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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.

Sybaritic Singer | 28 Days to Diva

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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.

Sybaritic Singer | 28 Days to Diva

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.

Sybaritic Singer | 28 Day to Diva

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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.

Contract

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.

28 Days to Diva: Day 22 – Target Funding Sources (#28DaystoDiva)

February 22, 2014

If you show initiative and positively labor toward your goal, you can turn the funding stumbling block into a stepping stone. Just showing up and doing the work can help your singing business become more fiscally sustainable. Money very rarely comes in deluge form in the classical world. However, since following 28 Days to Diva you have become a financial watchdog, dealt with your debt, found a side gig, and even created budgets for your projects. You have put your financial house in order. Now, you must grow your business by bringing in more money with alternative revenue sources. Increased funding is important because it ensures that you can keep on doing what you love.

Your Day 22 challenge is to Increase Your Music Funds

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Your singing business starts out small. You are doing all the parts: singing, planning, accounting, marketing, development, etc. When you are a company of one it is daunting to grow your business. How can you keep all the plates spinning at once? The sheer amount of work you need to accomplish in a day can detract from looking for ways to ease the financial burden. More funding can help take some of the work off of your shoulders because you are able to start outsourcing to more qualified people. Need someone who can take care of your taxes? Making more money helps you pay that person who can help you get better tax returns. Where do you go wrong?

Grants are not what they used to be and crowdfunding isn’t the panacea that some musicians believe it is. Before you get too depressed, take some time today and problem-solve, “where does the money come from?” and “what can I do as an individual to get more funding?” You probably know many resources in your local area that can help. You cannot hesitate to contact those gatekeepers and find out more about the existing resources for artists in your community. It is their mission to help artists, presenters, patrons, and other organizations but it isn’t possible for them to go door-to-door asking if you are an artist and need their help. If you do not know the support system in your area very well, ask around.

Seek New Sources

First, find your state/regional arts council website. You can often apply to their touring program simply via the web. Artists that have the support of a regional arts organization are particularly appealing to presenters because they have already been vetted by professionals in the field. State it prominently in your materials if you are part of a Touring Artist Program. Back to their websites, browse around and see what other resources they offer individual artists. Request information and applications. Sign up for their eblast! That’s certainly not going to hurt you. Write down the deadlines for their program apps. If you missed the deadlines for this year, call them up and ask them to suggest other organizations in your area you should know about as an artist.

A few thoughts on grants: applying for grants is a long-term process with specific rules. When you want to pursue a grant, be completely sure that you are eligible and the perfect candidate for that funding. If not, you’re wasting valuable time and energy. As soon as you are the model grantee, pay close attention to the deadlines and the content of your proposal. Are you submitting a complete application? Do you proofread the abstract, proposal, budget, etc within an inch of its life? Only then do you want to go for it.

There is an abundance of writing on the web about running a successful crowdfunding campaign as an individual artist or ensemble. I won’t need to write more about it here except to suggest that you go back to Kevin Clark’s series on Kickstarter once you need a refresher. You should also check out what New Music USA has done to reconfigure five of their past grant programs to launch their new project grants.

One area of funding that emerging classical musicians do not often consider is sponsorship. You can benefit from sponsorships when you are able to think creatively and devote time to connecting with those who have the funds.

Sponsorships are a resource of funding tapped heavily in the pop, county and jazz music genres as well as dance and theatre. Major concert-presenting organizations, radio stations and public radio and television use the sponsorship method of subsidizing programs as a backbone of their fund-raising activity. Sponsorships, in many cases, provide a survival net for organizations unable to solicit advertising. Major corporations find sponsoring a major event or prominent sports or music personality invaluable. – Jeri Goldstein, How to Be Your Own Booking Agent

Okay, okay, so I highly doubt that individual divas are getting major corporate sponsors. I added that as inspiration for considering who might find advertising to your audience invaluable. Consider approaching smaller, hometown companies with whom you have a direct relationship. Figure out how you could establish yourself as a key spokesperson for their company and prepare a proposal. Use your credible press mentions and hard data about attendance to strengthen your position. Work with your contact to find out who handles the advertising/PR because that is the person who makes sponsorship decisions. If asking for a financial sponsorship freaks you out, ponder a direct trade of advertising for a specific event.

Expanding your singing business and performing career means targeting more funding. Examining all possible angles for funding can only help you. The time you spend carefully crafting your materials for grants, other funding applications, crowdfunding platforms, and sponsorship proposals is part of the administrative time you need to devote to your business. This is only a start to the information about arts funding. If you have more specific questions, I would love to hear them! Ask away in the comments below and I can answer or point you to more resources. Don’t hesitate to also find me on Twitter at @mezzoihnen.

in performance: UrbanArias in Atlas INTERSECTIONS Festival

February 22, 2014

As Jon Stewart and the rest of the team at ‘The Daily Show’ will attest, it takes an incredible amount of skill to cover the everyday with humor. Opera does not always conjure images of knee-slapping laughter – even with the recent flood of Così fan tutte performances. The singers from Arlington-based UrbanArias with composer Tom Cipullo and conductor Robert Wood taking turns at the piano, however, had the INTERSECTIONS Festival audience in stitches throughout the night.

Performing two sets of Cipullo’s songs and alternating with their own Opera Improv, the evening had a swift pace that never let the audience disengage. It was a pleasure to see the Cipullo sets performed from memory which allowed the artists to be much more open and engaged. The audience warmed up to the humor over the first set, “Some Things That Drive Us Crazy.” Beginning with some knowing giggles during Love II: Snoring Quartet featuring Melissa Wimbish (soprano), Alizon Reggioli (soprano), Joshua Baumgardner (tenor), and Andrew Adelsberger (bass-baritone) the merriment grew during Reggioli’s hilarious ode to a ‘fluid Italian suede’ handbag in Love III: The Pocketbook. Finally, Adelsberger brought the belly laughs in his performance of Neighbors: Another Reason I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House. Adelsberger’s contempt for the neighbor’s dog gradually increased over the quotes from Beethoven’s 9th in the piano – played with nuance by Cipullo – leading to his comical interpretation of the dog’s imaginary solo in the symphony. The second half of the program entitled “Time passing” offered a sentimental balance to the humor of the first. During “The Garden”, Reggioli caught me by surprise with an emotionally raw moment in which she delicately covered her mouth and shook her head ever so slightly that made the text about an imagined meeting with the poet’s mother come alive.

The mix of established song repertoire and opera improv was a good choice for this 9:30PM performance at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Opera improv is a perfect bridge between pop culture and high culture. It’s an interactive element that allows audiences to choose their own opera adventure. As audience members shouted out suggestions like Obama, Wonder Woman, on the beach, ‘it’s not a tumor’, and ‘getting cold feet’ they were more invested in seeing their story lines played out by the unflappable singers. Big kudos to the singers for really making the improv rules work for them. They made excellent work of saying “yes”, avoiding scene killers, and telling a story with significant musical help from Robert Wood at the piano. UrbanArias has a great thing going with opera improv and would benefit from offering it regularly.

There is one more opportunity to see this fun show on Sunday, March 2, 2014 at 5:30 p.m.  Don’t miss it!

28 Days to Diva: Day 21 – A Budget is a Moral Document (#28DaystoDiva)

February 21, 2014

A budget is a moral document because it outlines our values. How we spend our money shows us at our best and at our worst. I could swear up and down that I believe artists should be paid for their work. If I make a project budget that suggests otherwise, would you still want to work with me? Probably not. Musicians shouldn’t be exploited — especially by other musicians. That is not a change in the model. Before you get your panties in a twist, not every creative experience is a cash transaction. I understand that and so does every other classical musician in the field. If you are making money off of an artist’s labor and expertise, however, you better be able to show her where the money is going.

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Your Day 21 challenge is to Create a Budget in Advance.

Making a budget is a true “put your money where you mouth is” exercise. A budget is not a marketing tool. Your budget is straightforward data. This is your internal commitment to what you value most about your work and the specific value given to each line item. Creatives often avoid budgeting because they just want the project/tour/marketing to happen. What they don’t often realize is that the work they put into a budget may help them be more time and cost efficient overall. What’s more costly than the bottom line of your budget? Not having a budget.Tweet: What's more costly than the bottom line of your budget? Not having a budget. #28DaystoDiva http://ctt.ec/dmdDo+

Furthermore, the absence of a budget sets up many “We’ll just…” scenarios. You know what I mean. “We’ll just… get some singers together and have them create a fundraising cabaret.” Or, “We’ll just… find a non-traditional space.” Or there’s, “We’ll just… get some costumes and paint some sets.” Yeah, who’s going to do all that? How valuable is their time? What if you need a deposit or have to rent something specific? Without figuring out the financial details beforehand, you will be left to scramble for money to pay for all of those “We’ll just…” items. A detailed budget will bring those issues to the surface before the last-minute. For example, your budget brainstorm suggests that you’ll need stand lights for the performance. The advanced notice gives you time to work out an “in-kind” donation from another group before you have to rush out during the dress rehearsal and buy them.

Let’s Practice

Take your recital from last year or perhaps you have an event that’s been percolating on the back burner for a while and you aren’t sure how to get the boil rolling. A budget could be the document you need to specify the details. A big step in reaching your number is creating a budget for each project you do. If the bottom line of the budget does not make the right impact on your overall situation, you will be able to devise the steps necessary to fix it. Making a budget for a tour, a recital, or a marketing project will all have slightly different elements but a similar basic structure. Money coming in versus money going out, right?

Event Budget

Are you self-promoting and producing your event? The following budget outlines some basics. In this case, you’re breaking even and paying each musician $100. Want to make a higher fee? Who wouldn’t? Decide which income factors you can change. Do you think you can still pull 30 guests if you raise the ticket price to $20? Then, you have raised your total income from $750 to $900.

Self-produced event budget:

  • Income
    • Merchandise Sales: $50
    • Ticket Sales (30 guests at $15): $450
    • Advertising Revenue: $250
      • Total Income: $750
  • Expenses
    • Performers (2 total at $100 rate): $200
    • Printing Programs, Posters, and Cards: $50-$70
    • Venue: $300-400
    • Piano Tuner: $100
    • Wine: $80
      • Total Expenses: $750
  • NET INCOME: $0.00
  • In Kind
    • Social media guru/ticket taker
    • Snack for reception
    • Choir X and Orchestra X advertising

Contracted Gigs/Touring:

If you are trying to manage the touring of your own project, this budget may help you get the specifics down.

  • EXPENSES
    • Personnel
      • Performer Fees
      • Crew
    • Travel
      • Rental Vehicle
      • Owned Vehicle (56.5 cents/mile)
      • Air Fare
      • Parking Expenses
      • Gas and Tolls
      • Hotel/Accommodations
    • Contracted Personnel
    • Technical
    • Equipment Rentals
      • Stage props, set, decorations
    • Advertising and Promotion
      • Radio
      • Ads
      • Social Media
      • Printing
      • Mailer
      • Posters
  • TOTAL ANTICIPATED TOUR EXPENSES:
  • INCOME
    • Performance Guarantees
    • Estimated Average Percentage of Split
    • Merchandising
    • Sponsorships
    • Grants
  • TOTAL ANTICIPATED TOUR INCOME:
Your budget is a helpful document – not something to fear or avoid.

“Rocket science it’s not. And yet just 32 percent of Americans prepare a detailed household budget, according to a 2013 Gallup survey. Why so few? For one thing, budgets are a bummer. Strict spending restrictions cause you to think constantly about what you can’t buy,” writes Ashley Tate for Real Simple. Which is to say, Americans hate to budget. They also don’t like being reminded of what they can’t buy. Budgets for musicians, however, are documents that outline what you can buy and how much you can compensate your colleagues. When you begin to feel burn-out or that nagging suspicion that your singing business is unsustainable, get your budgets in gear.

Have a surprising story about budgeting for your singing activities? Tell me about it in the comments below. Have any resources that have saved your fiscal hide? Please share with the crew. As always, I’d love to catch up with you on Twitter. You can holler at me at @mezzoihnen.

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