Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Personal Fundraising 101

There’s no way around it: Opera singing is a pricey career to break into. After you’ve likely already taken on a boatload of debt from undergrad and grad school, you get out and face the cost of voice lessons, coachings, scores, website hosting fees, application fees, audition travel costs - all on top of normal life things like rent, transportation, health insurance and food.

Some audition seasons, your income from singing, teaching and other survival jobs might not fully support all of these costs, especially if your student loan payments rival most people’s mortgage payments. Rather than defer your singing dreams to next season, you might consider fundraising to cover some of your professional development cost. Here are some tips for successful personal fundraising:

1. Use the Internet, and are just a few popular options of platforms that you can use to set up a personal fundraising page. This is probably the simplest way to have a place where people can donate using credit cards in a secure way. You can make a profile page and the public can see your progress toward your goal. Do make sure to read the fine print about the kinds of fees the site will collect and do your research to find the best deal.

2. Set a goal and a timeframe

Setting a limited time frame will help you create urgency around your asks. Six to eight weeks will give you time to make your case without giving people time to say, “I’ll do it later.” And a goal amount lets people see what you need and how far you have to go. It helps someone to see that their $50 is 5 percent of your $1,000 goal.

3. Make your case

Your situation is different than anyone else’s, so tell your story in detail. Write about what a normal week looks like for you. Write about what your ideal audition season would look like. Write about the recent singing opportunities you’ve had and about your list of dream roles and companies.

4. Itemize and Incentivize

As you make your case, do the math! Don’t feel shy about saying, “My voice lessons cost $85 each, my coachings cost $60 per hour and the  five applications I want to submit in October will cost me $320.” Total it all up and make it clear that your donors’ financial support is the thing that will make it happen for you this year.

And encourage certain levels of giving by offering perks that you can give at little to no cost. Digital downloads, comps to an upcoming performance, an introductory voice lesson, or a private performance are all things that will cost you time, but not money. And they can provide meaningful ways for you to reward your donors for their increased contributions.

5. Reach out

Certainly make posts to your personal website and your professional Facebook page and include it in your regular promotional emailing. The most intimidating but absolutely necessary thing is to personally and directly reach out (in person, over the phone, or via email) to people who you really think will be interested in your cause. Fans who see your shows on a regular basis, folks who attend the church you sing at, your mentors and your family should all get personal outreach to see whether and how they can support the next phase of your career.

6. Share both successes and setbacks

The online fundraising platform will almost certainly have a forum to give updates on your progress. Use this to let your supporters know about the auditions you get, the audition trips you’re making, places they can hear you sing locally, and of course, any offers that come out of the season. But don’t feel bad if it turns out to be a season full of PFOs. Staying out there and working on your craft is important in and of itself. Keep it real with your donors and they will appreciate it.

7. Say thank you

Even if your communication with donors is mostly through email or social media, you ABSOLUTELY MUST send hand-written thank you notes. Get their mailing addresses as you go along and a set of thank you cards, and commit to putting cards in the mail no more than a week after receiving a donation.

Happy fundraising!

Make sure to read last week’s article “Thank you notes-Bringing Classy Back,” for tips and tricks on writing thank you notes.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Thank You Notes—Bringing Classy Back!

By Christi Amonson

When was the last time you received a handwritten thank you note? Better yet, when was the last time you wrote one, put a stamp on it, and mailed it? This social media driven world of ours has put the time-honored art form of handwritten communication out of business. There are times that a quick text or Facebook message is an appropriate thank you and there is nothing wrong with that. A handwritten thank you note is ALWAYS the classy way to go. Here are some tips for showing your appreciation:

1. Invest in personalized stationery. It is so inexpensive these days to order quality, personalized notes online or even to pick up a beautiful pack of cards on clearance at Target. Take the time to check out a few websites and/or stock up when you see a nice thank you card on sale in a store. I like to keep a few note cards in my purse because you never know when you might want to leave a note!

2. If a company grants you a live audition or a job interview, it is considerate and classy to send a thank you note. Companies pay for travel, renting spaces, pianists, etc. Your handwritten thank you for their time is a classy courtesy and another chance to communicate with a general director/future employer.

3. At holiday and recital time, remember your teachers, pianists, and coaches that you work with on a regular basis. Remember, ‘tis better to give than to receive! Gifts for teachers are akin to a year-end bonus. Teachers and coaches have endless expenses and a gift shows your loyalty in the most fashionable way! If you are not sure what to buy, you cannot go wrong with a Starbucks gift card, a unique coffee mug or a small, blooming plant! If you know your people enjoy tea or wine, pick something nice that they will enjoy. Don’t feel like you have to spend more than you can afford, but it is always classy to be the student that is generous with gratitude rather than the student that just pays the bills. If you are completely broke, well…aren’t you glad you have that personalized stationary so you can simply write a gracious note?! If you are giving a major recital or book a great gig, thank your teacher. You did the onstage work; your teacher has done as much or more work offstage. Don’t forget to write down your appreciation and put a stamp on it!

4. Received a gift? Attended a dinner party? Just finished a gig? Stayed in someone’s home? Did friends help you move? …Write a thank you note!

5. Most of us use Facebook and get birthday alerts. Take a moment to type more than simply “happy birthday” to your colleagues, directors, coaches and teachers. Download a digital image that will make the birthday boy/girl smile or write a fond memory. Give a few minutes of your time to the people you work with—it costs you nothing and sets you apart from one hundred other generic messages.

Dear Sexi Soprano Reader,

Thank you for your commitment to your art. Remember, it is classy to be personal! Use your time as a resource to write a note or communicate in a memorable way. Please take the time to spell names correctly and use proper grammar. Our instant messaging world is convenient and inboxes are deleted daily. Handwritten notes with a matching envelope will be read and possibly added to a file! Go above and beyond your fellow texting colleagues--be generous, be classy and be remembered.

Sincerely Yours,
Sexi Soprano

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Perfect Your Practicing

It's hard to keep New Year's resolutions. Yes, we are all guilty of coming up with a great one, whether it's eating cleaner, working out more, or being more productive. January 1st, you're going strong, but now that it's February, the resolution you were so gung-ho about has fallen by the wayside. We all get it - life gets in the way! But the easiest way to create new habits is to make them specific and make time for them. 

This year, why not make a resolution for a more productive practice schedule? If you're anything like me, your free time is limited, and you don't like to schedule it to the nth degree. But in reality, having a loosey-goosey attitude about practicing won't help you make the most of your time. Here are some tricks that can help you get more out of each practice session.

1. Put your practice time in your calendar. Shave some time off your post-work or post-school Facebooking or whatever it is you usually do when you get home.  Set a reminder on your phone to go off when you get home. Even a short, focused 30-minute practice session can be worth it. Then, you can unwind on the couch and pop open a cold one. 

2. “Shed” like an instrumentalist. It’s easy to just sing through each aria from start to finish, but it’s not really the most effective use of your time. Pick one aria and just work the melismas or cadenzas. Count-sing each note or take things out of the regular rhythm and tempo. What’s your weakest vowel? Go through your aria and find all of the places this vowel shows up, and really focus on honing your resonance in those specific spots. When you're done shedding, THEN sing through your aria from top to bottom.

3. You don't always have to sing to practice! Speak your text, spend time with your word-for-word translation. As you go through each phrase, mix it up by interchanging your English translations and the original language of your aria.

4. Rehearse your blocking. Having consistent and specific staging for each of your arias will help you really get into character when you walk into the audition room. Practicing your blocking as if you were doing a staging rehearsal will really get it in your body. That way, when you’re in an audition, it will be second nature.

Remember to hold yourself accountable and treat practice time as a valuable tool, not just an obligation. Giving yourself a clear plan for your time can help you go into it with a sense of purpose, and it can help make this resolution one that will stick! Happy practicing!