Editorial : Every Singer is a Business Owner

In the current issue of Entrepeneur Magazine, the editor was shocked by a small business owner who said he didn’t have time to add the Internet to his business. He was quite content to do business as he had been doing it for years. The editor commented that if he didn’t wake up, he’d soon have all the time he needed…because he’d be out of business.

In any business, it’s critical to keep up with the changing scene, or risk being left behind. Every singer is a small business owner. The problem is that we are often taking advice from mentors who were in the business many years ago and may not be aware of the changing market. An example of this type of thinking in our business is “Your voice is so unusual and so spectacular that once you open your mouth, they’ll forget about everything else.”

With very few exceptions, those days are gone. Like any small business owner, you need to do some market research and see what is selling right now. How? Management, The Book provides a good look into who is being hired. Go to the opera houses and look at what is successful in today’s market.

With the exception of only the best dramatic voices, “the look” of a singer has become critical. Consider Central City Opera’s website, which boasts of hiring “… singers who also act and look the part.” A recent report from a successful regional singer stated that most new hires for lead roles at New York City Opera were “beautiful people.” Read the online reviews given by audiences, where the first comment is now based on the appearance of the singer, not the voice.

Broadway singers have known the importance of appearance for years. Even big names have to upgrade their product constantly with personal trainers, updated hairstyles and clothing choices—even cosmetic surgery. And audiences are increasingly demanding “the look” from the opera stage as well.

Opera singers can choose to complain about the unfairness of it all, wishing for the way “things used to be,” and they’ll find many people to sympathize with them. But any business owner who chooses to ignore the direction of the market will be out of business.

What can you do? First, you need an accurate picture of your current marketability. That can only come from several unbiased observers, willing to be honest with you. No business owner would go into production without knowing how his product is perceived by his potential market. Armed with accurate information about your current “product,” you make decisions either to refine your product (new voice teacher, weight loss, new professional wardrobe, etc.), or to find a market which will embrace your product without changes.

We believe that there is room for singers of any size, shape or age—but they must make sure that the market they are entering matches what they bring to the table. Thankfully, opera is only one of the markets for classical singers. In the coming months, we will continue to help you find the markets you need to find the right career niche for you.

CJ Williamson

CJ Williamson founded Classical Singer magazine. She served as Editor-in-Chief until her death in July, 2005. For comments on this article or other articles, e-mail editorial@classicalsinger.com.