Career Blueprints for Singers
September 17–20 & 26, 2015
This September at the National Opera Center, OPERA America will host Career Blueprints for Singers, a five-day intensive workshop that helps singers revamp their audition packages and provides them with practical advice on a wide range of topics — from audition etiquette and attire to personal branding and the business of being a professional singer. Each participant finishes the program with new headshots, recordings, a website, a revised resume, feedback from an audition panel, advice from industry experts and the confidence to take on the upcoming audition season.
Visit operaamerica.org/CareerBlueprints for more information and to register.
One of last year’s participants, mezzo-soprano Raehann Bryce-Davis, recently caught up with OPERA America to discuss her experiences with Career Blueprints for Singers, as well as her thoughts on how emerging singers can market themselves.
OPERA America: What role do presentation and marketing play in your career?
Raehann Bryce-Davis: Well, to use an analogy, just like a fork is an essential part of eating pancakes, but pretty useless for eating cereal, we have to find out as performers where we excel and what makes us marketable. Branding and presentation allow decision-makers to look on the “store shelf,” read the label at the back of the box and know what they’re buying. If the cereal is in the wine section, or if it just has a plain white box, chances are that people will walk right past it, no matter how amazing the cereal inside the box tastes.
OA: Do you think a singer should think of him or herself as “product”?
RBD: Most singers hate the term “marketing” and hate being told that our instrument, which is ourselves, is a product. We are artists from different backgrounds who create beauty and strive for honesty and meaning in our art, which cannot fit into a box. For myself, though, who started as a business major, I have always thought that marketing is just another creative aspect of expressing ourselves artistically to the world. As singers, our product is not something we have to manufacture — it is something we are — and we can have fun changing the packaging and changing the usage and knowing that at the end of the day, what makes you peculiar can make you special.
OA: How can you present yourself in a way that is authentic to who you are as an artist while also making a good first impression?
RBD: In the world of technology, agents, casting directors and donors will spend just a few moments trying to find out who an artist is, and we only have one chance to make an impression. So effective marketing is finding out who we are and what things we naturally do well and emphasizing those things. The headshots and photos that are displayed when a viewer opens your website sometimes form their very first opinion. Is he professional? Is she friendly? Does he look like that role? Is she a winning performer? So, if they’re going to make all those judgements, we might as well make sure that it’s the real us that they’re “meeting” when they open the website. Having fun in a photoshoot and feeling comfortable and honest is fabulous, and your choice of fashion can say a lot about you as a person and as a performer. In your various shots, you have a chance to explore the emotional and dramatic range of roles that you perform or want to perform.
OA: Besides images, what are other important materials that emerging singers should focus on, and how can you use these to differentiate yourself in a positive way?
RBD: Videos and audio recordings are also crucial — material where you sound your absolute best and that shows the type of repertoire you love and perform well. The resume and bio of course are essential as well, and while the resume will be more straightforward, with listings of roles, opera companies, etc., there is much room for creativity in expressing what other things that you do well that make you special. In the bio especially, you have freedom to introduce yourself to the world on your own terms, whether you want to tell them that you are an incredibly organic actress and quote reviews to that effect, or that you are an adventurous contemporary opera singer that premiered the works of some of your fellow emerging composers. Those are both things that make you different, and you can express yourself to the world through your choice of words.
OA: What challenges do young or emerging singers face in developing the “complete package” (i.e., not just vocal mastery, but also effective presentation)?
RBD: My biggest challenge is keeping video and audio recordings that are reflective of my current technical abilities. I did a recording in November, for example, and sent it out to several agents in January, and one of them, after declining me an audition, heard me through a mutual friend. The agent was flabbergasted and said, “Your recordings do NOT serve you justice,” and offered to represent me. Those recordings were absolutely representative in November, but not in January, and recording every two months is not always feasible.
OA: Among singers, what have you found are the common misconceptions about how to market oneself? Have you noticed any common pitfalls?
RBD: I think a lot of us aspire to be the diva that we grew up idolizing and try to put on that persona rather than just being ourselves, which can come across in everything from photos to technique. Again, this allows people to pass by without knowing what type of cereal is really in the box, which might be exactly what they were looking for.
OA: Before participating in Career Blueprints for Singers, where did you turn for advice about the business side of being a singer? What resources are available to emerging singers?
RBD: I went to Manhattan School of Music and at the beginning of every semester, we would have a week or so that focused on the business and holistic aspects of being a singer. Career Blueprints helped me materialize a lot of the things that I had known I needed to do by giving me the tools to do them.
OA: What have been the reactions to the new materials you created during Career Blueprints or as a result of the program?
RBD: I have had several compliments on the website that I made with the help of Career Blueprints from agents, intendants and fellow singers. A lot of the success of a website, I think, is due to the photos, and a lot of the great photos that I have were taken during my session at Career Blueprints, as well.
OA: One component of Career Blueprints is a Feedback Audition in front of a panel of industry experts. What is the value of this sort of feedback for you, and how does it help to shape your career?
RBD: It is always helpful to get input from industry experts. At the time that I did it, I was in the middle of a big technical shift, so I was happy to hear the opinions of what was working and what wasn’t and what milestones along the road I needed to be looking for.
OA: Over the course of Career Blueprints, you received career advice from several experts in the field. What are a few of the key takeaways that you gleaned from that experience?
RBD: One of the things that stuck with me was the amount of e-mails per day that a lot of these industry professionals get. This only further emphasized the importance of differentiation and presenting yourself in an interesting and honest way to save yourself from getting lost in the crowd. Also important was the idea of getting an introduction. An e-mail from a singer raving about themselves is of less value than an e-mail from a friend of the expert telling her about new talent she should hear.
Visit Ms. Bryce-Davis’ website she created at Career Blueprints at www.raehannbrycedavis.com.