Freelance Singer’s Survival Guide : Filtering Feedback

Swimming in opinions: filtering through the noise

We’ve all been there…

The conflicting information and comments.

The confusing or unsolicited advice.

Let’s take a brief look two common scenarios, and ways you can filter through all the opinions to find your own unique and truthful voice.

Scenario: You and your teacher agree on a piece, so you work hard preparing and memorizing it, fleshing out the character and presentation. Your coach feels the piece is overdone, or too light for your voice. The presenter of a master class then tells you the piece is great for you but your character ideas are all wrong. In one audition the panel says you should always start with this piece, and in another they tell you to remove it from your list.

Scenario: Over the course of a year, you’ve done several competitions and auditions that have provided you with written feedback. The feedback is all over the map, from repertoire choices to tempi to technique. There are comments on your appearance, clothing and hair. In many cases, comments from one person directly contradict those from another (you over-darken your sound…your sound is too bright…), and much of the feedback certainly contradicts what your trusted team has told you.

So what do you do? Who do you listen to? Which advice do you take?

Reinterpret the information

Try “translating” what the person giving you feedback has said into terms that make sense to you and are useful. Ask yourself how your teacher would have phrased the information. For example, if a coach says you need a brighter and more forward vowel, perhaps you could “translate” this to mean that you need more back/up space and an improved tongue position. Otherwise you might find yourself spreading and pushing to do what is being asked. Everyone talks about technical concepts differently, and it is important that you not get lost in the semantics forest. If you are told a piece is overdone or too obscure, perhaps you can interpret that to mean that it simply shouldn’t be used as a starter. Try reinterpreting the opinions of others before you decide whether or not the information is helpful.

Filter out what is not useful or helpful

It is important to remember that all feedback is heavily biased by that person’s own experience. If someone says “you don’t look like a Mimi” or “you are too short and busty to play a boy”, that is clearly based on their own opinions and experiences and doesn’t necessarily reflect the reality of our field today. I encourage you to assume that the person providing feedback means well and has good intentions. Nine times out of ten this is true, and even if the feedback is not helpful to you it probably came from a good place. Simply pour the feedback through your own personal “filtration system” and only keep what is truly useful.

Look for trends in feedback

I’ll be blunt. A one-off comment from a random person that has not been echoed by anyone else should almost definitely be discarded. Just pretend it never happened. On the other hand, if you are getting the same feedback over and over, you need to listen. Finding trends in feedback is one of the most effective ways to truly understand the impression you are giving out in the real world. If five people have told you your headshot no longer looks like you, you need a new headshot. If several professionals have told you that an aria is too heavy for your voice, it’s probably too heavy. Heeding the advice you see “trending” will help your growth as an artist.

Dana Lynne Varga

Dana Lynne Varga is an accomplished soprano, voice teacher, arts entrepreneur, and career coach. She is the founder and artistic director of MetroWest Opera, which is celebrating its 10th season. Varga is on the voice faculty of the New England Conservatory Prep School, and has served on the voice and opera faculty at UMASS Amherst as well as the BU Tanglewood’s Young Artist Vocal Program for exceptional high school singers. Varga also won first place in the Professional Division of the Classical Singer Vocal Competition in 2016.