On working for free.

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 rĂ´le, 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.

Why this blog, then?

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?”

Never!

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.