Notes From the Field : Battling for Balance

I can’t boast any Olympic gold medals for mastering the balance beam in gymnastics, but I often feel like my life as an artist is a perpetual search for equilibrium. Living and working as a singer isn’t a 9-to-5 situation in which an employee can clock out at the end of the day and forget about work until the next shift. My singing career requires me to act as my own CEO, travel agent, personal assistant, publicist, accountant, and tutor. That often leaves little time or energy for other factors such as rest, relationships, and other menial daily duties.

What is the magic formula for finding balance? Easy solutions escape me, but here are a few tips I’ve learned (often the hard way) over the past 10 years.

Balancing Time
Structuring daily activities while rehearsing a show is simple. I exercise in the morning before staging for six hours, and then I socialize and run errands in the evening.

Between gigs it’s important to manage time carefully. I study new repertoire for 30 minutes every morning on the elliptical machine at the gym. Exercising while reviewing music saves time, and the physical motion helps to calm my brain.

I set my alarm for the same time every day even if I don’t have anything on my calendar. Otherwise it’s all too easy to putter around the house and squander time on social media until half the day is gone.

All app notifications on my smartphone are turned off and I delete Facebook and Twitter from my device if I’m not feeling fully prepared for a new role lurking around the corner.

Each commute is a perfect opportunity to reinforce music and technique. While I’m en route to my destination, I always have my recorded coachings or an album of an upcoming opera playing in my earbuds. Even if I’m not paying full attention the whole time, it’s astounding to look back and realize how much of it soaks into my brain after a week.

I’ve found that studying and coaching in the morning and afternoon is the most effective strategy. Every time I put it off until the evening, something else inevitably comes up and then I procrastinate until another day.

Balancing Money
The crucial first step I learned for balancing money was to build up a small emergency fund (I started with $1,000). This took me out of the cycle of living paycheck to paycheck. The need to buy an extra score or visit an ENT no longer took away my ability to pay rent, and this resulted in much less strain on my sanity and my wallet.

The wisest advice my mentor gave me was to pay myself first with every paycheck. In 2008 I was starting my first Young Artist Program and I felt like I didn’t have extra funds to save. Our country was in the middle of a recession, and my instinct was not to invest in a volatile stock market. One of my smart colleagues convinced me to open a Roth IRA and set up automatic monthly contributions. Over the past decade, the funds I invested have increased exponentially. The key was to stay disciplined enough to keep investing and to never withdraw.

Spending an entire fee from an opera is always tempting. I would see that check on closing night and feel rich! But then I remembered that the fee had to cover food, rent, taxes, my agent’s commission . . . and the next month when I might not have another gig. I’ve tried to keep a consistent budget so I can make those fees stretch until the next concert comes along.

Are you having difficulty finding funds for a coaching? Try bartering. Several of my friends trade work as a personal assistant, a babysitter, or even a housekeeper in exchange for lessons. If you want it badly enough, you’ll find a way to make it happen!

Balancing Emotions and Relationships
Building a life with a significant other is a challenging task in the best of circumstances. But if one of you is on the road for 10 months out of the year, and if schedules usually don’t line up, the situation can feel impossible.

It’s such a cliché, but when it comes to mental health, therapy helps. Devoting resources to my mental health is the most important investment I ever made. The positive effects from my progress with my therapist spilled over into my dating life, my physical health, and my singing. It’s a constant work in progress, but it’s absolutely worthwhile.

Tap into technology with your partner! I don’t mean by sending a text or a silly gif. Those can be fun, but they’re no substitute for seeing your significant other’s face when they’re telling you about their day. Studies have shown that roughly 75 percent of communication is nonverbal, so it’s crucial to carve out time to make a video call if one of you is out of town. You can even use apps to watch your favorite TV show together at the same time. I’ve known couples who have found joy in cooking the same recipe together via video chat, and other pairs have loved reading the same book and discussing it each day. And it may sound crazy, but a good old-fashioned love letter is still pretty powerful!

Balance Perspective and Expectations
“Adulting” doesn’t happen overnight. Developing strategies for artistry and real-life problems is a never-ending hill to climb. But experience and wisdom from those I trust has helped me to find the best paths to take along that uphill slope.

Take time to reflect on what works best for you—and don’t be afraid to reach out to teachers, therapists, partners, and friends when you need help. Tapping into empathy and community will help you conquer your problems and will make you a better singer too!

Jonathan Blalock

Jonathan Blalock recently earned critical acclaim as Prince Claus in Mark Adamo’s Becoming Santa Claus with the Dallas Opera. A specialist in 21st century music, Rossini, and Mozart, Blalock has performed with companies and symphonies including Washington National Opera, Des Moines Metro Opera, Michigan Opera Theatre, Pacific Symphony, the Opera Orchestra of New York, the PROTOTYPE Festival, Opera Hong Kong, the Santa Fe Opera, West Edge Opera, and many more.