Don’t Give Up!

Don’t Give Up!

Every singer deals with thoughts of giving up. Read on to discover what fellow musicians do when they experience burnout, frustration, and rejection that lead to considering leaving the arts.


Feeling incredibly frustrated in the practice room trying to learn Milhaud’s Chansons de Ronsard while in grad school. Teaching high school English for three years after finishing my bachelors and masters in voice performance within six years and feeling utterly burned out. Contending with pre-nodules while attempting to launch a singing career and at the same time teaching at four different colleges as adjunct faculty. Becoming a sales manager at Macy’s after losing out on a coveted tenure track position. These are some of my most vivid memories of turning my back—or wanting to—on music.

Have you ever contemplated abandoning your dream of pursuing a career in voice after having a bad audition, a frustrating private lesson, or an unproductive rehearsal? What we do is difficult and often overwhelming: the fierce competition, the frequent rejections and the endless fine-tuning of technique. Sometimes we feel like giving up. Is it worth the fight? 


Let It Go

Naomi Williams, active singer and owner of AvidDiva Vocal Training in Calgary, Canada, suggests, “Do something to release the inevitable big emotions, whether it be going for a run, taking a boxing class, petting some puppies, enjoying a luxurious bubble bath, or even just giving yourself permission to cry. Then call your support network of fellow singers, friends, and family members who are your steadfast supporters.”

“Journal about what lights you up and inspires you musically,” says Susan Hanlon Ferrer, recording artist and owner of Dallas-based studio, Susan Hanlon Vocal Studio. “Devise an inspirational playlist that makes you feel connected to making music. This is not a playlist where you compare your instrument to others, but rather songs that give you chills, excitement, tears, and joy. My playlist includes songs in genres that I do not aspire to sing but love listening to. It reminds me why I do what I do.” 

Christine Keene, frequent performer and owner of Anchorage-based Solstice Vocal Arts Studio advises, “Stop and take a break. Distract yourself. Go for a walk. Do something that makes you feel good. Engage your brain in an activity that makes you think about something else.”

Respected singer, voice teacher, and author Cynthia Vaughn offers, “Clear the energy of a negative experience rather than replaying the moment on a loop inside your mind. Instead ponder, ‘Is there anything from the situation that is a useful lesson? Is there something I could have done differently? Were circumstances in my control or out of my control?’ Store that information for the future and move on. In the entirety of your singing career, that negative moment is just a blip and will be a stumbling block only if you let it.”

Salt Lake City performer, music director, and owner of Sabin Vocal Studio, Stephanie Sabin adds, “When I am burned out, I turn my focus to something that has joy and meaning. This helps me to recharge my batteries and to gain other perspectives. This inevitably inspires new approaches to my music as I make discoveries that ripple into the rest of my life.”

“We all have bad days where we don’t sing our best or represent ourselves as well as we might like,” admits Dr. Kirsten C. Kunkle, who’s been lauded as the leading Native American soprano in today’s classical world in addition to being the cofounder and artistic director of Wilmington Concert Opera. “Take a few moments to ruminate on what is most important. For me, that is health and family. That reflection helps me put everything into perspective.”

Clifton Ware, well known author, pedagogue, and professor emeritus of music at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities School of Music shares, “Emphasize and capitalize on the virtue of having and showing gratitude for being alive and well, and for having the freedom to learn and develop greater knowledge, skills, and wisdom. Meditation, inspirational readings, and exercise can also help you gain clarity.”

For New York-based baritone Jay Lucas Chacon, it was a trick he learned in college. He reveals, “I was once told by a Broadway actor that people are going to ask you over and over how much longer you plan on doing this. His response was ‘Until I don’t want to anymore.’ That little bit got me through so many times of doubt, insecurity, and burnout.”

Similarly, Shelby Sievers VanNordstrand, associate professor of voice and vocal area coordinator at the University of Nebraska–Omaha, states, “A college professor once told me, ‘As a singer you can control your work ethic, your personal artistry, and your joy. Beyond that, there is so much that is uncontrollable.’ This advice stuck with me and has helped me weather difficult and challenging situations.”

Ann Baltz, founder and former Artistic Director of OperaWorks™, encourages, “Create a list of your attributes and marketable skills so that when you are discouraged, you can read that list as a reminder of what you have to offer that is uniquely yours.”


Mindset Reset

Our mindset as singers is crucial, and sometimes we just need to take a moment to consider all the possibilities available to us. Grace Gori, acclaimed Washington D.C.-area mezzo-soprano and co-owner of Gori Voice Studios notes, “It is important for us to continue singing because it feeds our spirit and we enjoy sharing our art. At the same time, we need to accept that not everyone is going to like our voice. Sing for the people who cherish what you have to offer.”

“Rejection is often a gift that we cannot see in the moment,” asserts Baltz. “Asking yourself questions after a rejection can lead to a deeper understanding of yourself. For example, ‘Was I truly prepared?’ ‘Did I downplay my uniqueness to fit in?’ ‘Do I really want that role/job/career?’ Then you will have perspective with what is holding you back or how you can perform more authentically.”

Vaughn explains, “I have worked with many performers who had nearly lost their love of singing, and I start with the question, ‘If there were no rules, no one telling you what to sing, what would you like to sing?’ Often it means letting go of the desire to sound like you did when you were younger and learning to love the voice you have now. It comes with permission to sing a different style of music, to create your own solo shows, or to even change your voice category.”

VanNordstrand shares, “I love the concept of beating your personal best. That’s where the fun is! You cannot control the adjudicators’ reactions to what you have to offer, but you can focus on offering your very best performance. Have fun, go for it, sing your heart out!”

Back At It

Once you have had time to reflect and are ready to dive back in, what next? Kunkle recommends, “Get back to the practice room, find a way to continue to grow your network, and focus your mind back into music. A career in music is a long game. We all have many successes and many failures, but it is how we move on from the failures to find new successes that will help us grow. Keep going and be kind to yourself.”

“After a day or two of processing your emotions,” Williams advises, “review the goals you’ve set for yourself, make sure your habits support these goals, and get back to business. The key to success is not quitting.” Chacon imparts, “As long as you have even just a spark of passion, it will carry you along. Every job has bad days. As long as you still have the passion, you’re doing the right thing.”

Las Vegas-based singer-songwriter and Vegas’ “First Lady of Jazz” Michelle Johnson acknowledges, “It is important to remember that like life, your voice is fluid. You are a human being, and there are so many factors that go into singing. When things do not go exactly how you had hoped, it is crucial to show yourself some grace and to pick up where you left off. Your vocal career is a journey, and you can learn from obstacles or you can let them stop your growth in its tracks. I have chosen to learn, and over time it has served me well.”


Time for a Change

What if it is time for a change? I tried taking several breaks from singing throughout my career, but I discovered that a part of my soul was empty without performing. I came to the conclusion that you do not choose a career in music, music chooses you. Sometimes a break helps you gain clarity about what really matters.

Gori says, “It is perfectly acceptable to take a break from singing, whether it be temporary or permanent. Trying to support yourself economically as a performer can be difficult. ‘Singer’ is a mode of being. You identify as a singer, no matter what you are doing. It’s okay to let that ‘being’ manifest in whatever way makes the most sense. Better to have other sources of income that enable you to sing what feeds your soul, rather than to struggle to pay the bills and feel obligated to take on every gig that comes your way. So many of us have been taught that we have to meet some kind of unrealistic expectation that we’re not a ‘real singer’ unless we earn all our income exclusively from performing.”

Baltz adds, “There are two ways to go: give up or not. The thought of never doing what I love to do ever again was unbearable, and that gave me the motivation to pick myself up, to fix what needed to be addressed, and to move forward. Ask yourself if you could live without whatever is making you so miserable. Could you really? If so, then let it go and move on. If your heart screams, ‘Nooooo!’ then there is your answer.”

I eventually concluded that I was not put on this earth to fold an unending and mountainous heap of cashmere sweaters. I decided to put my expertise from decades of performing and from being in academia to work in my private studio—and even started an Opera on Tap chapter in Las Vegas. As a result, I’m finding so much delight and satisfaction with music that I can’t imagine ever turning my back on it again.

Dr. Michelle Latour

Dr. Michelle Latour is a Las Vegas-based voice teacher, repertoire consultant, and writer. She is the creator of The LATOUR voice studios, LLC, and maintains a busy studio, teaching both classical and musical theatre genres. She has been on the full-time voice faculties of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and Bluffton University. Latour earned a DMA from the University of Southern California and an MM from Boston University, both in Voice performance. To find out more and get in touch, visit