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28 Days to Diva: Day 28 – Unleash the Champion Within (#28DaystoDiva)

February 28, 2014

“That high performance light switch has been turned on… Never let it turn off again.”  – Apolo Anton Ohno

Success often follows Newton’s First Law of Motion:Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.” The daily challenges in each year of 28 Days to Diva are designed to help singers operate in a state of uniform motion when it comes to their careers. Each post focuses on small tasks that can be accomplished in a quantifiable time frame as well as the possible external forces that can change that state of motion. Incredibly successful people have found that state of uniform motion and they crave that feeling. They are constantly creating and maintaining that forward motion while defending against outside agents that slow them down.

Your Day 28 challenge is to Keep Your High Performance Switch On.

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Here we are, divas. We have reached the final day of 28 Days to Diva 2014. How do you feel? I hope you feel invigorated, motivated, and inspired. I love writing this series because it reminds me every year why I love what I do. I also love being able to unpack the diva suitcase and see what’s inside. How do we go from students to masters of our craft? It’s a process and I love that process.

If there is one other thing that you should read today it is Danielle LaPorte’s “the grand pep talk.” This is part of your challenge today.

There are soul-justified reasons to cancel. There are times to just stop. This isn’t one of them. Keep going. Show up. Full on. Full tilt. Full out.

Decide to be one of those people who pull it off.
Do what you say you’re going to do.
Don’t let us down.
Decide to rise.

This is my absolute favorite part of her pep talk, “When you transcend circumstances you get special privileges.” It’s true. When you turn on your high performance switch and keep it on, amazing things will happen. You have to keep showing up. You have to show up when it is most difficult. You have to show up when you are unsure, nervous, and feeling blah. Decide to rise. When you activate your superpowers on a daily basis they become easier to access when you desperately need them.

The music world needs your voice and your singing business. We all need each other to be the best versions possible. We certainly do not need to make our field smaller. We need it to grow and be sustainable for everyone that can commit.

Divas, I am so proud of the work you have done this month. Stay in motion. Keep yourself in high performance mode until that is your normal operating procedure. You deserve every success. I hope you will keep in touch with The Sybaritic Singer here in the comments, on the Facebook page, and on Twitter at @mezzoihnen. Tell me about your performances. Tell me about your triumphs! Share your stumbling blocks with the rest of the crew. You’re not alone.

28 Days to Diva: Day 27 – What is the Next Thing? (#28DaystoDiva)

February 27, 2014

I encourage artists to stop worrying about everything. The audience is going to tell you when you’re doing something right. The response that you get is your information. Pay attention! They will lead you to the next thing. – Mary McFaul, McFaul Book & Management

Every singer, heck every business person, comes to a moment in the life of their work when they feel stuck. There you are staring at a blank wall willing the universe to tell you how the heck you are supposed to get from where you are to where you want to be. Point “A” -> Point “B.” Time passes. You are busy. But, you feel the wheels turning without any traction. You again turn to the universe… “what is the next thing?”

Your Day 27 Challenge is to Figure Out the Very Next Thing.

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The hardest part about having big dreams is figuring out ‘step one.’ We did a lot of work on breaking 10-year dreams down into quarterly goals. But, here you are on Day 27 and we only have one day left of 28 Days to Diva. You want to plan a recital, get a top-level audition, work with a coach, record a CD, and on and on. A mountain of goals can make you feel just as stuck as when you didn’t know what to do at all.

The part that I love most about Ms. McFaul’s quote at the top is, “The response that you get is your information… They will lead you to the next thing.” When we do our timelines and our assessments, we can clearly see the connections that were formed. In the present, that task is much more difficult. For certain personalities, planning is akin to breathing. We plan and we plan and we plan some more. Isn’t it funny though, that no matter what you plan it happens to be those seemingly innocuous connections that spur such great results? That is one of the main reasons I believe it is extremely important to have a mentor on your singing team. Your mentor isn’t your voice teacher, best friend, or parent for good reason. Your mentor has a different perspective. When your mentor says, “have you ever thought about x” pay close attention. In fact, take that suggestions home and mull it over. It could be your next big break.

Have you ever heard another singer get honest feedback that they weren’t ready to take in? That advice could be monumental but not if the singer isn’t ready to hear it and act on it. “The response you get is your information.” Prepare yourself to really listen to what other people are telling you. Take action on their suggestions that align with your passion. Develop the thick skin it takes to really listen to the people who have your best interests at heart. You can always decide, “no, that won’t work for me,” after you have weighed the pros and cons.

Don’t be afraid to take a big step when one is indicated. You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps. – David Lloyd George, British Prime Minister (1916–22)

Decision Time

What recent feedback have you been getting?

What about that really resonates with you?

What is the very next thing that you are going to commit to with passion and make it happen?

List all the reasons why you should and will commit to it at this time.

Here we are, determining our future in the service of art. The way you choose to live your diva life is up to you. There may be times when you question whether the work is really paying off. Or, there may be times when you are stuck. That is okay as long as you remind yourself to listen to your feedback. Your mentors, audience, and singing team will tell you what comes next. You cannot do this job alone.

I can’t do it alone either which is why I truly enjoy connecting with all of you! Many of you have left comments on the various posts and it has made my day every time. I’ve had a chance to connect with so many divas via Twitter (@mezzoihnen) that my heart is about to explode into glitter. If you would like to share in the comments your “very next thing”, I would love to read it! Thanks again for being here.

28 Days to Diva: Day 26 – If a recital happens in a forest… (#28DaystoDiva)

February 26, 2014

There’s a pretty familiar runner joke: “How can you tell if someone has run a marathon? Oh, don’t worry, they’ll tell you.” It’s true because runners work hard to train for those endurance tests and they want to share that with other people. 26.2 miles is no easy feat. They’ve put in so much time training their body to be ready for performance. Isn’t that what we also do as singers? We train our brains, voices, and bodies to get ready for performances. We put in countless hours picking music for the program, studying the score, and scheduling a venue. Therefore, we must develop an audience and communicate with them regularly to make sure our labors do not go to waste. Having a plan for developing ourselves as musicians and developing our audiences is going to be make that process easier.

Your Day 26 challenge is to Create a Content Plan for Your Singing Life

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Great businesses, no matter their size, work hard to create a superior product or service; but, they also make sure they are reaching the right audience for it too. Audience development is more than just “build it and they will come.” For this exercise we are going to cultivate a following for your specific talent. Have you ever heard a voice teacher or master class presenter recommend keeping a practice journal? I realize the superb benefits of such a journal but sometimes it seems so difficult to keep it together. That all changed for me, however, when I started thinking about crafting a content plan for singing and connecting with my supporters. Bloggers often create content plans to help them post consistently on topic. So, we’ll borrow a page from that textbook and work out our own singing content plan. In fact, I fell head-over-vertiginous heels for these free printable blog planners from Jenni at A Well Crafted Party. We can use them as an outline for creating our own plan.

Have a Plan

8 Days a Week

Doesn’t it feel like you need 8 days in a week to get to everything you want to do? Once you start planning ahead what you’ll do with the time you have available for practicing, you can become more efficient. Plus, you may plan what you need to cover and realize you need to make more time in your schedule to sufficiently prepare for your performance. That’s why I really enjoy Jenni’s “Weekly Blog Planner” for our purposes. It leaves enough space to write what you need to accomplish each day of the week. I imagine all you wonderful divas sitting down with your Sunday morning coffee (or evening Malbec?) and making a plan for your week, entering it into your calendars, and finally checking off the little “scheduled” box in the bottom right. Then, you can change the “published” box to “accomplished” and put a triumphant check mark there at the end of your practice session.

Social Media

The social media icons are a good reminder to keep sharing consistently with your fans. This is a big part of the audience development aspect. You could even add another box for your occasional eblasts so that they aren’t an afterthought but something you plan ahead. If a recital happens in a forest… which is to say, remember to use your social media to its greatest power and connect with your main fan base.


Jenni’s planner includes: backup blog, comment replies, check design, and check links. To reframe this for our singing content plan, think of this checklist for your singerly things that need regular updating. You could easily add things like update repertoire list, check website calendar, reply to singing emails, look through YAPtracker, and check sound files. What other weekly tasks would you add to this category? If I’m gearing up for audition season again, I might include aria package run-through/review here. Maintenance is musical, physical, and digital when it comes to the diva life.


This is different from the social media connection above. This checklist serves as a list of the people you are meeting with to drive your singing business. Have a lesson? Have a coaching? Meeting a conductor or presenter for coffee? Put those face-to-face business meetings here. Include the repertoire that you will bring and a goal for the meeting and you are reaching super-planner diva status.

Look Ahead

The only way to move forward is to look in that direction. Go back to your dream list and pick up those goals that you want to accomplish this quarter. Insert them into the plan and (it will seem like magic at first) you will be crossing them off the to-do list in no time. How will you continue to develop your audience next week? Write it down and commit to making it happen.

It’s time to make some noise. I would love to hear that runners joke re-purposed as such, “How do you know if someone’s an opera singer? Oh don’t worry, they’ve already invited you to their show and convinced you to bring ten friends.” That would sure make people sit up and take notice. Sometimes singers shy away from talking about their upcoming gigs. Maybe they feel like they’re crowing? Talk about your passions. People dig that!

Finally, having a content plan for bettering yourself as a musician and developing your audience is going to make you feel more in control of your diva life. Do you already use a content plan in this way? I would love to hear about how you make it work. Share your experiences with me in the comments below. I can’t wait to hear about it. Or, if you would like to share your super-planner diva status with the twitterverse, hit me up at @mezzoihnen.

Divas, we only have a couple of days left in my favorite month of the year. I hope you’ll join me for the last posts of this year’s 28 Days to Diva!

28 Days to Diva: Day 25 – Score Study for Singers (#28DaystoDiva)

February 25, 2014

A musical score is a boundary object. “A boundary object is an artifact, document, or even an idea that helps people from different communities build a shared understanding. Boundary objects essentially provide a common point of reference for conversations and conventions; everyone can agree that they’re talking about and working towards x, even though they might not be actually thinking about the same specific things, ” Megan Winget observed in a report on “Annotations On Musical Scores By Performing Musicians…” The score is the object a composer gives to a performer to indicate her intentions for performance. To go from reading the score to performing the composition is what makes us specialized and skilled workers. You must be able to make musical decisions. How important is my part in the larger picture? Where should I stand? How can I build the musical tension to the climax of the piece? How can I sing with fabulous technique and still achieve the tone color the composer desires? All of these are questions that will arise during your score study and practice. As you excel in your field, you will only have more repertoire to learn at a quicker pace. Give yourself the advantage by being the most prepared one in the room.

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Your Day 25 challenge is to Develop an Effective Score Study System

Time is money, darling. Which means two things. First, you can make more income by learning music better and faster than your competitors. Second, you will definitely lose money by not being prepared. Nobody has the time/money for you to learn the music during rehearsal. In school it may have worked to learn your part at home and everyone else’s in rehearsal. Not so in the professional world. You will need to show up knowing your part and the parts of other characters or ensemble members. Tears and gnashing of teeth are guaranteed if you do not heed this warning.

Have a Process

Your goal is to internalize the score so you could hear it in your mind as if it were being played out loud. We can turn this in to a checklist so that you have a practice plan. There are many elements of score study that are silent or require minimal sound. This is perfect for air travel, bus rides, and late nights in small apartments…

The First Glance

What do these basics tell you about the piece and how it should be performed? Use your considerable education to draw inferences and make conclusions from the beginning.

  • Composer:
  • Title:
  • Dedication?
  • Historical context:
  • Tessitura:
  • Tempo indications (mark them all)
  • Expressive markings  (mark them all)
  • Dynamics (mark them all)
  • Language:
  • When was the text written and by whom?
  • Publisher (aka: is this the best edition available?):
  • Any extended techniques or unusual notations or effects:

“Full-score preparation procedures of Upper-Level Undergraduates were similar to those displayed by Lower-Level Undergraduates in that there was little effort demonstrated to establish a general context of the piece, and participants tended to address elements in a similar random style.”¹ Be careful not to fall into this score study trap. We do not read books by just registering which letter is being used and in what order. We read for context. The first glance is just an overview. But, let that motivate you to look deeper into the context.

Dive In

You may want to make a practice copy of your score so that you can mark it to your heart’s content. Lots of conductors like to use different colors for different considerations. You may choose to do the same.

  • Number all measures.
  • Get a sense of the landscape of the piece.
    • Determine the key/modality & mark all key changes clearly.
    • What is the big picture? How many sections are there and what happens in each?
  • Melodic development
    • The melodic development is going to be particularly important for singers. Identify motives and repetition.
  • Harmonic organization
    • For example, what is happening in the piano? How is that complement the vocal line?
  • Rhythms — Be a singer who can count. Don’t make me say it again…
    • Ask how complex meters will be grouped by the conductor.
  • Texture
  • Text relationship
    • Read the text aloud.
    • Clearly mark the syllabic stresses (and any areas that should be purposefully unstressed – perhaps a schwa at the end of a rising line?)
    • Write the literal translation word-for-word.
    • Mark all breaths.
    • What is the connection between the text and the composer’s harmonic/melodic choices?

Bring Your Best

  • Distinctive characteristics: tension/release. How will you execute changes and distinctive characteristics without ‘giving away the surprise?’
  • Check tempos and changes.
  • How does the piece evolve?
  • Are there any potential balance issues?
  • Memorize structure and order of entrances.
  • Mark any physical cues/gestures you may want to remember.
  • Finally, listen to other recordings, if desired.

Next Level Sh*t

  • Be able to describe the piece or parts of the work. How do you want the audience to respond?

I love these considerations from Geoffrey Thomas’ blog which he attributes to The Art of Delivery by Keith Hill and Marianne Ploger and Twelve Techniques for Increasing Listener Interest and Comprehension which is a summary of The Art of Delivery.

Gesture: Shape the voices like natural forms which we find pleasing: e.g. eggs, leaves, and swan’s necks.
Distortion: Without a few rough edges your music making will be insipid or plastic.
Sans souci: A bit of elegant abandon at the right moment is a sign of mastery. Without this a performance is tense and off-putting.
Stride: Certain tempos work because they correspond to the rate at which we process information.
Evaporation: This is a means of emphasis by whispering something important.
Hesitation: This is a means of emphasis by waiting before saying something important.
Crunch: This is where you allow extra time for something which is clashing.

Singing is about so much more than notes and words. Once you give yourself over to the details, emerge again to look at the piece as a whole. Fuse all of your findings from the process above into your performance. You’re right to think that it takes time to learn music this way. And yes, we’re all busy. We all have a choice how we spend our practice time. Being prepared helps ensure that you get asked back to perform with that company or ensemble again. Do you have some good score study tips that I can add to the list above? Share them with me in the comments. I’m always on the look-out for good suggestions that I can add to my process. Or, let me know on twitter at @mezzoihnen.

28 Days to Diva: Day 24 – Hands-Off the Merchandise! (#28DaystoDiva)

February 24, 2014

Boundaries do not always seem as clear-cut in the theatre as they do in the corporate world. Could you imagine your stage manager leading the entire cast through sexual harassment awareness training? “Alright singers, before we get into the party scene let’s gather ’round to talk about sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature…” Yeah, that hasn’t happened at any of my rehearsals either. Just because we don’t have any sit down awareness sessions doesn’t mean that harassment is absent in the world of classical music. Furthermore, when we don’t talk about it, we make it more difficult for musicians to identify the forms of harassment and the various ways to report or address a problem.

Your Day 24 challenge is to Know How to Respond to Sexual Harassment in Your Workplace.

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As performers it is our job to be able to be extremely vulnerable on stage and any sort of harassment halts that ability. Sexual harassment takes on verbal, non-verbal, and physical conduct forms and all are equally offensive. I turned to a post on The Clyde Fitch Report which recalls a moment so familiar that I could have written it myself:

I answered an ad to work backstage. At that point, most of my experience was in downtown, nonprofit theater. The midtown, commercial atmosphere was different, but fun. A young woman about my age takes me through the motions, showing me what I need to do during the show.

One night, I’m sitting backstage. My trainer is in a prominent position, waiting for a cue to manipulate the curtain. I turn around casually in her direction and see an actor aggressively groping her. She looks absolutely terrified.

It’s her face that woke me up from a sound sleep last week. “That happened,” I thought to myself.

Back then, I had no idea what to do. I remember another actor shrugging it off, saying it was par for the course. I was stunned. It wasn’t long before someone connected with the show cornered me in a dressing room, twisted my arm until it hurt and told me to kiss him.

The Production Stage Manager discovered what happened to my young colleague. Before the show one night, she questioned me about what I saw. I answered, truthfully. She asked me if I had anything to add.

I did. I told her about the dressing room incident and named the man who did it. She sighed and told me he was a friend. It had to be a misunderstanding. After all, she thought he might be gay. – from “Calling Out a Problem: Sexual Harassment & Theater” by Laura Axelrod

This example helps illustrate one of two established types of sexual harassment: hostile work environment. The actor who shrugs it off and the stage manager who dismisses the situation as a misunderstanding all isolate the one who has been traumatized. How eager is the traumatized actor to get back in the theatre after that experience? I know singers who have quit jobs/gigs rather than bring it up fearing the response. The other type is quid pro quo. We have all heard the horror stories of the infamous casting room couch. The “I’ll cast you in the lead role, if you do this…” story is a form of quid pro quo harassment.

What Can You Do If…

You Are the Recipient of Sexual Harassment?

Do not assume that this part of working in classical music, opera, or the theatre. Express to the other individual that their conduct is unwelcome. Realize that it should not hurt you professionally to ask them to stop. If the harassment continues, keep a record. Write down dates, times, places, and witnesses to what happened. If you receive any notes, emails, or written letters from the harasser, keep them. Hopefully, you are a member of AGMA and can turn to your representative if you need help to approach the company. If not, you need to go directly to a trusted ally in the executive ranks of the company and explain to them what is happening.

You Are a Witness to Sexual Harassment?

Be extremely sensitive to the recipient’s concerns. Before you confront the harasser or talk to anyone else in the organization, approach the recipient and ask if you can help. Let the recipient know that you are on their side. Keep records. Write down dates, times, places, and names of others that witnessed the harassment. Approach your representative or an ally in the organization.

You Run a Musical Organization, Ensemble, or Opera Company?

Remember: you won’t stop sexual harassment by pretending it doesn’t exist. If you are leading an organization, you can establish a policy prohibiting sexual harassment and provide a clear way for people report misconduct. Guarantee confidentiality so that your musicians know that they can trust you. Take every sexual harassment complaint seriously and figure out how to investigate it promptly and properly. Make sure your policy is included with contracts and enforce it.

Opera certainly has more than its fair share of sexist plot lines and sexual harassment played out on stage. That doesn’t mean that we, as performers, have to expect anything less than professionalism from our colleagues. There is absolutely no reason that sexual harassment should continue in the theatre. We can all be responsible for making the theatre the safe place we want it to be where we can truly express our vulnerability.

Divas, I know that this isn’t the dream big topic that I often write about in 28 Days to Diva. However, there is absolutely nothing that should stop you from feeling safe and respected in this profession. You are valuable. Your voice is necessary. I don’t want anyone to take away your sparkle.

in performance: East Coast Premiere of ‘Moby-Dick’ at Washington National Opera

February 24, 2014

What makes for a truly modern opera production? Washington National Opera‘s current production of composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer‘s Moby-Dick is a model example. A feast for the ears as well as the eyes, Moby-Dick is awash in innovative performance and design. Although the search for the great white whale is drenched in ego, the production was committed to effective storytelling. This production is the culmination of the winter season devoted to new American music at the Washington National Opera. Francesca Zambello, Artistic Director, wrote in her program note, “I look at it this way: opera may have originated in Italy, but I’d like to see us get to a point where Americans make and consumer it as enthusiastically as they do pizza – another Italian import many of us happen to enjoy.” With this incredible work, the Washington National Opera is doing its part to hasten the ascendancy of powerful, visible American opera.

Sybaritic Singer

Carl Tanner as Captain Ahab (center) and the company of Moby-Dick. Photo by Scott Suchman for WNO.

Ahab’s quest for Moby Dick is grand, ungodly, and all-consuming. He is a charismatic leader who persuades an entire ship of whalers to forgo hunting for months on end just to find the one creature of his obsession. With a character this terrific, the voice must be almost superhuman. Washington National found the right man with American tenor Carl Tanner. Heggie’s score has moments of quiet introspection but more often than not there is an absolute tidal wave of sound pouring from the stage and orchestra pit. Tanner demonstrated impressive command of his heldentenor vocal abilities and physical presence – always carrying over the full-throttle texture even while covering the raked stage on a peg leg. However, it was one of the tender moments that commanded all attention. The duet in Act II – Day Four: the next morning between Tanner as Ahab and American baritone Matthew Worth as Starbuck was marked with longing and a perfect vocal dichotomy between the worn, compulsive captain and the resolute first mate. Worth also impressed with vocal warmth and elongation of tension during the scene in Ahab’s cabin when he considers shooting the captain to gain his freedom to see his wife and child again.

Sybaritic Singer

Matthew Worth as Starbuck (top), Carl Tanner as Captain Ahab (bottom), and the company of Moby-Dick. Photo by Scott Suchman for WNO.

It is not just the Ahab/Starbuck relationship that makes this opera so powerful. The humanity comes from all of the characters interacting on the Pequod. Stephen Costello as Greenhorn shines from top to bottom with his clarion voice. Costello constructs such believable friendships and caring tenderness for Queequeg, sung magnificently by American baritone Eric Greene, and Pip, performed by American soprano Talise Trevigne. Costello’s depth of character knowledge is impeccably during his duet with Greene when Queequeg acknowledges that he is dying. Heggie never acquiesces to quotations but there are definite homages to Verdi-like swells and even Baroque florid vocal style in solo passages. Worth, Costello, and Trevigne made the most use out of their vocal flexibility. The male chorus, under the preparation of Steven Gathman, was a particularly strong vocal element to this production. It was arresting to experience the full wall of sound that emanated during their declaration of loyalty to Ahab before their final, fatal pursuit of Moby Dick.

The feast for the eyes was due to the unbelievable work of Robert Brill, Set Designer; Keturah Stickann, Movement Director and Choreographer; Jane Greenwood, Costume Designer; Gavan Swift, Lighting Designer; and finally Elaine J. McCarthy, Projection Designer. I have quite literally never seen anything like it on the Kennedy Opera House stage. Washington National Opera audiences are blessed to see this production after it has been mounted by five other companies. There are so many moving parts to the stage action and set and nothing seemed out-of-place during Saturday night’s performance. The singers and supernumeraries cover every inch of stage space both horizontal and vertical. The projections were cinematic quality that helped the opera achieve modern excellence. The way they used the projections to create the whaling crew boats was surprising and innovative.

It would be easy to fall into the same blind ambition that Ahab suffered when creating and mounting this opera. Heggie, Scheer, Washington National Opera, the musicians, and the production team found a way to provide the full bravado necessary without falling victim to ego. Like the book, the opera is about so much more than the search for Moby Dick. They all seemed to understand, it isn’t about ‘seeing’ the whale. It is about building the tension and telling each character’s transformational story. There are only five more opportunities to see this performance at Washington National Opera. Tickets and more information are available on the Washington National Opera: Moby-Dick website.

28 Days to Diva: Day 23 – Write This Down, No Really… (#28DaystoDiva)

February 23, 2014

“If there is no problem, then there should be no problem writing it down,” writes Cash Edwards, agent and owner of Under The Hat Productions. In the corporate world, you sign the contract once and you get to work at the same place and collect a paycheck from the same employer day in and day out. In a freelance life a contract is extremely important because you work for so many employers, your job location is always changing, and the paycheck comes in all  various forms and methods. A contract is a simple document that helps you ask the right questions. You’re coming to terms with each employer to make sure that all expectations are on the table and each party ends the day in a good mood. In a perfect world, your contract would never have to see the light of day after being written because both parties strictly follow all items. We live in an imperfect world and a contract saves you from getting screwed, so to speak.

Your Day 23 challenge is to Have a Written Agreement.

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You do not need a lawyer on retainer to start using contracts in your singing business. A contract can be a very simple document to which both the performer and the presenter/venue agree. It clearly states the who, what, when, where, and how much of the situation. Working with your friends is such a pervasive part of the music business across all genres. Avoid the heartache of a friendship gone sour by writing down your terms.

Write it Out!

Letters of Agreement: Intent or Confirmation

You have probably written numerous letters (or emails sometimes) of agreement to date. When you communicate with a presenter, host, or venue and you both agree to hold a date on your calendars for a performance, you have completed a letter of intent. When you include, “[name] intends to” in your letter it is showing commitment from both parties to make that date work. Then, you should also include what else is needed to confirm that date. Don’t drown in legalese! The letter of agreement can be as detailed as you like but you really want to make sure you include: your professional name, what exactly you will be doing, the presenting organization, details about the event, and space for both of you to sign. If you are unsure about the specific details, make sure you have: date, time, venue, length of performance, tickets, fees, and any makeup dates you expect. You can also use these types of letters in place of formal contracts with those who are new to presenting or even in your private lesson studio if your families get freaked out by contracts. As you get more experience, you will learn what else you need in every agreement.

For all of these documents, include a contact information sheet. How can they get a hold of you and how can you get a hold of them – especially on performance day when something inevitably goes sideways.


Even as an emerging professional it is just as important to have a written document outlining your needs as it would be for the leading divas at the Met. You may not be in a position to ask for the same amenities that reigning stars that are given to them. As you’re getting started, think of your contracts as “ducks in a row” documents. Everybody knows where to look when there is a question because you all have a copy of the contract.

Practice creating a few simple contract forms that you can use if a contract isn’t provided to you. When you earn a role with a professional company or get a gig at an established venue, they will have their own contracts for your to sign. Read all of your contracts carefully. Okay, one more time, READ ALL OF YOUR CONTRACTS CAREFULLY! If you are working with small organizations, festivals, art galleries, museums, bars, restaurants, or other non-traditional performance spaces it is advisable to at least present your contract first.

Double check for things like cancellation clauses for both the artist and the presenter. Write these down in your calendar just so you know and can follow-up, if need be. Review all listed rehearsal, performance, and makeup dates before signing the contract.

It’s funny how important these things are when you’re in the middle of a crisis and yet how little we think about them when we say “yes” to the opportunity. I know we’ve all been there.

Tech & Hospitality Riders

To ensure that you have all the equipment to do your job effectively, you may want to have a stock tech rider. Your contract details all of the negotiations about the gig. Your tech rider will outline all the necessary gear for the staff working in the venue. Feel free to contact your venue in advance to make sure they have your tech rider and that they don’t have any questions about it. Classical musicians playing acoustically are the technical staff’s best friends. That’s not to say that they won’t like you if you’re playing with electronics and have video projections. You just better have a tech rider.

Hospitality riders outline your/your ensemble’s dietary restrictions, lodging, and transportation necessities. Don’t be pompous. You’ll know when you can start requesting specific M&M colors. Short answer: not now. You may request about things like water and parking and more depending on your true needs.

Writing all of your information, negotiated details, and needs down is the way to decrease your number of headache days per month. Always follow-up on your letter of agreement, contract, and riders with enough time to take care of any final concerns. You don’t want to follow-up the day before the performance only to realize that the presenter can’t help. I know we’ve all got a few horror stories from times when contracts would have been really useful. Do you have any tales of times when a contract saved your butt? Let’s have an airing of thoughts in the comments below.

Until tomorrow, divas! In the meantime, find me on the twitterz at @mezzoihnen.


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