Talent is Not Enough

(c) Simon Pauly, 2016
(c) Simon Pauly, 2016

What does it take to be a successful opera singer?

As I’ve already said, many people can have what it takes to be a good opera singer.  After mastering all of those aspects though, what’s next in terms of reaching a higher status in the opera world?

It turns out talent can only take you so far. Talent in the opera world is a pretty, well-placed voice with strong acting ability. Having talent doesn’t guarantee you a career, and you will find in your journey that sometimes people who were deemed less talented will get a job at a company that you can’t get a job at.

Why is this? Beyond talent, what is holding you back?

The reasons may be:

Your Network.

Your network is built of  connections where you develop a positive relationship with someone in the business on a deeper level. Rather than being a no-name in an audition, you can walk into a room where the panel already knows of you. This ties into creating a reputation for yourself over time as a relatable person and a reliable singer.

As a young artist I would ask lead singers to go out for drinks after rehearsals; nine times out of 10 they would say no. Even though I didn’t hang out with them, interacting with them on a personal level made me a real person to them. During the rest of the rehearsal I wasn’t some young artist observing, I became Lucas the Fun Guy. When I come up in a conversation, I now have an added edge of “he’s a great singer AND he’s a great person.” People want to work with nice people. I make the extra effort to contact those who I enjoy working with, too, and simply stay up to date or in touch with their lives so we can all stay connected.

People want to enjoy their time at work and if you are just as good as someone else for the job, they’re probably going to hire the person who’s not an asshole (or rather, they’re going to enjoy the person they most enjoy working with).

Your Luck.

“I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” – Thomas Jefferson

In many stories during my career, Lady Luck helped create a magical moment when everything came together. That’s why putting yourself out there for opportunities and making yourself available for whatever may come is so important. There’s only a certain amount of opportunities that come in your life – you need to make yourself available for those opportunities as well as you can. (Check in for my next post about one of these hilarious stories.)

Your Social Media.

I used to think, “I don’t need a fan page or a website. Apps are just a trend.” Then, fellow opera singers began to voice their art through social media and it made me see it as a necessity.

First of all, social media is free publicity. It also allows me to connect with you: my fans and friends. I try to keep it current while on my travels and gigs and let others peek into my life (as you’re reading this blog post, wink wink).

Sometimes I worry that there’s so much noise in the opera world already, and that my impact doesn’t make a sound. One day, I realized that my career was no longer just about me. I needed to give the world a glimpse into the crazy life I lead to sustain and energize my career as much as possible.

Your Entrepreneurial Mindset.

As an opera singer, you may not think of yourself as an entrepreneur, but you are. You are responsible for creating the “business of you,” and helping find customers – agents, auditions, and an audience – to help support your business.

There are many things to focus on as an entrepreneur. You need to keep up with contacts in the business, and put yourself out there for opportunities. I write a newsletter that I regularly send out to people in the business whom I’ve worked with to keep my name afloat in the sea of singers/baritones. You can’t fully rely on your management to find you work—there is an element of representing yourself as a product, a brand. I have many different facets running to get my name out. It’s necessary to helping keep me successful at my art.

With Christine Goerke, soprano, and Susan Graham, mezzo-soprano at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, 2016
With Christine Goerke, soprano, and Susan Graham, mezzo-soprano at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, 2016.

Your Charm.

Charm is hard to manufacture, but we each have our own style of it. Be memorable to audiences onstage and off through something unique and uncontrived. Charm is undefinable and impossible to fabricate but I find being cool and confident has a positive impact on those who I work with. I notice that my acting gets a lot of attention for its naturalness. This is my charm – can you describe yours?

Your Gimmick.  

Many artists may shy away from having a gimmick, but they can be helpful throughout your career. In this case, I mean a gimmick to be something memorable and unique that triggers an immediate recognition of a performer. This could be anything from outlandish hair or noticeable outfits, to controversial gestures/words, sex appeal, or a touching back story.

Every opera star has had a gimmick. If you say “Deborah Voigt,” most people don’t recognize the soprano who was fired from Royal Opera House for exceeding her costume measurements by name.  Outside the opera world, Lady Gaga is a master at this—even though her pop songs were so catchy and well performed, she needed an extra push through the limelight and her outfits received a lot of attention.

A gimmick is not always flashy. Some of the best singers I know use poise and class as their gimmick. I still have yet to find mine. Sometimes I think it may be staring me in the face and I just can’t see it. Maybe the Karaoke Baritone? Or the Redneck Baritone? Who knows.

Some Final Thoughts.

“Talent is a process, not a thing.” – David Shenk

Sadly, I’ve seen many talented singers who don’t make it in this business. In reality, talent only creates success in some areas of your career. Of course you must have talent to get into the opera business – but you also need the above factors to be a stand out in the opera world.

One last thing I’ve seen the most successful opera singers have? The “It Factor.” This is the hardest success factor to describe. It’s what helps some artists formulate a Top 100 hit song. It’s the personality traits that  make up a ‘star.’ It creates the ‘total’ package, and it’s unique to everyone. While I haven’t completely mastered this myself, I do have some ideas on my own ‘It Factor.’ If I gave away this secret, I’d have to kill you…


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