It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. In the performing arts world that may be a slight exaggeration—you still need to know your arias!—but who you know can make a big difference in your career. Curious how? Read on.
What Is Your Network?
Who are the people you make music with regularly? Is there a circle of professional singers in your city? Fellow choristers? Classmates?
Now imagine how those people see you: hopefully as a polite colleague, someone they want to be around, and even perhaps as a friend. This is the foundation of your network. Maybe your network has expanded to include the roommates and friends of those that you sing with as well as the people you keep running into at auditions. As you share small talk and smiles with these new connections, you work on building relationships. That’s the basis of networking.
How to Build Your Network
First, try not to think of it as “building a network,” advises Kathryn McKellar, soprano and founder/co-director of Opera on Tap Boston. “I think more than ‘networking’ I’ve found that fostering relationships and making connections with other artists brings me inspiration and energizes my work,” she says. “Life as a performer and as an arts administrator can be grueling and difficult to sustain emotionally, physically, and financially. I’ve been lucky enough to build a support system of artists I admire, and we check in with each other—but I also love connecting with and meeting new artists, musicians, directors, stage managers, etc.”
Everyone’s approach is different. If you are not a social butterfly by nature, maybe you only meet one person at a new gig or audition, but you take the time to learn and remember their name and greet them next time you see them. If you are super social, you might want to connect with everyone in the room. Just make sure that you are being attentive to whomever you meet in that moment.
Technology both assists and complicates networking. With a few clicks you can stay connected to the new friends you have met in your summer program or recent production. But as your social network expands, more and more people have access to everything you are posting. Even if you are 100 percent appropriate with your posts, this still gives your colleagues quick access to your political and religious beliefs, family details, even your writing style and spelling skills.
In addition to making personal connections on social media, many of us use technology to share our work. If a new connection went to your website or professional Facebook page, would they see your most up-to-date information? Are there a few recent recordings that present you at your best?
Patrice Tiedemann, soprano and artistic director of Seaglass Theater Company, cautions to not let the ease of sharing your materials encourage you to go overboard. “Now that digital media makes it so easy to contact people, I think that singers have made the problem greater for themselves by flinging their metaphorical business card at everyone and anyone without taking a moment to ask themselves, ‘What are my relationships to this person? Am I more than three steps of familiarity removed from them? Am I at the “level of résumé” that they hire?’ Target your networking with these things in mind.”
Ready to meet people outside of your current circle? There are more places to do this than you might think. Attend performances. If there is a masterclass or workshop in your area, check it out. And, of course, if there is an appropriate audition for you to attend, make sure you are registered, on time, and polite.
If you’re unhappy with the networking opportunities in your city, you can always start your own. Boston has had monthly gatherings for the last 10 years through an organization called Opus Affair, founded by bass-baritone Graham Wright, as a way for creative professionals to meet up. Here are a few bits of Wright’s advice for networking artists:
-Be prepared: think about who you might like to talk to, have business cards to hand out, and set a goal for how many people you want to meet.
-Follow up: don’t make promises you can’t keep—people remember.
-Be sure to listen: “Don’t show up to a new networking group or event and immediately start asking everyone to give things to you,” Wright wisely advises. “Take some time to listen and offer help before you ask for something in return. It’ll be much easier to make an ask once you’ve built up a little karma.”
So What about Work?
The connections you make can certainly lead to work if you are prepared musically. Hailey Fuqua, coloratura soprano and director of client services for Opus Affair, makes it a point to keep things positive both at events and online. “I’ve connected more musicians with gigs via social media than in person and have also been recommended by others via social media,” Fuqua notes.
Wright also stresses the importance of relationships. “After 10-plus years of hosting a networking event in Boston,” he observes, “I can comfortably say that most of the exciting opportunities I have seen emerge were not immediately obvious at first. They came because people started building relationships and recognized opportunities a little later.”
McKellar agrees. “I feel that most of my opportunities, and especially the most rewarding ones, have resulted from my relationships with other artists—another soprano couldn’t take a concert gig and passed my name on or a music director from a previous project thought of me for an upcoming production.”
Tiedemann notes that you never know who might recommend you for an opportunity. A church organist or the board member you chat up at an afterparty could be your next advocate.
Networking is about relationships, and people want relationships with real people. Don’t be fake or pretend to be someone you’re not. You can’t go wrong by following Wright’s advice. “Even if your head is bursting full of ideas about how to be a better networker,” he says, “try to keep it sincere, simple, and real. Oh, and . . . keep practicing.”