Do-It-Yourself Guide to becoming an “Operapreneur”
By: Caitlin Vincent
During my time as a conservatory student, I picked up numerous tips to having a successful performing career. Always be polite to the accompanist, make sure that the audition dress hits below the knees, never have a typo in a performance resumé…yet, of all the nuggets of wisdom that I accumulated, one particular mantra was repeated ad nauseam by my coaches, teachers, and directors alike: “Make your own opportunities.”
At the time, I dutifully copied down the phrase in my singing notebook and determined to follow this advice to fame and fortune. It was only after I graduated with my performance degree that I was struck with the truth of the mantra. Making one’s own opportunities is not a suggestion, but rather a necessary tool for survival as a performer, especially in the middle of a financial crisis and increased cuts in arts funding.
Not only will these opportunities ensure your continued growth as a performer, but they may ultimately lead to other paid opportunities. These days, few directors are willing to hire a singer they haven’t heard before, so it’s increasingly important to get yourself heard any way you can.
So here’s a basic do-it-yourself guide to making performance opportunities…starring yourself.
1) The repertoire
Before beginning any “operapreneurial” venture, you first need to establish what kind of performance you are trying to create. Solo recitals, chamber music concerts, full-blown opera productions – each type of production will have varying demands on your time and resources, and it’s important to determine what you want to get out of it. For example, if your goal is to get some new recordings for your website, you might be best served with a recital of art songs and arias. If you are looking to add a role to your performance resume, you might prefer a more ambitious program, such as an evening of opera scenes or even a short opera with some of your colleagues.
2) The money
Money (or lack thereof) can be a major obstacle to getting any production off the ground. Student and alumni grants are a good place to start if you’re recently out of school. Coordinating a recital and then requesting donations at the door is another excellent option, particularly if it means creating a performance opportunity. Either way, you might need to dip into your personal budget to make a performance a reality…just consider it an investment in your career.
3) The venue
The next step is to find an appropriate venue. Churches and temples are a good bet, especially ones that maintain a musical concert series. By piggy-backing onto an established concert series, you have the benefit of an audience that is already in place and publicity that you don’t have to pay for. If a concert series isn’t an option, you can still rent out space at many churches for a discounted (read: non-wedding) rate. Another option is to rent a hall, such as Baltimore’s An Die Musik (http://www.andiemusiklive.com/). This type of venue can range in cost from mildly affordable to offensively expensive, so you should consider what will work best for your program (and your wallet) before signing a contract.
4) The musicians
Depending on the scope of your concert, hiring musicians will represent the largest chunk of your budget. The cheapest option is to hire an accompanist who will accept a flat rate for all rehearsals and performances. If you are planning to sell tickets to your concert, another possibility is to contract musicians for a small fee plus a percentage of ticket sales. If you’re looking for a string quartet or full orchestra, your best bet is to form a partnership with a conductor, ideally one that is still a student and could use your performance to fulfill a recital requirement. Keep in mind that most young musicians are looking for opportunities to perform and might be glad to work with you for the sake of another line on their resumés.
5) The publicity
Once the venue is set and the musicians are hired, all that is left is to publicize your concert and try to build an audience. Good publicity is particularly important if you are charging for tickets and are hoping to break even or turn a profit. About a month before the performance, you should start posting to online event calendars and sending press releases to any music critics or bloggers based in your area. Around the same time, you should also print posters and postcards: Vista Print (www.vistaprint.com) and MoxiCopy (www.moxicopy.com) are both affordable options, and VistaPrint also offers free business cards which make handy mini-posters.