By Anna Laurenzo
Starbucks, Target, and Apple are currently 3 of the most instantly recognizable companies in the world, due in large part to their branding. Refining and specifying a brand requires both time and analysis, and this is commonly achieved using an inventory process known as a SWOT Analysis. This concept is gaining strides as an important tool for self-analysis, not just for corporate environments, but also for singers. One of the biggest supporters of the SWOT Analysis in the singer world is Darren K. Woods, General Director of Fort Worth Opera and Artistic Director at Seagle Music Colony, and he is quick to promote the virtues of this strategic marketing tool.
Mr. Woods notes, “When I became a General Director, we did a corporate strategic plan. SWOT is ALWAYS at the beginning of any strategic plan as those things change every year and always have to be looked at.”
As he began reaping the benefits of strategic planning in his administrative positions, he wondered, “Why don’t singers use this in their business planning?”
Woods believes that in order to have success, singers need to view what they do as a business. To help singers, he decided to assemble a singer-specific strategic course based on the corporate model used in business. Self-assessment in this manner is never an easy task, but Woods believes aspiring opera singers should view this as a crucial part of their professional development. “[Singers] frequently focus on the weaknesses instead of acknowledging and building strengths. A real self-analysis can help you plan everything from repertoire choices, to school choices, to audition planning, work progress and everything in between.”
Each summer, he introduces the concept to a new group of young artists at Seagle Music Colony. While the age range of singers at the program varies, Woods insists it is never too early to have a plan. “A quick SWOT can help [singers] plan graduate school. It can help them think about programs they might want to do in 3-5 years, and then they can do the research to see what skills they will need to accomplish it.” The SMC young artists participate in a workshop session about the business of opera, and are encouraged to complete a SWOT before they have their exit interviews with Woods.
He recommends that for each category, singers take inventory of their current skills. This can include, but is not limited to, artistic skills, dramatic abilities, musical abilities, personal characteristics, and business knowledge. There is vast amount of detail that goes into this career, all of which can help or harm a singer’s personal brand. Though it may be difficult, Woods stresses the importance of truthful and honest analysis. “If an artist is truly honest with themselves, it will make you play to your strengths immediately, while you are working on your weaknesses or threats.”
Thinking this is a one-time, easy fix solution? Wrong. Woods advises that singers revisit their plan every year. He writes, “If you have completed a portion of it – what comes next? If you are not accomplishing some of your goals, then you have to ask yourself if you are really attacking and fixing your weaknesses and threats – only then can you move forward.” This continued evaluation and analysis allows singers to track their progress.
He also encourages singers to reach out to their network for input. This can include a director, voice teacher, coach or even a general director of a program. Checking in allows singers to “see if [their] perception matches those whose job it is to monitor you and mentor you.” Choose professionals you have worked with closely and who know your work well, including your agent or manager, previous administrators, and trusted colleagues and collaborators.
Ready to get started? Here’s a brief exploration of each category:
- S - Strengths
Strengths might include characteristics of musical abilities, personality, acting abilities, or technical development. Consider praise or special comments that have been given by colleagues, directors, or other professionals with whom you have worked.
Examples: comfortable on stage, good colleague, receptive to constructive criticism, sincere desire to communicate, good in networking environments.
- W - Weaknesses
Which areas you can continue to improve? Be specific in identifying concrete issues, whether they are personal, musical, or dramatic, to be worked out. This category focuses on concepts that are within your control. Consider what areas of your preparation are you least confident in.
Examples: support through the passaggio needs work, business skills need to be developed, changes audition plan in the moment, need a new teacher.
- O - Opportunities
Contemplate your current market, be it academic, young artist, or young professional. What trends do you see in your industry? Is there a specific need that can be filled? This category can even encompass professional or personal resources you have access to, including teachers, coaches, or mentors.
Examples: access to high level coaches in a city, haven’t done any big auditions yet, good cover opportunity at a summer program, upcoming auditions, new connections through networking, specializing in a certain repertoire.
- T - Threats
This category focuses on items that put you at risk. Often these include factors that may be more out of your control.
Examples: other singers in fach with bigger resumes, not great financial position for upcoming audition season, have to work a day job, not in a city with easy access to auditions.
In an increasingly competitive market, singers need to use strategic plans like SWOT to learn to manage their own business. Woods expands on this, saying “One of the saddest things I see in our business are people who finish grad school and say, ‘Ok, now what?’ They have no idea of how the business runs or where they fit. Actively looking at yourself through SWOT helps you PLAN.”
While your name might not yet be as recognizable as Starbucks, you can take action and strategically plan your business with a SWOT analysis. Allow this valuable tool to help you discover what makes you special, and highlight it, as you continue to refine your own personal brand.
Image credit: Jean-Louis Zimmermann - accessed through Creative Commons