Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Opera Singer = Entrepreneur: How to Run Your Own Business Armed With a Mere Music Degree

By Shannon Langman

The business side of the classical music world can be a gauntlet of horrors for anyone. Even the most talented, polished singers enter the career field not equipped to survive. If this is ringing true to you, there is hope! Perhaps unbeknownst to you, the skills you have learned as an artist are the same tools you need to run your own business. The best part is you can always re-evaluate and add to your daily routine, because you are your own boss! Here are some ways to discover your inner Entrepreneur.

Use the Tools You Possess! 
Every artist is equipped, thanks to their musical and performing training, with the most essential traits that encompass a successful entrepreneur.

  • Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses. Every singer who has trained, participated in competitions, performed a recital, or taken an audition, has learned the skill of how to take a compliment, translate criticism, and get the most from any feedback. If you know you are good at something, keep doing that. Alternately, if you are lacking in a certain area, get better at it, or hire someone else to help you. Recognize this as a skill and use your humility to evaluate your choices, like a pro.
  • Emotional Resilience. A very important trait for an entrepreneur is the ability to bounce back from failure and let go of disappointments. As singers, this is an ever-evolving process, but the best entrepreneurs tend to be those who are more resilient, getting them get back in the game quicker.
  • Goal Setting. Clear goals and the process of setting them is ideal for any entrepreneur. We set our own scale of success, so it is important to set clear, attainable goals and recognize when you have reached them.
  • Networking. Whether you are an introvert, or the life of the party, a singer knows how to work a room. The ability to talk to people genuinely, face to face or on social media, is a necessity for any entrepreneur. If you've ever had the foresight to make up thank you cards for a recital, a donation, or for your colleagues, you have experience in networking. Keep those connections as they can be the most important thing, second only to your artistry.
  • Calculated Risk Taking. Taking risks is a daily routine for most singers. Whether you are deciding how many auditions you can cram into one NYC trip or taking a financial risk by choosing that one audition trip with less auditions and better chance at success, taking risks is a skill for the best and most successful entrepreneurs.
  • Trust Your Instincts. How often have you already reinforced this invaluable lesson, whether in school or a training program? You are the best decision maker for you and your instrument. The best advice you can get is from yourself.

Balance Day-to-Day
Now that you have realized the above entrepreneurial skills in your artist self, continue by evaluating your day-to-day routine. Separating work from life is a challenge for any artist entrepreneur.

  • Process. Take what the National Medal of Technology and Innovation winner W. Edwards Deming said to heart: “If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing.” If that means before you dive into that next role you set out a practice plan on your calendar, great! Describe to someone your work plan; if you can’t, try another process until you are able to put into words what you are planning to achieve.
  • Dedicated Workspace. For singers, this is usually a practice room, but do you have a space dedicated for practicing? What about a dedicated space for score study and non-singing preparation? Setting up a space specifically for your music can make you more efficient with your time.
  • Avoid Repeating Work Already Completed. As an artist, there is always room for improvement. Avoid judging your work too harshly by sticking to your planned-out, work process. A great way to perfect this is to leave some time in your initial plan for improvisation and adjusting as you go. This way you leave that time-draining, OCD perfectionist at the door.
  • Set Your Work Hours. Like any entrepreneur, an artist is always in work or creating mode. Setting hours each day, week or month in advance lets your brain function efficiently and gives you the free time to actually enjoy other things and avoid burnout. Within the work hours you set, make sure to include tasks like networking, invoicing, researching auditions, scheduling, travel planning and follow-up communication.

Remember, you are more than just one thing. Opera singers have a myriad of skills that are relevant in the business world. Think of your business-self as a contract worker. You are going to need to pay the bills with your business services, so when deciding on what gigs to take, think in terms of a profitable business. Just because you aren't singing a leading role at the Met doesn't mean you aren't successful. You are still an artist whether you have jobs singing in a costume on stage or not. You can use your diverse skill set to create a plan for yourself that will foster a profitable and efficient business. That way, you can worry less about being an entrepreneur and more about the artistic product you are selling!

Photo Courtesy of Shannon Langman. Shannon Langman is a photographer, writer, educator and mezzo-soprano, and runs her own businesses out of Houston Texas, with an intent and passion for inspiring young artists. Find out more at