It’s a weird time in your career when you move from being the one standing up, nervous, auditioning for directors, to the person standing behind that audition table (or in that awkwardly uncomfortable chair in the freezing church, or screening videos). And maybe you are doing both, like me. I am still actively auditioning in opera, but it seems I have crossed a threshold to the director side, and I am expected to watch others, critique them (I am pretty nice, but I try to give everyone something to work on), and privileged enough to hear SO MANY AMAZING SINGERS.
If it weren’t for adjudicating and receiving audition requests, I would probably still be in my anxious bubble. Being on the other side of the table has helped put my own singing and auditioning into perspective. I would like to share some thoughts with you.
Here are TEN things I have noticed that will help you be better in your next audition:
1. Sometimes is truly is REALLY HARD to pick a winner. Sometimes, it is plain as day. (But keep bringing your absolute BEST self into every audition room.)
2. By the 3rd or 4th hour of listening to singers, there are usually 2-3 extreme stand outs, and a lot of “that was nice, what was her name again?”
3. The people who take risks and really act through their arias or songs gain a LOT more of my attention than someone with perhaps perfect technique, but subdued acting.
4. Some (just a few) people are just born with fucking amazing instruments, and the rest of us have to figure out how to be entertaining enough to compete with them. It’s not fair, but it’s true.
5. It’s hard to pay attention when you’re hungry, tired, or have to pee... Sometimes you just want them to be done singing.
6. Repertoire that you can fully love, embrace, and express does much better than something you merely sing well.
7. It’s okay to do a standard piece. I would rather hear a standard aria sung really well than a piece that’s risky and maybe doesn’t work with an audition pianist, or has too many opportunities for mistakes.
8. Take risks & be expressive in your arias. Fermatas are there to be held. Dynamics are there to help you emote.
9. Own the stage. The more you curl up into the crook of the piano, the less likely you are to grab my attention. Take up space.
10. Take up space, but don’t fidget. Nothing is more distracting to me than micro-movements. I would rather you keep your arms at your sides than do something you can only see from the front row. Oh: and no Soprano Princess Hands or Baritone Claws, please. These are stereotypes for a reason. Film yourself and make sure these aren’t happening (unless you’re the Doll and you’re being Barbie, then OK).
This is more-or-less the text version of the podcast being released on January 13. I feel that it’s crucial to discuss what this means in the arts.
This January, California is enforcing a new set of laws that will directly affect musicians when it comes to employment and taxes. The new Assembly Bill 5 lays out who is an independent contractor and who is an employee, and unfortunately, many music groups and opera companies are feeling the wake of this change.
Most musicians are, to some extent, self-employed. This means we have the flexibility of making our own schedules, saying yes or no to as much work as we can, and taking one-off gigs, with set time commitments. When we hear “employee” it usually encompasses a lot of rule following, dress-code adhering, and well... we should be subject to this. Now, with AB5, there were some exceptions made for fields like fine artists, dentists, electricians. Unfortunately, musicians and performing artists were not on the exemption list, and without representation at the government level, the language in the bill is vague enough that we could either slip under the radar or that the companies we work for could be in big trouble.
If if you are an independent contractor, as it stands now, your position must pass the “ABC” test.
The California ruling found that a worker could only be an independent contractor if each of these three factors was met:
As as you can see, having a group rehearsal with set times, singers being integral to an opera, etc, all the of the criteria are not met, and therefore, the person is not an independent contractor.
But there are two sides of this coin. There are a lot of companies and for-profit businesses completely taking advantage of workers.
When you are a regular employee, you are legally given sick leave, overtime, and health benefits (if you work over, I think, 30 hours per week). When you work for someone else and they tell you what your rate is, what hours you will work, and what to wear, YOU ARE AN EMPLOYEE. I do not agree that opera singers working on one show should be classified as employees, but I know many many music teachers who are working for for-profit after-school music studios, being convinced that being an independent contractor is good for them, when in fact, it just means that their employer is trying to get out of paying important taxes and healthcare benefits.
For employers: when you classify a worker as an employee, you have to cover social security, withhold income tax, pay into workman’s comp; therefore the cost of re-classifying is approximately 30% more per employee. For performing singers, this isn’t good because it means the check is smaller, and for the arts companies, they will not be able to offer enough pay to cover the costs at the minimum wage rate (which in California is $13/hour if you have over 20 employees). Which means the operas can’t have a chorus. It means they can’t offer a large sum to a hard-to-book tenor (sexism isn’t necessarily at play in such decisions, often availability... discussion definitely need to happen), it also means the singers can’t receive as much flexibility in their schedule and with write-offs for expenses (such as mileage, scores, vocal coaching sessions).
For studio music teachers, I highly recommend talking to your employer and ensuring that they comply with the new laws. If they are unwilling to change, there is a form available through the IRS to file complaints against any employer misclassifying employees. (More information about dealing with this HERE)It’s a lot of money at stake, really, and it’s important to have clear laws that lay the groundwork for fair pay and life allowances for those that need it, but to also have an avenue for the arts in California that won’t put all small arts organizations under the table.
Edit: I spoke to a studio owner who is classifying music teachers as Independent Contractors under the “tutor” exemption. If that is your case, you need to be able to accept or deny your clients, set your own rates, and set your own hours. In which case, Nolo.com has laid out some really great specific information, copied below:
“Ten factors are used to determine the employment status of businesses that obtain work through job referral agencies that connect them with clients to provide graphic design, photography, tutoring, event planning, minor home repair, moving, home cleaning, errands, furniture assembly, animal services, dog walking, dog grooming, web design, picture hanging, pool cleaning, or yard cleanup services .These ten factors are:
Check out their legal information website HERE
Writing a performing arts resume is TOTALLY different than what you submit to a temp agency. Opera companies don't care about your typing speed, they want to know how well you can sing, act, and maybe even dance!
A sloppy or hard to read resume is not helping ANYBODY. Oh, and please don't lie... everyone knows everyone in this field. People will see through your bullsh--t.
A good resume includes your Name -- Clearly written at the TOP of the FIRST PAGE (for performing you probably only want one page). Yes! I've seen people jam so much stuff that they squeeeeeeze their name into the tiniest little footnote. No, please don't. I want to know who you are.
A good resume will also have your best contact info near your name. If I listened to 50 singers and need to have a callback for 10 of them, help me out and put your phone number and email address in an easy to find location so that I can get ahold of you!
A bad resume will be hard to read. I know you have achieved so so much, but there IS a point at which you have to clear the weeds. There are always things that can be dropped from the bottom. Feel free to include these in a longer "Roles Performed/Concerts Performed" list on your website. In a 5 minute audition, I only want to know what you have been singing recently that fits in your current voice type... Okay... I'll admit, I left "Carmen Suite" on my resume along with Madame Herz... I should probably edit that... *I do not subscribe totally to the Fact system* so that being said, just help me know what kind of great characters you can play and hear the glorious sounds coming out of your mouth!
A good resume will be organized into different categories so that I can clearly see what you have sung or acted in, and is not littered with different jobs. Do not include "Lyft Driver" in the middle of "Tenor Soloist Messiah" and "Rodolpho in Boheme" No disrespect, we all gotta pay bills! I just don't need to know that. I also don't care that you teach gymnastics or swimming or horseback riding - I might want to know that you have special talents for super crazy stagings of Falstaff (see Berlin Opera's onstage swimming pool HERE) but please put them in a small category for "skills" toward the bottom.
Along with no B--S--- please do not tell me these coloratura things you used to sing if you can no longer hit all the pitches. Do not give me heavy, rich mezzo roles you maybe did in your undergrad program that you couldn't sing in the real world because you're actually a lyric soprano and that semester there wasn't another mezzo... Little things like that make a big difference to a director. You don't want to seem like a novice, but you don't want to look like a pompous doofus, either. Know what you can do and showcase your absolute BEST self in your resumes and CVs (stay tuned for an article on writing an academic CV... maybe you have decided to teach: how do you include your life history on one document??).