Wednesday, July 30, 2014

I Deserve That Job

Don’t you feel that way sometimes?

You’ve paid your dues,  invested in multiple music degrees. You work hard and listen to your mentors and teachers. You’ve gone to training programs, young artist programs, and have done everything “right.” You’ve been groomed to be an opera singer. Aren’t you entitled to a piece of the pie? 
Let’s face it; it takes a lot of guts and self-confidence to pursue opera as a career. Most of us working professionally think very highly of ourselves and believe in our abilities, which is not a bad thing. If we don’t think we are perfect for a role we are auditioning for, how do we expect the audition panel to be on board? If we don’t think our skills are worthy of compensation, how do we expect to be paid?
There is a difference between being worthy of compensation and entitled. An entitled person puts down work they may not love doing, thinking they are entitled to something greater. A worthy person pulls up their boot straps and sometimes takes on jobs or gigs they don’t love, and negotiates fair compensation. An entitled person feels disdain and jealousy towards colleagues who are having great success.  A worthy and gracious singer realizes they don’t know everything about the hard work and journey that person has been on. 

There has been a lot written about Generation Y and our supposed sense of entitlement. I do fear there is some truth to it. When I was still in school, I felt entitled to “follow my dreams,” and “do what I love,” regardless of the cost, student loans, or job market. 

The truth is, having all the talent, dedication, and music degrees in the world still doesn’t entitle you to a thing. The world doesn’t owe you a lucrative opera career because you love doing it. If that’s the way the world worked, everyone who moved to Hollywood to be a star would be one. Why should you expect opera to be any different? Acting entitled is only going to get in your way. It will prohibit you from taking on jobs or gigs that you think may be “below” you, ones that might have led to greater opportunity. It will strain relationships with your friends and colleagues. It will prevent you from thinking outside the box as a performer and a musician. 

Having self-confidence and knowing your worth as an artist is different than acting entitled. It’s a fine line to walk. One reads as confident and professional, and the other can come off as arrogant.  Which one are you? I think we all are a little of both sometimes. I have had to quiet the voice in my head, the one that says, “I deserve, I’m owed, I’m entitled to, It’ s my turn,” and turn it around into, “I’ll work harder, that was out of my control, I can’t compare myself to others, maybe not this time, but next time.”  Only you know when that voice creeps into your head.  It can be tamed without sacrificing the confidence and self-worth you need to carry on in this crazy business of opera, and it will help you become a more grounded artist and gracious colleague. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Morning Power Wrap!

Whether you consider yourself a morning person or whether hearing that alarm clock makes you want to throw it out the window, one thing is certain: those wee morning hours are precious. The rest of your day can depend upon how your morning goes.  Typically, you have a lot to get done in a little amount of time, including completing your morning routine, deciding what to wear, actually finding the energy to get yourself dressed, mentally preparing yourself for you day and the busy schedule you are about to face…who even has time to think about food, much less eating healthy?? This is another classic case of grab-and-go, and too often, what you’re “go”-ing with will not give you what you need to power through your day. Never fear, Sexi fans, because we’ve got the perfect solution for you!

Our Morning Power Wraps are the delicious answer to your morning frenzy! The best part about these yummy and portable wraps is that they hardly require any effort to throw together, which is perfect for even your groggiest morning.  Better yet, you can make them the night before and keep them in the refrigerator so they are ready to go when you are! We start with a low-carb, high-protein and fiber wrap for nutrition and portability. Next, we spread protein-packed peanut butter over the wrap. Last, lay a peeled banana over the top for a boost of energy and potassium. Roll it up and you are on your way to a successful day! Get ready for the perfect fuel to power you through your busy day! Take a peek at the end of the recipe for ideas for more add-ins and flavor combinations!

Morning Power Wrap
1 low-carb, high fiber wrap (we used Toufayan brand wraps)
2 TBSP peanut butter (creamy or crunchy, choose your favorite!)
1 ripe banana, peeled

Spread peanut butter over wrap. Place peeled banana over peanut butter. Roll wrap around banana. Enjoy!

Want to add more/change it up? Try one of these in your wrap!
-Sliced strawberries
-Sliced grapes
-Sunflower seeds
-Drizzled honey
-Drizzled maple syrup
-Almond/sunflower butter (Try our Sexi Sunny Butter!)
-Mini chocolate chips


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Money Versus Singing: How to Win

Pursuing a career in opera is challenging in so many ways, but one major way that can make or break you that we don’t often get education on is the financial aspect.  Very seldom does anyone actually tell you what it costs or prepare you for the reality.

So, here it is — your financial seminar on becoming an opera singer! 

Let’s first discuss what an aspiring opera singer must pay for.

Training: (Side note: *Because we actually need to be able to read music and languages and things like that, not just anyone with a pretty voice can sing opera! )

Pre-college years – voice lessons – (Thank you, Parents)
College – undergraduate – Master’s – Doctoral – certifications
Pay-to-sing young artist programs
Voice lessons 
Voice coachings
Supplemental language classes
Unpaid performance opportunities 

Application fees
Travel expenses: flight, hotel, rental cars (luggage)
Audition clothes / shoes

Accompanists / rehearsals
Rehearsal studio

Now that we have a list, let’s discuss them a little more in depth. Let’s actually look at a yearlong budget and income from a singer that has recently graduated with a master’s degree from a fairly prestigious school, with about $60,000 in student loan debt.  (Side note: * At this point in the article you may want to begin your deep breathing exercises!) 

On average, this is what one singer spent on the above necessities for pursuing singing: (Side note: *Numbers are approximate based off the past three years. It should be noted that these were illustrated with the intention to spend as little as possible and only do what was necessary.)

Travel $1,767 
Lessons / coachings $1,410 
Agent $1000 
Audition fees $678 
Accompanists $200 
Headshots $185 
Rehearsal ctudios $174 
Costume/wardrobe $150 
Research/music $128 
Recordings $67 

TOTAL $5,759 

Now let’s look at this singer’s success rate.  What did she add to her resume? How much money did she make singing? How much did she spend pursuing singing?

2011: Added to the resume – Fall young artist tour with a Level 2 company.  
Total income from singing = $1,755
Total spent on singing = $3,416
Total loss = $1,661

2012: Added to the resume - Spring young artist tour with a Level 2 company, a mainstage role and cover with a Level 3 company, two crossover roles with a new small company in Europe, a leading role with a young artist program.
Total income from singing= $4,670
Total spent on singing= $7,011
Total loss = $ 2,341

2013: Added to the resume – Compramario role for mainstage Level 2 company, 2 leading roles for an upstart opera company
Total income = $2,750
Total spent on singing =5,356
Total loss = $2,606

2014: In progress: Adding to the resume - Compramario role for young artist program, concert in Italy, lead at young artist program, lead for upstart opera company, church gig, voice teacher (Side Note: *Excellent outside work, continuing to sing, flexible hours.)

Total projected income =$8,500
Total projected spending = $10,000
Total projected loss =$1,500

As you can see, the loss versus gain is at an average of 50 percent. So, how can anyone afford to pursue this career?  Well, here are a few tips. 

#1 – Write off your expenses  
Put together a document listing all your expenses for pursuing the career and keep track of everything you spend, along with the receipts.
Make sure to deduct mileage and the appropriate per diem for your travels.  (Go to for the numbers)
Research includes: music, performances
Other expenses to write off: postage, gifts, and meals purchased for others because they housed you, or you discussed business
Travel also includes: subways, taxis, trains, checked luggage

The more detailed you can be in your document, the easier it will be for your accountant. (Side note: *If you can still breath - You’re going to want to find an accountant – it will make your life much easier, but find someone who’s accustomed to dealing with artists – ask your voice teacher or a professional colleague in your area.) 

# 2 – Family support
Talk with your family and see if they can help you.  If they can’t supply you with endless amounts of cash, maybe they will let you move home for a while.  One great way to save money is not paying rent, electricity, Internet, cable, ECT. But be sure to be willing to help out, as much as you can. No one likes an ungrateful houseguest! 
If you’re in a serious relationship (married or not) talk to your partner about what it is that you are trying to achieve. Make sure they understand what it means financially for you both as a couple, and see if they’re willing to stand by you.  It’s not easy. Money can be quite a burden on a relationship, and it’s not a little thing you’re asking for. 
Make a deal with whoever is helping you. Maybe choose a timeline.  Decide how you can help with the finances.  The important thing is open, honest communication and humble gratitude towards the people who are helping you.

# 3 – Get a job  (It’s easy to say and harder to do)

In this economy and with those numbers, you’re going to need a job while in pursuit of your dream to happiness.  Find one that you love or one that you can tolerate.  The main thing to look for is flexibility. (For ideas: Read our article “The Soprano at the Front Desk”)

#4 Be smart about how you spend your money
Only buy what you need.
Invest in good headshots (do it right one time and they can last a few years). Don’t choose a haircut, color, and style that you don’t want to live with for a while.  Your headshot needs to look like you – so go ahead and create that brand!
Build your own website.  If you can, do it.  That way you can make your own updates.
Make recordings. Rehearse with your accompanist beforehand. Know your music really well, so you don’t have to start and stop.  Sing through your aria 2-3 times and use the best take.
Have a few audition outfits – one for winter and fall, one for spring and summer. Don’t settle.  Find the perfect outfit that makes you feel great every time you put it on. (Then make sure you pack it before you leave the hotel. Don’t leave it in the closet of your hotel room.)
With auditions, choose carefully.  Be strategic and picky.  Only sing for companies who are looking to cast your type.  
Find one teacher and one coach in your hometown whom you trust, and one in NYC. More than that and you’re just throwing your money out the window on a lot of different opinions. 
When traveling, research every flight option possible, from every possible airport.  Book early if you can. Consider driving. Consider staying with a friend versus booking a hotel room.  We’re all in it together – let’s help each other out!
A lot of rehearsal studios in NYC have a 50 percent discount for same-day booking.  You may not want to risk this the day of your audition, but if you’re willing to, you save money.

#5 Think of other ways you can stay in the field of opera or music
Teaching private lessons
Teaching at a university
Arts administration
Education outreach
Production work

The financial burden of the pursuit of this amazing dream is extensive. It will not only affect your involvement within the industry, but your relationships as well.  Take time to figure out what it means to you to be successful. One of Webster’s definitions of success is “the correct or desired result of an attempt.”  Success comes in all shapes and sizes, and we determine our success and our happiness. With time, commitment, motivated desires, and determination you can achieve your ultimate idea of success!  Keep going and overcome the financial obstacles.  There is no wrong way to make this crazy business work!  

Sexi Soprano Summer Challenge:
Make a list of your goals and dreams
Define Success for yourself

Make a Plan on how to achieve your goals

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Moving on the Move

Keeping up with a workout routine while auditioning or traveling for gigs can be tricky. We have bag size restrictions, we don’t know where to go, and we don’t have gym memberships or yoga punch cards that work outside of where we live. The good news is that there are some great ways to get moving while we’re away from home!

One of my favorite things to do when I’m traveling is to find a yoga studio and a Whole Foods the day of an audition. If I’m lucky enough to have my auditions scheduled in the afternoons and evenings, I sleep in, hit a late morning yoga class, and then walk to the nearest Whole Foods for a delicious and healthy lunch. This has turned into an audition day routine for me; by the time I’m finished eating, I feel awake and ready to rock my audition! Having a routine like this also brings a sense of comfort and regularity to an otherwise stressful audition day.

If yoga isn’t your thing, there are other options! If you’re staying at a hotel, check out their gym. Sometimes they are limited to a treadmill and some free weights, but even a 30-minute run and some dumbbell curls are better than nothing. If you’re staying at a friend’s place, find out if they are a member at a nearby gym. Often, members are allowed complimentary guest passes, so you could check out a class or get a workout in with them. If none of these options are available to you, take a jog or a walk around the neighborhood, or check out a 30-minute yoga podcast or YouTube video.

If you’re away from home for an extended period of time, like a summer program, there are some great options for you as well! More and more summer programs are offering yoga as part of the program, and if that’s the case, you are all set! If you are a runner, running can be a great way to explore and familiarize yourself with your summer home. Use MapMyRun to find great routes in any area!

If you’re in a metropolitan area, you can work the system by using “new client” packages at gyms or yoga studios. When I was in San Francisco, I was able to try out a variety of yoga studios all over the city. Most studios have a great start-up deal, like “first class free” or “first week unlimited for $20” that makes working out both exciting and affordable. If you tend to be in lots of different metropolitan areas, think about investing in a CorePower Yoga, Anytime Fitness, or SoulCycle membership; these franchises have locations all over the country, and memberships work at any location.

Remember: our bodies are our instruments.  Keeping it in shape and getting it warmed up before we sing are crucial to performing at our best!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

More Than Just a Voice

The criticisms of Tara Erraught's appearance in her role debut as Octavian in the new Glyndebourne production and the wide-ranging reactions that followed was easily the hottest opera topic of 2014 so far. Like many in the opera community, I followed “Dumpy-gate” closely. The furor seems to be dying down now, as it always does after insults are hurled, retorts are made, opinion pieces are written, retorts to the retorts are published and everyone feels like they've said their piece on the matter. And one thing that was said over and over, that's really stuck with me, is that opera is ALL about the voice.

I can't disagree entirely. One of the most amazing and impressive things we do is project our voices without the aid of any amplification, over many dozens of instruments, into the last row of thousand-seat houses, where it resonates physically in the body of the listener. It is simultaneously incredibly intimate and unbelievably grand.

But is it fair or even accurate to say that the be-all, end-all of our operatic expression lies in our ability to project an ample and beautiful sound? To say that we are losing audiences and failing to inspire new ones solely because we are falling prey to a superficial visual focus in the current era of opera? The argument goes that audiences are smart (they are!) and they therefore know and feel cheated by being served second-rate voices in pretty physical packages. But I’m afraid that all of these arguments miss a much bigger point. 

It seems to me that it is not the size of the body, but what that body is willing and able to do. And it seems like those who insist that opera is a chiefly aural experience are forgetting that we're participating in the greatest incarnation of musical theater that exists.

When we ignore the theatrical, we betray an essential element of opera. The idea that we are nothing but beautiful voices on legs cheapens what we do, what we are capable of, and what we should be striving for. A great voice, with solid technique, an understanding of the right repertoire to be tackling, a facility with language and diction, and an affinity for musicality, interpretation and vocal expressiveness, is just the starting point. For those who work solely in the recording studio or on the concert stage, they can perhaps make due with just this skill set.

Those of us preparing to inhabit the operatic stage, however, need so much more. Most of all we need to be acutely aware that every inch of our bodies qualify as expressive instruments, that every moment on stage must be filled with an electric dedication, held in both mind and body that deeply understands and fully illuminates the character we portray, not just vocally but physically. Do we have to look exactly as that character would have looked, to a strict degree of historical accuracy? Hell no! The audience always has and will continue to suspend some disbelief for this. I mean, they are accepting that we're singing instead of speaking to each other, battling supernatural forces, and not realizing it’s our lover in disguise when he adds a fake mustache.

What they will not continue to accept are those who use the excuse that we are so obsessively absorbed by the Herculean act of unamplified singing to attend to the embodiment of a character and a genuine connection with our fellow singing actors. Challenging ourselves to new heights of emotional authenticity, physical daring, and dramatic risk-taking are the only chance we have of securing the future opera in the 21st century.

On a grand stage, singers have gotten away with unspecific gesture, proximity as a stand-in for intimacy, and the dreaded park-and-bark for centuries. It's where all of the negative preconceptions of opera come from, and people consider these and other outdated notions as what they think they know about opera, and thus as reasons not to attend. “Live in HD” came into being 8 years ago, with the potential to take opera to new audiences, but it did cast a harsh, close-up spotlight on those who previously could get by on the basics of a great voice and passable stage presence. As the operatic pendulum tends to do, we’ve swung a little too far, often prioritizing the most svelte and most symmetrical (thanks to our reliance on Hollywood to tell us what "hot" looks like) over the most compelling onstage personalities.

Those of us who have seen enough of opera know that irresistible stage magnetism has nothing to do with dress size. The lucky ones are born with this quality, the delicious self-awareness that allows them to expertly control every moment that the audience witnesses, while making it appear that they are operating with complete abandon. However, for the vast majority of us, we need to develop our acting and movement skills JUST as aggressively as we develop our vocal technique.

I thank the opera gods every day that we have words and actions and intentions, in addition to the pitches and rhythms and legato. That we DON'T audition behind a screen like our instrumental brethren. That we have additional tricks in our bag that are invulnerable to the whims of the local pollen count or hotel air conditioning system. 

Each of us has the opportunity and the responsibility to smash opera’s glass museum case and show our audiences and ourselves just how far opera can go. We must drill and train the voice and then set it free to explore the vast reaches of sounds and colors that we can achieve. We must dare to experiment with roles that look and move entirely unlike ourselves, who might be horrendously ugly, or breathtakingly beautiful, or entirely ordinary. We must do our research and study like hell, but then take big risks in the practice room and the rehearsal room to bring a fully three-dimensional life to our characters. Let’s show them all that we’re more than just pretty voices.