I got this link on Facebook today to an article about fees and the date of the arts. It’s written by a singer I have met who has a good career of many strands, but who, like many of us, is feeling the pinch as we are often asked to work for free or food.
Following on to my previous post about being friends with singers, I began thinking about making recommendations.
I said before that you should always choose the better singer over the better person. However, I do think a bit of balance is needed.
The most important thing to remember about your recommendation is that not only their reputation, but your reputation, hangs on their performance and behaviour.
To that end, I try to recommend the best singers I know for all work I can, but there are people I don’t recommend due to their attitude or behaviour. I think this is particularly important on the amateur/choral society circuit, since they are not paid to be there, they have paid to have this experience in their spare time. It is important to engage with them socially as well as musically, to smile and thank them and be interested in their music making. If I don’t feel my recommendation will behave well I won’t send them.
Sometimes it is hard being friends with singers. Not just because we tend to be a bit loud, dramatic and attention hungry (I can, anyway), but because our career/instrument/calling or whatever you call it is inherently so very personal. I think this is because it’s something internal, invisible to the naked eye which we have to put part of ourselves into and present, naked, for others’ approval. Why ever it is, it can put a real strain on inter-singer friendships.
Singers largely fall into two categories for me, singers I like musically and singers I don’t. In the same way people in general fall into two categories, people I like socially and people I don’t.
So, we can see the problem: what if a great singer is mean or a good friend is not a good singer? The personal nature of singing can make this a really thorny issue, who do I recommend for work, the person I would enjoy working with socially or musically?
I think the obvious answer is clearly the musically more qualified person, however, a small part of me sometimes sighs when I recommend someone very grating for a gig I’ll be at.
The way I deal with this is to try really hard to clearly separate each person I know into two parts, one social and one professional. This means, in theory, I never have to recommend a friend, I only recommend colleagues. In practice it is very difficult, but I still try.
I had a funny little thought which I thought I’d share on here.
I work quite a lot abroad, mostly in Europe, occasionally beyond. As a result I take loads of photos and put them on Facebook, mostly for my other half and mum to track me, but also cos seeing the world is great. I wondered if people I went to school with, i.e. non-singers, look at my photos and sigh, thinking, ‘how wonderful, I wish I could live like that…’
I only had this thought because I realised that my version of this is to look at their Facebook from my empty hotel room, after dinner alone, and see them coming home from work at 5.30pm, seeing their kids, walking the dog, having a Saturday day trip to the seaside, I feel just the same and sigh, ‘I wish I could live like that…’
I’m sure neither of us would swap given the chance, but it is funny how the grass truly is always greener.
On working for free…
I know this is a really thorny issue, but here are my thoughts.
Sometimes payment is not monetary. Occasionally, even more than occasionally, I do a gig for the experience, to learn the rôle, to sing in front of someone who will be there, to add something to my cv, to repay a favour, to help a charity, in short, I speculate to accumulate. All of these outcomes can help me to get more work in the future. In an ideal world we would never be asked to sing for free, as a favour, pro bono, but this world is less than ideal so I choose to see my fee always arriving into my life but not always into my bank account.
On the other hand, if someone has money to spare but is just being tight or unrealistic, say no. To sing for people who can afford to pay you, for instance if they are paying someone else but not you, undermines your status as a professional.
This is so tough for us all, but we have to evaluate on a project by project basis. Some things I might say yes to, others would say no to and vice versa. You must be your own police on this issue, striking a balance between missing out on opportunities and becoming classified as an amateur.
Just a little thoughtlet, I must try not to be the junior in conversations with colleagues. We are just that, equal colleagues, not student and master. The way we talk affects our opinion of ourselves deeply. If we continue to call ourselves ‘young singers’, ‘recently graduated’, ‘starting out’ we undermine our progress. We are singers, just as those who’ve been at it for 40 years are. Yes, we’re less experienced, no we’re not worth any less.
If in doubt, talk yourself up, not down.
So, one of the main problems I have as a singer is a lack of personal confidence. This translates into the way I sing, stand, walk, audition etc. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not crippling, but to be the best singer I can, I need to ditch it.
I think a big part of this for all of us is how we view other singers. When I read my friends’ statuses on Facebook, when I see performers biogs at shows, when I chat to my friends in the pub, I hear about this fantastic contract, that concert in that great hall, the other amazing opportunity. It begins to seem that everyone we know is working all the time on projects we’d love to be in or with people we want to meet, or worse, with people we have met. In contrast to our own lives which we can view as a sporadic string of gigs strung together with days or weeks of unemployment, hours of teaching (which is great, but personally not my end goal) and interminable emailing sessions in our pyjamas.
This must change.
The only reason your friends’ and colleagues’ lives sound better? You’re getting the edited highlights. When was the last time you chatted to a colleague and they asked you, “so what have you got coming up?” and you replied, “meh, not much this week, might just sit around in my pjs doing practice and admin and not getting paid, you?”
This became very apparent to me when I chatted to a friend about her career. I felt very envious (and proud) that she had worked for several opera companies and seemed to be making such a good living, working all the time, away on long contracts, posting photos of cast parties and the like. It turns out she felt just the same way about me. We had both given the other, through Facebook, chatting and friends, the edited highlights of our lives and each was envious of the other. Equally, we’d both left out the parts where we’d struggled for rent between contracts or sung that underpaid gig for that terrible choral society.
I need to change how I see people’s careers. But I will also take their highlights as inspiration to try harder and be better.
I hope I can also help someone else with the same issue, so I’m going to try to be super honest on here about the ups and downs of being a young singer. I’ll rejoice when I get a great gig but I’ll also try to let you in on the other times. I want this to be a realistic representation of life after music college. I hope it’s ok.