Once you have made your way into the emerging professional category of classical voice, it is apparent that opera does not follow the traditional corporate trajectory. While we have allusions to the master-apprentice model (working with voice teachers, completing education, and participating in young artist programs) becoming a diva is never a straight line. In the current state of the world, however, this could be the new normal for many occupations. The business model of opera is rapidly changing (not dying!) and many singers have spent thousand of dollars in student loans already knowing that. Singers pursue this career out of passion. That passion is what leads us to apply the concept of disruptive innovation – “the idea that the most successful innovations are those that create new markets and value networks, thereby upending existing ones” – to our current professional landscape. Divas, challenge yourself on Day 19 to disrupt the path to improve the odds of your success.
To brainstorm ways to disrupt your path as a singer, we’re going to borrow these Four Principles of Self-Disruption from Whitney Johnson’s article “Disrupt Yourself.”
1. Target a need that can be met more effectively.
Singers and patrons alike are watching while opera houses shutter. There are less roles to go around while more and more singers enter the field every year. Does this discourage you? You are not alone. Does this motivate you? Then you, my dear, are primed for disruptive innovation. Can I just re-iterate that an opera flashmob is not the answer? The flashmob is not an answer to a need – it is a marketing technique. Be aware of the world around you. What could they possibly need from us? Think about the types of values opera-goers have. Is there a way that you specifically can help them express those values more effectively?
Take Joel Herold, CEO and Founder at OperaPulse, for example. Herold shows off his handsome baritone voice across the country but was inspired to create a community around opera with OperaPulse.
“The ideas for OperaPulse were created in the spring of 2009 by two singers who lost their contracts due to the demise of Connecticut Opera. The events that led up to the ultimate downfall of the company, which used to be America’s fifth oldest, were shocking. What they witnessed wasn’t merely failed fundraising and marketing strategies; more detrimental to overall health of the company was the inability of the opera community to rise up, get united, and find a voice. Essentially, the community folded. OperaPulse is here to make sure the American opera communities find their voice.” ¹
OperaPulse also re-invented itself recently by adding an integrative hub for composers, conductors, directors, opera singers, vocal coaches and vocal teachers to its location-specific news and reviews.
2. Identify your disruptive strengths.
Disruptive innovators often realize that the risk of trying something new and failing is more palatable than competing against the established players of the game. This is the point of music business class when they tell you to distinguish yourself based on your skills. You could make a lists of your skills and see how you could apply it to the pre-existing confines of the field or you could identify what makes you come alive and decide how that would appeal to your network.
Many studies show that musicians have valuable transferable skills but it is our passions that often drive us to better innovations. Mezzo-Soprano, Robin Flynn, discovered her passion for running in 2009. It’s a good thing she did because not only did her passion for running improve her mood and voice, it also inspired her to create the blog The Athletic Performer. Although Flynn no longer writes the blog, she was an inspiration to hundreds of musicians who were moved enough to post their own workouts to the site. Flynn created new ways to communicate with her network. In the process, she gave herself another angle for which people would remember her as a runner, motivator, and singer.
3. Step back (or sideways) in order to grow.
Looking for ways to leverage your skills can be an acceleration toward your bigger goals. The truth about the opera world is this: the field is multi-faceted, in that most of its players wear many hats, and there is always lots of room at the top. In the middle? That’s where it is the most-crowded. Being a disruptive innovator means leveraging your skills when you see a need. Aren’t we all so jealous that we didn’t create YAPtracker first? Well, Julie Baron – Mezzo (mezzos are so creative, non?) used skills from her background in technology solutions consulting and training to meet a need of modern singers the world over.
“The site began in 2005; I was singing with the Opera Colorado Outreach ensemble and I competed in a competition there locally, the Denver Lyric Opera Guild competition, and placed well. I was really excited about it and I wanted to find other opportunities to compete. I started looking and I couldn’t believe how much was out there—so much that it was difficult to keep track. So, the site was designed with this in mind.
It was originally designed for me actually to use and my friends were incredulous that such a thing existed and so I became willing to sell it to them. So, now we have about 8,000 members worldwide and we list 2,500 auditions a year. They come from everywhere—I think we even have some singers in Guam and Congo—places that I wouldn’t have even realized that there was a need for the service, but apparently there is.”²
4. Let your strategy emerge.
The scariest part of following a disruptive career path can be not knowing what the end result looks like. Instead of following a model point by point, singers must be willing to adapt and change when given the opportunity. Luckily, must of us are already wired to react in this way. We are already used to others giving us a raised eyebrow because we want to break the mold. As you become aware of the path that your passions present, let your strategy emerge. The dreams and goals we had at 18 rarely stay exactly the same. The passions are the same but the execution changes. Notice how I purposefully chose examples of people who are “both/and” not “either/or” singers. You are valuable as both as singer and whatever else you can add to the opera/arts community.
As aforementioned, the rules of the opera game are changing. The traditional business models are not working in the same way they did fifty or even twenty-five years ago. In what ways can you specifically change or create markets and value networks?
We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems. – Arthur O’Shaughnessy