In the past, I’ve tried to explain the levels of career to a non-music-practitioner by using the analogy of a med student. Future doctors complete an undergraduate education. Then, they have to pass the MCAT examination. Most singers don’t have to take the GRE for graduate school these days but it can still be a helpful analogy for the “auditioning for graduate school” stage. Then, they apply to medical school and complete training at med school before they begin to match with a residency. This usually helps to explain the young artist program and artist fellowship stages. As singers, we don’t have the same rigorous and precise board certification and licensing requirements that medical professionals do. However, I use that to explain that parts of our careers are determined by other gatekeepers in our fields who recommend our work and hire us to uphold the traditions (or break them as the case may be…)
Yesterday we discussed the stages of our creative careers and began to decipher where we are on our own paths to professional fulfillment. Today we’ll discuss how to advance through the stages more clearly.
Your 29 Days to Diva Day 3 assignment is to create a three-to-five year plan.
Career Advancement Through the Four Levels
As I mentioned yesterday, maps are only useful is you know where you are and where you want to go. If you’ve been reading this blog or following the Studio Class podcast, you are likely aware of my deep reliance on goal-setting. Ideally, I want you to create a list of 20-, or even 30-, year goals and work backwards from there. The beauty of goal-setting is that we gain clarity on what is important to us. In an amorphous and ever-changing subjective field, being aligned with your values and goals is truly one of the only ways to stay sane. My friend Pamela Stein Lynde, an incredible soprano and composer, agrees with me. She wrote,
I always make a three year plan. I try to be as specific as possible. When making this plan, it’s important to be honest with yourself about what you want. You have to believe you are ready for it, otherwise, you won’t get there. I set goals for people, ensembles, or organizations I want to work with, a number of compositions I want to write and/or have premiered within each year, what/who I’d like to apply to or audition for, who I want to get to hear my work, and where I want my work to go. This doesn’t mean that things don’t evolve away from that plan. They do. But if you start out with a plan for one year, you can break that plan down into months, weeks, days, and even hours, and figure out how to manage your time to achieve your goals. It keeps you in the active mode.
Being in active mode is how we go about building the career of our dreams.
I often describe your visibility in your artistic field like ripples on a pond after a stone has been tossed in. You and your work are the stone. You and your work are the energetic force that creates a disturbance. The disturbance is what creates attention to your work. No disturbance; no attention. The ripples are always strongest the closer they are to the point where the stone enters the water. The energy dissipates as it moves farther from the point of disturbance and the ripples become less noticeable. Therefore, tier 1 or ripple 1 are the people that are closest to you and your art-making practices. This usually corresponds to geographic proximity in the generalist stages of our career. As a point of clarity, if I’m using tier or ripple 1, I mean local supporters and friends or family. Tier 2 or ripple 2 would mean regional support. Finally, tier/ripple 3 and tier/ripple 4 would correspond to national and international support or attention respectively.
If you decided that you are at the generalist level and would like to advance to specialist, you will want to focus on promoting your practice and experience through publicity and networking. Focus your efforts on developing a local (ripple 1) following that supports you in person and vocally advocates for your work. You can do this through local performing, networking, and publicity. This would look like knowing all of the arts and culture gatekeepers and decision-makers in your local area. Generalists focus on performing in all of their local venues and/or for local festivals, series, and presenters. When Pam mentioned, “I set goals for people, ensembles, or organizations I want to work with…” that is exactly what we want to be thinking about during this time as well as into your advancement as a specialist.
Creating a three-to-five year plan is a big one that I come back to again and again. Making sure I do the legwork to promote my own performances and get people to show up whenever possible, using methods ranging from personal invitations to social media blasts. This includes learning to write a press release, and using mailing list services like Mailchimp. Using good old Excel spreadsheets and Google calendar. I’m a singer, composer, educator, and producer. There’s no extant service to keep track of all my varied deadlines, the way singers have YAPtracker. My deadlines include grant applications, call for scores, residency applications, audition applications, student competition deadlines, and so much more. I need to be able to see what’s ahead of me at all times, or things will fall through the cracks.
I cannot agree with Pam enough that advancement comes with doing the legwork to promote your own work and showing up whenever possible. Make those part of your three-to-five year plan and you will already be winning some of the biggest battles we face. The ripples of attention and visibility happen in succession. It is highly unlikely that you will advance without developing local support. You can take that to mean geographically local or topically local. You will need early adopters to help promote your work. Your first supporters are incredibly important in building your social capital and social proof.
Social capital is a form of economic and cultural capital in which social networks are central; transactions are marked by reciprocity, trust, and cooperation; and market agents produce goods and services not mainly for themselves, but for a common good.
The term generally refers to (a) resources, and the value of these resources, both tangible (public spaces, private property) and intangible (“actors”, “human capital”, people), (b) the relationships among these resources, and (c) the impact that these relationships have on the resources involved in each relationship, and on larger groups. It is generally seen as a form of capital that produces public goods for a common good.
Social capital has been used to explain the improved performance of diverse groups, the growth of entrepreneurial firms, superior managerial performance, enhanced supply chain relations, the value derived from strategic alliances, and the evolution of communities.
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.
- Pamela Stein Lynde is a soprano, composer, and Founder & Director of Stone Mason Projects based in New York, New York. Her work includes writing and performing new music with a special interest in music for the voice. To thank her and cheer her on you can check out her work in the upcoming American Opera Projects Composers & the Voice workshop. The First Glimpse program happens on May 18th and 19th and September 28th & 29th will feature 20 minute mini operas/opera scenes performed.
- Burchard, Brendon. High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become That Way. , 2017.
You will notice your own advancement in your career in the level of your collaborators. A generalist becomes a specialist by working with more second and third tier collaborators, presenters, and programs. A specialist builds their reputation by association with other specialist ensembles or organizations. This kind of work demands that you know who is doing the kind of work you want to be doing in your field and aligning yourself with them. I’ve had some artists tell me that this kind of thinking is indecorous but I really doubt that you’re not engaging in it already. We are all aware of the ideas, projects, and performances that inspire us and make us strive to work with those people. That is the kind of thinking I’m suggesting and not some sort of unseemly social climbing in the art world. That would be a very foolish way of approaching your desire to build your career.
Another way that specialists work to advance to the expert stage is to begin writing articles for journals and gaining visibility through recordings, reviews, and interviews. They also begin and continue teaching seminars, masterclasses, private studios, workshops, and more. Brendan Burchard, in his book High Performance Habits, would consider this part of his “Ultimate Influence Model.” Burchard teaches the way to gain influence with others. He recommends that you teach others how to think and challenge people to grow and contribute.
Develop More Influence
Specialists are contributing to the conversation through many platforms. Notice how Pam mentioned “I’m a singer, composer, educator, and producer.” She didn’t just begin her creative professional work with all of those titles. She cultivated skills, experience, and leadership in all of those areas throughout her advancement. While making your three-to-five year plan, notice which platforms or mediums you are using to develop influence, gain visibility, and challenge how people think. Some potential ways you could influence the field:
- Perform more.
- Make recordings and share profusely.
- Be interviewed for articles, newsletters, and podcasts.
- Write articles, posts, or guest posts for online publications.
- Write articles for magazines.
- Teach a masterclass, seminar, or workshop in your domain.
- Teach courses in person or online.
- Promote your students’ work.
- Moderate or sit on a panel at a performance, conference, or convention.
- Have your performances and/or recordings reviewed in online or print publications.
- Write and publish ebooks and/or non-fiction books.
- Curate anthologies.
- Host a podcast.
- Participate regularly in a twitter chat in your domain.
- Host a twitter chat.
- Share actionable advice on social media and live video.
- Send regular newsletters.
- Start a mastermind.
- Have an online membership group.
- Advocate for the arts on local radio and/or television stations.
- Host a video series.
- Attend and teach at workshops in and adjacent to your domain.
- Perform, teach, and/or present a summer festival.
- Host and/or perform for house concerts.
- Curate a series.
- Speak in front of local and regional organizations.
- Host community music-making opportunities or activities.
- Develop a live stream performance series.
- Develop a circle of patronage.
- Build a commissioning fund.
If you’re already doing all of these things, ask yourself how often you’re doing them. Ask yourself if you could be doing them in a more visible way — perhaps on a bigger stage so to speak.
Show Your Work
For those of you who are working to advance through your generalist and specialist stages, these suggestions will likely fall into your current three-to-five year plan. If you’re planning your advancement from expert to authority, take a moment to look back at your previous years in this work and identify which actions helped you advance to your current stage. Which of those activities will continue to help your future advancement? Which of those activities are you ready to set aside as belonging to a previous stage of your career development? Please share your ah-ha’s with your Diva Buddy System and on the Sybaritic Singer Facebook page. If you would like to share more classical music influence strategies or your own discoveries directly with me, please seek me out on Twitter. I’m @mezzoihnen. I love to learn more about your personal paths so please do not hesitate!
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