By Caitlin Vincent
Networking has always been an important aspect of building and maintaining an operatic career. These days, with continued cuts in arts funding and dwindling performance opportunities, even getting an audition can often be a matter of who you know.
This aspect of the music business is often criticized, even perceived as nepotism by those who aren’t lucky enough to have an “in.” Yet, it’s really not surprising that singers with connections usually get more opportunities, especially when so many opera companies are fighting to keep their doors open. When survival is at stake, why take a chance on an unknown performer when a tried-and-true singer is already available?
However, just because a singer doesn’t have James Levine’s cell number doesn’t mean his or her career is over before it’s even begun. Networking is all about developing connections from the ground up, and you’ll be surprised to discover how many opportunities will open up just from a few contacts. The trick is to build new connections in the industry while developing the relationships that you already have.
So, with another audition season quickly approaching, here are a few rules for mastering the art of networking.
1) Be polite.
This might seem like obvious advice, but there are quite a few musicians known more for their bad manners and bad attitude than their performing. The key to this particular rule is to be considerate to everyone, whether it’s a rehearsal pianist, an assistant stage director, or another singer in your diction class. It’s a small world, and it will continue to get smaller as you get older, so save yourself from a scenario in which your audition is in the hands of a pianist you accidentally insulted ten years ago. When in doubt, just remember that every influential individual in the opera world was once an emerging artist like you, and you never known who might be in a position to help (or hurt) your career in the future.
2) Share opportunities.
The music business has a reputation for cut throat competition, but I’ve found that fellow musicians are helpful and supportive when it comes to acquiring performance opportunities. The trick is to pay it forward. If you hear about a company that needs a certain voice type or you’re offered a gig that you can’t do, go ahead and recommend other singers for the job. Not only will this help out the director (and perhaps score a few brownie points in your favor), but it shows a consideration for the other singer that won’t be forgotten. Odds are they’ll return the favor the next time they’re in a similar situation.
3) Make new connections.
The best way to make new connections is to work with someone directly, whether in a performance or coaching capacity. Coachings can be particularly useful because they give singers a chance to demonstrate their talent and intelligence to the coach while also gaining a valuable new perspective on a piece of music. Another excellent way to develop new relationships is to attend the performances of a group you want to become involved with. Although you probably won’t get a contract just by flashing your ticket stub at an audition, you’ll get insight into the way a certain company or orchestra runs its season and hires performers. Note: it’s possible to be too focused on making connections, to the point of being manipulative or insincere. But, if you have a valid interest in an individual or group and believe you have something to contribute, there is no harm in putting yourself out there.
4) Maintain old connections.
For emerging artists who are on the up and up, it can be easy to forget about past relationships in favor of more promising connections. It’s important to remember that networking isn’t just about finding influential people to help your career; it’s also a matter of valuing the people who you met on your way. There’s no need to sacrifice future connections, but be sure to stay in touch with those individuals who have contributed to your training and development over the years. Even sending a quick email update or meeting for coffee every few months will help to maintain those relationships. And, who knows, maybe one of those past connections will end up helping you again in the future.
5) Utilize your teacher.
Your voice teacher can be one of the most helpful resources in terms of networking. For one thing, he or she knows your voice better than anyone else and is best qualified to promote you to other musicians. Your teacher may even be able to use his or her connections to help get your foot in the door at an audition or summer program. In some cases, all it takes is an email of introduction from a teacher to convince a music director to give a young singer a chance to audition. That said, even if a voice teacher doesn’t have impressive list of contacts, he or she can still provide invaluable advice about networking in the business.
6) Create an online presence.
The internet is increasingly important for networking these days, and it’s crucial to have a way to promote yourself online. Professionalism is key for any online presence, especially in terms of your website. Your website is a representative of yourself as a musician, and any mistakes—broken links, bad recordings, typos—may contribute to a less than flattering view, especially if someone has never met you in person. Social media is also tricky to maneuver since profiles on Facebook and MySpace usually err on the side of the personal rather than the professional. If anything on your profile might raise an eyebrow among the conservative classical set (read: that photo of you doing a keg stand in college), you might want to remove it before friending any potential contacts.