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10 things to do before you graduate

It’s heartening to see that more institutions of higher learning are offering career preparation than ever before. However, this information, while useful, is often directed towards all aspiring musicians and educators, and making it general. Preparing for a career as an orchestra musician is not the same as preparing for a career as a music educator, church musician, choral director, or classical singer. So, here’s some advice especially for the singers out there.


1.      Flirt with your Fach, don’t marry it.

It’s human nature to want to find your niche. It feels safe and cozy. There are other tribe members who share a common experience, and they keep you company. But when your instrument and your skillset are still in the early stages of development, you need to be free to play and explore. It’s not the time to make a full lifetime commitment to the Fach you think you are or hope you’ll be. Just as marrying the wrong person or marrying too young can take your life down the wrong path, committing to a Fach when your voice hasn’t yet decided what it wants to be when it grows up can derail your career for years to come.  So for right now, be a Fach flirt. Just concentrate on learning to sing, and leave the labels for later.


2.      Set specific artistic and educational goals for yourself each semester.

With the guidance of your teacher and coach, establish specific technical goals for each semester and a plan for addressing them. This will help your practice sessions be more productive, and it will also give both you and your teacher some accountability. Set goals for repertoire, too.  Think about what’s coming up: what do you need not only for juries but for your recitals? Program auditions? Grad school? And don’t forget general educational goals. If your languages or diction are lagging, set specific landmarks you want to reach each semester.

 3.      At the end of each semester, give your education a report card.

You are in charge of making sure you get a good education. That means taking accountability seriously. At the end of each semester, review the goals you set for yourself. Have you met them? If not, why? Did you exceed them? What did you do to be so productive? Don’t be afraid to privately evaluate your instructors and your school, too. Have they fulfilled the contract you have with them? If they haven’t, what are you going to do about it?


4.      Polish your top five-plus audition arias.

As a young singer, you may struggle to perfect five arias. That’s natural—you’re still working out technique. Grad school faculties and YAP administrators understand this! Don’t worry about technical perfection, which may not yet be in your grasp. Instead, check off those things you can control: perfect pitches, rhythm, diction. Word-for-word translations of text. Fully researched and prepared dramatically and historically.  Fully researched performance practice and style.  Repertoire that makes sense for where you are technically and how you are choosing to present yourself at this time.  PS - five is the minimum number of audition arias. Shoot for more!


5.      Perform, or study, full roles and other works.

Every singer should graduate with some performance experience under their belt—something more than studio recitals. If you’re an undergraduate, at a minimum you should have solo recitals, choral performances and/or solos, opera chorus, and scenes programs on your resume. Solo roles are a nice bonus. Graduate students hoping for solo careers should have a minimum of two full roles performed. Don’t panic! They don’t have to be leading roles. Comprimario roles count and are in fact valuable because that is what you’ll likely get hired to do first. If you don’t get these opportunities in school, consider summer training programs and community theater. Still didn’t get cast? Learn a couple of roles on your own.


6.      Do a few reputable competitions.

Competitions can be a great way to gauge where you fit in with your peers, get some audition experience under your belt, put some credits on the resume, and get some attention to help you start your career. It’s not worth spending a fortune on, but it’s worth giving a try. Start with NATS (everybody should do NATS if possible) and then try some other local opportunities. If it turns out that you’re really good at competitions, go for some of the bigger ones.


7.      Do a couple of reputable training programs.

The right training program can help you leap ahead in your studies. The fresh perspective and opportunity to study intensively, without the distractions of home and school, can be invaluable. You can make new connections, add roles to your resume, and even take some classes that might not be available at school. Be sure to vet the programs you’re considering fully to make sure they offer the experience you’re looking for. And be sure to look into college credit, work-study, and scholarships. Some schools or professional fraternities like SAI offer scholarships for summer study, and of course the program itself may offer some scholarships, internships, or work studies.


8.      Research, research, research.

Now is the time to begin familiarizing yourself with who’s who in the industry—not just the famous singers. You need to know resources like Classical Singer Magazine, Opera News, the Opera America publications and services for young singers, YAPTracker, and other informational websites and blogs (see Cindy’s List for some of the best). You need to know which agencies are out there, which are well-established, the names of the agents, and who is on their rosters. You need to know the difference between a pay-to-sing, training program, and Young Artists’ Program, and the names of the prominent ones. You need to know how to identify entry-level performance opportunities.


9.      Make a plan for life after graduation.

No matter which stage of your education you’re completing, you need a plan, and you shouldn’t wait until your diploma is in hand to make one. First, assess your needs. More education? More performance experience? An apprenticeship? A job? Next, assess your resources. How much money, time and energy can you draw on? Where will these come from and how will they be renewed? Now, do your research. Where will you live and what are the costs of living there? What is the music scene like? Who will you study and coach with? Are there ample performance opportunities? Where will you work? Can you realistically support yourself and fund your singing business? If you’re looking at schools, ask yourself similar questions, keeping in mind that you’ll have to ask them all over again once you graduate.


10.  Develop a system.

It can be overwhelming to find yourself on your own in the world after the many years of structure that school provides. You’ll want to get yourself organized and put a good time management system in place—especially if you’re working a day job. There’s no shame in having side hustles to pay the rent, but if you’re not careful, they can suck your time and energy up, leaving you little to pursue your dream. Write time for practice and singing business into your weekly schedule,  and treat that time as sacred. The best antidote to feeling overwhelmed is to break your work down into bite-sized chunks. You don’t have to do it all at once, but make sure you do something for your singing business every single day.


Want more about how to get the most out of a music education or transition from student to pro? Or do you (or your students) need to learn how to market your singing careers? Click here to claim 20% off any 1:1 or workshop booked in October 2019. Trick or TREAT!