How does one prepare for success as a professional classical singer?
As author Carol Kirkpatrick puts it, “There are three things that are essential in any endeavor: Know the name of the game you want to play. Know the rules of that game. And most importantly, you have to know how the game is actually played.”
That seems so obvious, but as classical singers, many of us get lost at the first step. We are focused on the game of Singing, not on the game of Being A Financially Successful Professional Singer.
In her book, Aria Ready: The Business of Singing (2nd Edition), Kirkpatrick systematically walks the reader through the necessary skills needed to be a successful professional singer, beginning with the selection of a voice teacher and moving quickly through how to practice, how to recognize your vocal niche, how to get the most out of your music, how to get the most out of yourself as a performer, and how to do many other things, including getting experience.
Most of these critically important skills are taught by voice studios and college or university vocal departments. It’s plenty of material to cover in one book, but it’s just Act I of her three-act “opera”, and Act II dives in even deeper into material that is less often included in standard training: Who are you, really, inside that gorgeous voice? What drives you? What do you bring to the stage that no other performer can offer? What do you believe about yourself and about what’s possible for you? How can you stay on your path, even when circumstances seem to work against you? How can you create rapport between yourself and the people you need to work with?
These issues frequently derail singers or propel them forward, often without their conscious awareness. Ms. Kirkpatrick takes the reader’s hand and leads them through a maze of emotions, motivations and unspoken communications with practical, straight-forward advice at every step. She demystifies the voice inside of us which seems bent on sabotaging our efforts, a character she refers to as “The Brat,” and provides simple and surprising techniques for gaining awareness and control over it. This section alone is worth the price of the book, and the volume’s design has both utilitarian and philosophical features, including wide margins for making notes, plus inspirational quotes from world-famous artists and leaders of every kind on almost every page.
When you finally get to Act III, it may feel like you’ve covered the entire course for the game you’ve chosen, but the author will prove there is truly more to cover. Learning to be an excellent performer is just the first part of what it takes to be a successful professional. To quote Ms. Kirkpatrick again, “Even if you have the most amazing instrument, technique, and performing abilities, if you don’t have an understanding of and habitual routine for doing business, getting your foot in that door as a professional singer will remain more of a dream than a reality.”
Do not despair. Dear Ms. Kirkpatrick gives exercises, explains strategies and teaches tactics for achieving your dreams, with examples and detailed descriptions at each step. Learn the proper format for a resume, bio, headshot, demo CD and PR materials. Review standard contracts, discover how to be your own marketing director, take on building and managing your own contact list, networking and schmoozing while keeping your goals clearly in front of you. Also, establish a budget and stay within your means, and have your paperwork ready when income tax time comes!
If you still have the spirit to take on all that is required to successfully sell yourself as a “finished” product, keep reading and find out how to be a major fundraiser on your own behalf. Give solo fundraising concerts, make community alliances, attract a patron, apply for a grant, get letters of recommendation, audition, rehearse, audition, rehearse, audition, rehearse… With tips from how to dress for a meeting, to how to mark your score with staging instructions, to how to acknowledge the audience after a performance, Ms. Kirkpatrick leaves no aspect untouched.
The primary admonition underlying all of her excellent guidance is to “do what you love.” Sometimes, after completing many, or even all, of the steps she lays out, a singer may discover that being a full-time professional is not what truly fulfills them. Yes, she even provides expert advice on how to face your family and friends if this is what happens as you move along the path to a singing career.
Kirkpatrick’s excellent, straight-ahead look at the gigantic undertaking that is pursuing a professional singing career merits a mountain of gratitude. She never flinches from the orderly presentation of tasks, with suggestions on how to acquire the necessary skills involved, at whatever level the reader desires. There is not a murmur of criticism or judgment at any point; only profound support for the artist within. The determination and warmth displayed in her cover photo says it all — she has faced the world and come up singing.
ARIA READY: The Business of Singing
All-New Second Edition of the Acclaimed Career Guide for Singers
304 pages, including index, recommended reading list of 71 additional books, plus samples of useful forms for singers:
- Weekly Professional Expenses
- Audition Journal
- Goal Flow Chart (with example)
- Sample resume
- Sample bio
- Sample cover letters
- How to mark your music
- Character chart