A career in the arts is a game devised to engage divas in musical pursuits that compel them to want to win. The win, here, is to do more. To take more turns. To earn more money. To collect more real estate in the ears and hearts of producers, presenters, and audiences.
The institutions and organizations that pop up around this incredible art form are attempting to make clear structures and objective ways to recognize achievement. Regardless of your feelings toward these formalized groups, they are almost uniformly created with the mission of educating artists and providing high quality performances for diverse audiences at their bedrock. Feelings of confusion and bewilderment abound, however, when those participating do not understand the structure or the objectives laid out by these formalized groups.
It is staggering how many times I have been within earshot of a student lamenting, “who is supposed to tell me about all the rules, guidelines, and criteria?” The truth that the most successful musicians know is this: “it isn’t anyone’s job to remind you of the rules. It’s your job to find out.”
Your Day 2 Challenge is to Study the Rulebook of Your Field
In art, like in board games and business, those playing the game can be most engaged and allowed to thrive when they understand the objectives and the evaluation criteria. I once read that “Monopoly is 75% skill and 75% luck.” So is singing. If you lose, you can blame it on luck. If you win, you can thank the gods of talent and skill. That is what drives a career in the arts to feeling more and more like a game. It feels like there’s an element of luck involved with every turn and the idea of the overnight success is just around the next corner. Who hasn’t thought, “Well, the odds might be stacked against me now, but just one big break and I will be on top!”? That’s why today’s challenge is so important. We can increase our supposed luck by increasing our knowledge of the rules.
There is not a definite rulebook to a career in the arts like there is in Monopoly. That is true. However, we’re given an outline of the rules for each competition, graduate program, audition, festival application, gig, and recording contract we enter. Truthfully, these rules are constantly changing. But, knowing that is what makes us professionals. We are not casual players in this game. We are dedicated players that have a comfort level and fascination with this field.
But, I’m an artist! Aren’t I supposed to be breaking the rules? I have yet to meet a truly great musician who has suffered from understanding and playing within the rules first. Pretending that there aren’t any rules to what constructs superb technique, excellent programming, and/or succeeding in arts business is ignorance – not creativity. Delving deeply into those ideas and emerging with your own sense of who you are as an artist, business person, and colleague – now that is something special. The rules are not a prison cell; they are a foundation.
To keep today’s challenge a small, actionable item, take a moment to think about your irons in the fire. Go back to the guidelines of that competition that you’re entering. Take a deeper look at the graduation requirements of your program. Are you on track to win? Are you relying on luck to get you through to the next round? Are you, for example, planning on buying Park Place when you land on it? Look at your funds. If you don’t have the funds, or worse yet don’t realize you lack them, your strategies and objectives are incongruous. It does not mean that you are going to lose. It is simply time to realign the specific work you are doing. Remember: the best players are masters of strategy and negotiation. Finally, maybe the rulebook has been wildly hard to find in your experience. Look around at your singing team. Who can you ask to help you figure out the rules?
Studying the individual rulebook that governs your singing life is going to make you feel more in control of the overall arc. Do you already have a system for understanding the rules and moving beyond them? 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 diva knowledge with the twitterverse, hit me up at @mezzoihnen. I’ll be using the hashtags #29DTD and #29DaystoDiva all month. I hope you will too.
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