Working with Managers

Becoming a managed singer is an important step in a singer’s career. Managers Ana De Archuleta of ADA Artists Management & Representation, Alex Fletcher and Sarah Fraser of Fletcher Artist Management, Brian Jauhiainen of Bel Canto Global Arts, LLC, and Martha Wade of Wade Artist Management all weigh in on what they look for in artists, and how best to maintain a good business relationship with a manager.

As to what managers look for in a singer, all of the managers agreed that uniqueness is important. “You have to find what you uniquely do best,” Wade says. “Your presentation can’t just be good, it has to be unique and good.”

“One of the main things Alex and I look for is that the artist has something unique to communicate, in addition to an obvious level of talent and technical skill,” Fraser agrees. “Somebody who can tell an interesting story and believes what they are saying or singing will almost always be more interesting than the most technically proficient person. Also, when artists write to us asking for an audition, a personal recommendation from an artistic administrator, conductor, or director is also a big plus.”

De Archuleta looks for three things when screening a singer: who sent them, a voice type she is looking for, and credits. “I want to hear that there is something to be managed,” she says. She receives many requests for auditions, and will hear a singer who is recommended personally by someone she knows.

In addition, De Archuleta says there are three things beyond talent and passion that make a good artist. “Even if you love what you do and have passion, you have to balance your life with something else,” she says. “It will make you a better human, artist, and singer. You cannot be entitled and have to understand where the business is right now. Lastly, I look for good workers who will work well with other people.”

For Jauhiainen, the voice comes first. “It is first and foremost a vocal art form,” he says. “If you don’t have the vocal goods, there’s no rush from the performance. The number one thing for me is the voice, even before looking at headshots and résumés. Emission of sound is the number one thing, before anything else.”

Jauhianen is quick to recognize, however, that the pendulum has swung in a more visual direction. “It feels like we’re running a modeling agency,” he says. “We have to look at appearance first.”

Singers who find management often think that their work is done when instead, it is only beginning. Establishing business relationships with management and opera companies is an on-going process, and managers want the best possible outcomes for their artists. Communicating with a manager in an effective way is one of the most important aspects of the relationship, and every manager has different styles and preferences.

Jauhiainen points out that the relationship between a client and an agent is not a purely business relationship. “You have to like your manager,” he says. That said, don’t take the “friendly” part of things too far. “The lines can be blurred between professionalism and friendship, but the e-mails you send have to be succinct and to the point.”

Wade believes there should be a class for students on the business of developing a singing career, and works with her artists to improve those skills. “When I have a new artist, I try to go out for coffee and sit and answer the questions they have,” she says. “When I started in management, I decided I would be more communicative with my artists if they wanted to know more or ask questions, and that I would learn what questions singers ask.”

De Archuleta has a 24-hour turn around for communication. If a singer is offered an audition, she expects to hear from them in 24 hours or less. If she is unable to get back to an artist within 24 hours, she apologizes for the delay, and says, “We expect the same thing from our artists.” For her, e-mail is the preferred communication, then a phone call, and lastly a text. “There’s no way to file or track a text,” she says. “Phone calls are really hard to schedule—they are for longer conversations.”

“We try to respond to singers about pressing matters promptly (during regular work hours, emergencies notwithstanding),” Fraser says, “and we generally hope for the same time frame for a response from singers, though there will always be exceptions with different time zones, exhausting rehearsal schedules, etc.”

Wade emphasizes responding quickly, and that it is up to the singer to find out from their manager the preferred method of communication. “If I make a recommendation about something, the singer should make a concerted effort to work on it,” she says. In a world where technology is an integral part of daily life, it’s up to the singer to make sure that his or her website is updated with recent audio and upcoming engagements.

“Although we are the business end for our artists, we do appreciate when they stay on top of that part of their career,” Fletcher says. “Our most fruitful relationships are generally with those artists that are extremely organized, attentive to detail, and effective and efficient communicators. We also try to work with artists who are good colleagues while engaged with presenting organizations, and take that responsibility seriously. This entails professionally interacting with other performers, the company members, being prepared musically, etc. This aspect is one of the key factors in being re-invited by an organization.”

“We expect them to continually train and prepare for the role,” adds De Archuleta. “We open the door to the company, and they do the work to get re-hired.”

Sometimes singers struggle with balancing different opinions among their various mentors. “Many singers listen to the wrong group of people, which puts a manager in a hot spot with the theatres,” Jauhiainen says. “One of the biggest problems managers have is voice teachers—they often disagree with what the manager is marketing or presenting the person as. You have to make sure you are on the same page. In most cases, the career goes south if the teacher and the manager are at odds.”

A singer and manager must have an honest, open relationship. That includes the singer being realistic about the auditions for which they will be presented and the manager giving the singer constructive criticism when necessary. According to Jauhiainen, there is a “culture of enabling in our business that has made the quality of singing just tank—the client and manager have to set that up in the relationship.” While encouragement and support are necessary, honest assessment that helps a singer improve and be marketable helps their career in the long run.

Patience is an essential aspect for a singer working with a manager. “For the first year, it takes time for things to line up,” Wade says. “Sometimes, the company has someone in mind already, and they still hear you in an audition.” Jauhiainen agrees. “It takes a minimum of one year to be sending things out to have something happen. If I get an e-mail after three months asking what I’ve gotten for a singer, they won’t last long.”

Remaining patient can be difficult for singers, especially when they hear from other singers that there is an audition which they were not granted. “There are some companies that don’t go to certain managers, and there are others that are role specific or your résumé isn’t long enough,” Wade explains. “Sometimes they aren’t interested—there are many reasons why they may have heard someone and not you, or heard you and not your friend. They may have owed a singer a favor, or had that person in mind two years ago but never said so to the manager, but they want to hear them again.”

Jauhiainen adds another reason. “Sometimes,” he says, “the answer to ‘why am I not auditioning for that company?’ is that they rejected you.”

Even singers at the top struggle. “The business is hard on the mind, body, and soul, and it’s hard to be objective and unemotional about your career,” Wade says. “You have to know yourself and how you can handle it emotionally. If you feel you can share business related information with colleagues and not be disappointed, then share. If it bothers you, don’t talk.”

Additionally, Wade believes singers should keep quiet about fees when talking to other singers. “The economics of companies change over time—funding goes down, the size of a role is reflected in the fee, that year’s season is three operas instead of four, they have a returning artist they are compensating higher than you,” she says. “Jealousy creeps in, and it’s unhealthy. If someone asks, just say, ‘Only my accountant knows!’ You can come up with a silly excuse and make it funny, but don’t share information, especially if it’s in your contract not to share the information.”

Keeping up to date with your agent on the development of your career is critical. “We have a sit down once a year of where we are and what needs to happen next,” De Archuleta says. She expects artists to keep up with their network of mentors, and to keep the manager posted on those developing relationships.

“Seasoned artists have a wealth of knowledge they can impart to those starting out,” Fletcher adds. “Additionally, if an artist is working for a company where another of our clients has already worked, we’re always keen to put them in touch.”

Being a good colleague is an expectation in the business. “Many companies would rather work with an artist who has a great personality and is easy to work with, and those artists keep getting hired by the same companies season after season,” Fraser says. “You can be the most talented singer in the world, but you won’t be re-hired by companies if you disrespect your colleagues.”

“When I choose my clients, I’m also looking at the person,” De Archuleta says. “It’s rare that I get a surprise that my artists are not being a good colleague in rehearsal. It’s very rare to get a call saying ‘your artist doesn’t know the music.’ My artists, when I sit down with them, I know for a fact that they are the type of people who show up and do things by the book. I can’t work with people who don’t have good ethics.”

Furthermore, managers expect singers to focus on long-term goals and to help with career development. “Keep an eye on the bigger picture,” Jauhiainen says. “Having an eye on a 5-10 year picture—these are the artists, who, for me, stick around. The ones who want to become ‘famous’ are not looking at the art form in bigger picture. They inevitably fall short because they’re in it for the wrong reasons.”

What if, at some point, a singer wishes to end the professional relationship with a manager, or vice versa? “With our roster, we respect and encourage an open dialogue throughout the partnership,” Fletcher says. “If an artist is unhappy, we hope they will discuss this honestly with us, and will make a plan together for the artist to move on. Letting an artist go is an extremely difficult decision, but it is sometimes necessary. Again, we try to be open and honest about the reasons behind the decision, and simultaneously, provide any resources at our disposal to assist in whatever sort of transition the client desires.”

De Archuleta also emphasizes the importance of good communication. “Tell the manager you have doubts about the relationship,” she says. “You don’t know if the agent will say, ‘I think you’re right, we can’t help you’ or ‘let’s make some changes.’ Talk to your current agent before you go shopping, unless it’s an ethical issue. If you want to transition out of the business, let your manager know, and we can help you do that.”

If you leave a roster, exit with gratitude and grace. “Express a thank you, and say, ‘It’s time to seek a different direction.’” Wade says. “That’s the phrase opera companies use when they pick another singer. It’s best in the business to handle it gracefully. You may have thoughts that your manager didn’t do enough—don’t share it with other singers or online. Don’t vent in a public sphere. Share with family or friends who are not in the business, and move on.”

At the end of the day, a career in singing
is a business. Behaving professionally, communicating, and working well with others, much like the corporate world, can create the kind of personal and professional growth that singers hope to achieve.

Sidebar

From Ana De Archuleta:
• Do consult your team of teacher/coaches and administrators and ask who their favorite managers are. And ask them if you can use their names to contact the agent in question.
• Don’t contact a manager until you have something to manage, unless you are just looking to get advice and start a mentoring relationship with a manager.
• Do ask a lot of questions before signing with a manager.
• Don’t agree to anything you are not totally comfortable with.
• Do talk to your singer colleagues about agents.
• Do look at the agents’ websites to see what their rosters look like and what they might need and to see where their artists are working.
• Don’t write vague and general e-mails to agents addressing them to “To whom it might concern.” If you ‘ve done your homework you’ll know who is the person you need to talk to.
• Do invite agents to your performances, especially if they are in the city where the agent is.

• Don’t send too many attachments on your first e-mail.
• Don’t lie. This relationship is built in trust.

From Martha Wade:
• Do always keep in mind, “What would help my career?”
• Do respond quickly to e-mails from your manager, especially about auditions.
• Do follow recommendations your manager makes for your career.
• Don’t talk about fees for engagements with other singers!
• Do be responsible for your clothing, look, movement, presentation, and website.
• For the ladies: Do always be looking for that perfect audition dress!
• Don’t dwell on past auditions. Business people have a habit of analyzing what they could have done better. They analyze it for a day, and then go on to the next sale. It’s hard for singers to do that. Try to let go of that kind of baggage.

From Brian Jauhiainen:
• Do take care of the quality of your singing! Three words: Just Sing Better!
• Don’t diet—weight loss has to be a lifestyle change. It’s good for your career and your health.
• Do find the manager that fits your style and taste that suits you, and vice versa.
• Don’t take everything you’re offered. No gig is better than a bad gig!
• Do respond to confirm an audition within 24 hours, though 8 is better.
• Do always show up early and well dressed, and be nice and appealing when you introduce yourself at an audition.
• Don’t expect feedback from a company you auditioned for: casting singers is the smallest part of their year time wise, and they don’t have the time to do it.

From Alex Fletcher and Sarah Fraser:
• Do dress professionally for auditions, but also show your individual personality. Can we please get over the jewel-toned wrap dress and nude pumps audition “uniform”?
• Do attach your résumé/bio/media when you e-mail us asking for an audition.
• Do double check your spelling on your résumé/rep list. Autocorrect is not your friend.

Joanie Brittingham

Joanie Brittingham is a soprano and writer living in New York City. She can be reached at joaniebrittingham@gmail.com. Visit her blog, Cure for the Common Crazy, at commoncrazy.blogspot.com or see her column, Big Apple Sauce, on the arts scene of New York, at the website JuicyHeads.com.