badge of shame if you don’t. You simply have to find the experience elsewhere.

That brings us to auditioning for companies directly. If you are truly ready --- your technique is solid, you have learned and performed some complete roles, and know how to comport yourself professionally both on and off the stage, there’s no reason you shouldn’t apply. Generally speaking, look no more than one or two levels higher than your current professional soloist experience. If you have sung a leading role in an E house, you can audition for a leading role at a D house and perhaps comprimario roles at a C house.

Melyssa, I think you have a very good start. You just need to get out there and get some more experience. By all means audition for YAPs and appropriate level opera companies. Get hired where you can. And do some soul-searching about the move --- figure out what will suit you the best. Good luck!

Erda