1. Never read.
Expression is one of the foundational building blocks of singing. Reading makes the greater human experience more accessible. Pay attention to the way the writer weaves her words. Make mental notes about the storytelling aspect of what you are reading. Storytelling is part of what we do – but we have not only the words but facial expression and gestures to help.
“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”
— Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life)
Read biographies and musical nonfiction to supplement your knowledge of the craft. After reading Alex Ross’ The Rest Is Noise, I felt as though I had gone through an entire graduate forum on 20th century music. The experience of reading musical nonfiction completely changes when you decide to read it for yourself rather than being told to read it by a professor-appointed deadline.
2. Practice only when you feel like it.
If you only practice when you feel like it you are an amateur and singing is a hobby. Done.
The music is sitting on the piano. The lights are on. Where am I… cleaning the kitchen? Yes, the floor needs mopping. Oh, and I absolutely must change that bulb. Let me see if I can get another load of laundry in the wash. Hmmm… this television show is so engrossing. I am a Masters candidate in procrastination. In fact, many of us are.
The more you tell yourself, “I should really learn that aria, someday.” Or, “I would be perfect for that YAP, I’ll submit my application next week.” Even, “I’ll call that coach/director/colleague/etc. back tomorrow.” The more you will act on that exact statement. You will never get around to doing those little details that make a career.
The key here is to change your language and your procrastination behavior. Step 1: set definite goals. Step 2: develop a singing schedule.
4. Set vague goals (or none at all.)
There are very few instances when people have truly been “lucky.” Usually what the masses determine as “luck” is the payoff of talent plus determination. Setting vague goals will only yield vague results. Setting more specific, definite goals will help create a plan of action. Definite goals will also generate tangible results. For example, “get more gigs” is a popular vague goal. Add a few more specifics such as “perform two gigs a month (opera/recital) with an expected attendance between 50-100 people.” By adding these specifics you have created clear expectations and you are able to determine your goal’s success based on the outcome.
5. Strive for perfection.
It is one thing to fail at a goal along the way. It is another to fail your dreams entirely. As an emerging professional it is important that you gain experience. Do not shy away from an experience because it may not be all warm fuzzies.
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
6. Be ruled by the mountain.
What is the easiest way to fall into serious procrastination? Looking at the whole mountain in front of you and wondering how you will ever reach the top. The only way to scale the heights is to take one step at a time. When you are feeling overwhelmed by the big picture, break it down into smaller projects.
7. Take rejection personally.
Rejection is a fact of life in our career. (You can read more about overcoming rejection by clicking here.) To put a positive spin on rejection, think about it in a new way. To have rejected you, they must have listened to you. Which means you took the first step by being prepared and sending your materials out in the world. Good for you. To have rejected you, they must have decided whether or not you were right for the production. Congratulations, you now know that those specific materials were not right for the role you wanted. You have a new plan of attack.
8. Take shortcuts.
Have you ever tried to take a shortcut to avoid traffic…only to find yourself in a larger traffic jam? Shortcuts rarely work. Invariably, your shortcuts will only cost you more time.
Young singers often think they can take a few shortcuts. Perhaps a lack of role preparation, not enough practice time, a deficiency in language skills, or not enough feedback before taking the product out on the road. Cutting corners only makes you look unpolished and regrettably naïve. Schedule your time wisely so that you have adequate amounts of rehearsal and research before you put your work on display.
9. Tell yourself “I’m not an opera singer.”
There is a certain rush that follows every time you introduce yourself as “an opera singer.” Then, the doubts set in. Should I even say that? What if I don’t have any gigs coming up to prove it? Doesn’t that sound vain?
Self-confidence is a learned trait. If you believe that you are an opera singer, regardless of your present money-making situation, then you are making your intentions known. Your ambitions are not futile.
I am not demanding that you morph into a braggart. You can still be humble and follow a non-traditional vocation. The most successful singers simply believe in their abilities and put their belief in action. They understand that singing is what they should do with their lives. They also believe that their abilities are strong enough to build a career.
10. Wallow in the idea of being an opera singer.
Remember our handy diagram from the “Hustling” essay? A person that does a lot of talking without a lot of work is a charlatan. The person that does a lot of work without any talk is a martyr. So that leaves, yep, the hustler. Marry that talk with the walk!
Lots of singers want to make a career out of singing. Few of them still want opera careers when they find out the necessary work involved. Fewer still can actually do the work when needed most. The people who shy away from the work become big talkers. Don’t let yourself get caught up in the supposed glamour and lifestyle of the career. Like Nike prescribes, “Just do it.”
- Get-It-Done Guy’s 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More Review (cabraham.com)