Maps are very useful and important to us. They help us organize information. We use them to calculate the distance between two or more places. They aid us in getting from where we are to getting where we want to be. Maps help us decipher whether or not there are two or more paths to the place we want to go and whether or not one of them is the shortest. I write 29 Days to Diva every year for the same reasons. No matter what kind of creative professional role you take on, you have an idea of what your ultimate desired destination is. Is it to see your name in lights on a specific marquee? Is it to write a specific book? To be recognized with a certain competition or prize win? This series, like a map, gives a minute depiction of a very large space or field. You do not have to follow the exact steps I, or any other creatives, take in my career to have a successful career. These are just some options to help you navigate your own path. So it only makes sense that we start with where you are.
Your 29 Days to Diva Day 2 objective is to figure out where you are in your own career path.
The Levels of a Career
I break down the career path into four distinct areas: generalist, specialist, expert, and authority. If you’re serious about making your career in classical music or the arts, you desire to advance through these levels and reach “authority” status in your niche.
The generalist has basic qualifications. Then, the generalist adds years of experience to create value. Their typical work includes relatively fundamental, routine tasks. In the context of classical singing, the generalist is a singer who is usually still completing their education and training and is someone who engages in gigs that require basic musicianship skills such as sightreading, pleasing vocal tone, good intonation, basic vocal technique, rhythmic accuracy, and general interpretation. Having an elementary church job is often a paid gig for generalists. Generalists are also often building their body of work and may take on gigs that are an exchange of value outside of financial remuneration.
After this initial skills-building time period, generalists advance to specialist status. This stage typically, but not always, starts with specialist postgraduate qualification which could include higher education degrees, young artist programs, and artist fellowships. Challenging work comes with increased competency. Specialists are beginning to think about differentiation and are looking for projects and opportunities that demonstrate their competency with more artistically distinguishing features. During this stage, specialists build their reputations with second and third tier clients. If a generalist is establishing their reputation in an educational setting, the specialist is establishing their reputation with local companies or festivals that have a history of promoting young or emerging artists. Some creative professionals have a successful and fulfilling life-long career as a specialist. Everyone decides for themselves what “making it” means to them.
Today’s Thought Leaders
This year, since I’ll have so many people to thank as we’re making our way through the series, you’ll see the names of people who have contributed their wisdom in this section.
- Mills, Harry. The Rainmaker’s Toolkit: Power Strategies for Finding, Keeping, and Growing Profitable Clients. New York: American Management Association, 2004.
After ten years, an expert has a solid track record in handling complex, higher risk, and higher profile projects. Ten years is not a mandate or necessary qualification but rather a statistical average that is born out time and again in the literature surrounding success and achievement. Particularly in music and the creative arts, more complex and higher profile projects can take years to see through to fruition. Ten years allows for specialists to come into contact with the types of projects that develop their skills into expert status. During this stage, experts usually work with industry-leading clients. Classical singer specialists are often cutting their teeth on mainstage roles at OPERA America Level 3 & 4 houses/companies while experts would be more likely to be working professionally, not in a training program or fellowship, at Level 1 & 2 organizations, for example.
The way I usually explain the difference between expert and authority is telling workshop participants, “If a journalist inside the industry wanted to do a story on opera in non-traditional spaces, they would probably have more than a handful of names of experts in the field to ask. Now, if an outside-the-field journalist were thinking about doing the same story, they might say to themselves, ‘hmmmm… who should I interview about this? Renée Fleming seems to know a lot about opera. I’ll contact her people.'” This usually elicits some laughs. However, it’s a useful example that demonstrates that experts are well-known in the field and authorities are those bold-faced names that transcend the field and start to become house-hold names (as much as anyone in classical music becomes a house-hold name these days.) Authority figures in the creative arts fields are presented with honors and awards by professional peers for contribution to thought leadership. They are able to pick and choose work to suit their current interest areas with many people supporting that work. They also enjoy celeb-status within the field.
Show Your Work
Before we go much farther in depth, we’ll cap today’s post there. Take some time to describe where you are on your own path. Do you feel like you’re working as a generalist or specialist? Are you navigating the terrain between specialist and expert? Are you Renée Fleming or Joyce DiDonato and reading my blog? Please get in touch… All kidding aside, share with your own Diva Buddy System where you feel like you are. If you haven’t established your diva buddy system yet, join me on the Sybaritic Singer Facebook page and share there. You’ll find sympathetic listeners and friends ready to cheer you on! Then, discuss where that is in relation to your ultimate desired goal. Does that feel like a distant dream from the work you’re doing now? I would love to know where you are in your navigation of your own career path. You can chat with me directly on Twitter at @mezzoihnen.
Let’s Be Facebook Friends
Come join me and almost 600 other diva friends over on the Sybaritic Singer Facebook page! Share your epiphanies and discoveries! Share your challenges with people who actually get it! We’re just waiting for you…
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