First–why should you? The most important answer is to get work. Now, if your greatest ambition is to sing at your sister’s wedding, you don’t need a www site. Or if you are already being considered instead of Placido or Karita, a www site to get more work is superfluous. But if your career is anywhere between those extremes, you would probably like to be noticed by those who are looking for singers–more than noticed–evaluated. Realistically, the Web will not get you a job; the most that you can expect is that it will get you an opportunity to get a job. That is, no one will hire you based on what you post, but if you use the opportunity, someone who had never heard of you before may ask you or your agent for information, a recording or perhaps even an audition.
Next, you should be aware that a www site costs little to build and less to maintain. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) may give you some space as part of your subscription and may even supply tools to help create the site. A www site with unlimited storage permitting unlimited access can cost only $10 per month and you can design and build the content for that site with software you may already have. If you want more information on those options, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org there are too many possibilities to detail them here.
It is essential that you design your site for your visitors and for your purposes. Far too many places you will visit are designed for the ego of the designer. It may be tempting to frame your curriculum vitae in a proscenium arch with an underlay of a great opera production, but unless you are a stage designer or the lessor of an opera house, it’s the wrong product. There are two reasons for avoiding elaborate design: It’s hard on the visitor and it’s cheap in appearance. Deborah Voight’s postcard, designed by Bliss Enterprises to advertise her website. Visitors can hear, see, and communicate with her via the website.
Every byte you post on your site must be downloaded by your visitors before it can be appreciated. Why alienate them by making them wait for the picture of your poodle (in all of its glory, complete with signature of its barber) before discovering that you are a basso profundo and she needs a countertenor? There’s nothing wrong with posting the pooch’s photo, but it does not belong on your home page–the one from which your visitor connects to the things that you want them to see, to hear, and to discover. In this and all that follows, you will encounter my preferences (okay, prejudices). I am assuming that you are interested in working as a singer, not as a set painter, a webmaster or a dancer.
The photo provides a lot of information–if you choose it well. A simple, head-and-shoulders shot will give an idea of your age and physique, enough to suggest that you are a Mimi or a Sarastro, Arlecchino or Ulrica. The information on your field should be broad enough to cover all of the jobs for which you would like to be a candidate now–”Professional lyric contralto for oratorio and concert” or “Dramatic basso specializing in the baroque.”
The e-mail reply should go to a mailbox reserved for that purpose. Many ISP’s will permit you to have several mailboxes-sometimes called “screen names” on a single account. For example, your screen name may derive from your professional name, while your primary mailbox uses your personal name. If you are multilingual, use a separate line for each language in which you are prepared to write: Please contact me at email@example.com; Bitte, schreiben Sie mir firstname.lastname@example.org: etc..
For telephone and mail purposes, you should use your agent, not yourself; it shows that you are professional and avoids unwanted contacts. The audio selection should be no more than 30 seconds long and the best such clip you can find for illustrating what you sound like; remember, its purpose is to lead the visitor to the page with more, not to deliver everything at once.
The home page should be very simple in its design: no frames or even tables so that a visitor with limited computer skills and less interest in technology can find what is important without being dazzled by flashing lights and long downloads. The pages which follow may be more elaborate, especially those on your personal rather than professional background. The personal page should contain a photo where you are in an informal environment and specifics such as age and height, family, interests, and personality off the stage. This is where the poodle picture goes, along with Junior’s first words and a video clip of progeny and pup at play.
Let me go into one layout for the professional pages; others will work just as well, but this is simple to design, build and maintain. The first page offers a full-length picture in performance and a list of the concerts and productions in which you appeared. Each item in that list links to a page on that appearance. On that page, you may put a photo of yourself in costume–ideally, from the production or concert itself; one brief and one extensive audio selection of the material performed; a video clip; and details including a contact from the production staff. The visitor hoping to cast La Cenerentola will care far more about your Rosina than about how you sang Frauenliebe und Leben even if the concert was at Town Hall and the opera was at your high school. Definitely include any limitations that would keep you from accepting a job, such as travel restrictions, seasonal availability or religious limitations.
The mechanics of creating those photos, sound clips and videos can be daunting or simple. All should be produced for your visitor’s interest, not for your ego. That means designing for the simplest practical computer and the least knowledgeable user. If you are not well equipped with computers and peripherals, you need to find someone who is. Many of the operations can be done on modest computers, but all require skill and should be done at a professional level by someone experienced in using the computer’s tools. But a truly professional shop will charge a lot for services which a friend may be willing to provide for the experience alone, or which a student may supply for a pizza and soda. The following jargon will be meaningful to anyone prepared to produce the material. For the less technological, it means that a simple display on a reasonable computer with a good connection to the Internet will show your site to good advantage while you’re still young enough to take the job offer.
Photos: 24-bit JPEG’s. Head shot not more than 200×200 pixels; full-length not more than 400 pixels high.
Video: 320×240 MPEG’s, 15 fps, 1.4 MB maximum.
Audio: Short clips (30 seconds, 350 KB) in WAV at 11 KHz, 8 bits, monaural.
Full selections: in MP2 or MP3 at 22 KHz, 16 bits, monaural (5 minutes, 1.2 MB).
For photos, you will need a scanner and good editing software. Video needs a capture card and a video editor; MOV and AVI formats are acceptable but MPEG is more efficient and does not carry an implication of Mac or PC. The WAV format is usable on almost all computers and a well-made file will show off your voice even at the low fidelity suggested here. However, the file for an aria or song would be too large to be practical so a compressed format is needed. Not all visitors will have the equipment to play back the MPEG, MP2 or MP3 files, so the stills and WAV selections are necessary. Again, I will be glad to do what I can if you e-mail your questions to me.
A final note is in order about getting visitors to come to your site. You do not need or want to use the “services” which will publicize your site. Put the address (URL) on your business card, your letterhead and everywhere else where it will be relevant. Pass the word to your contacts and post the information to appropriate newsgroups and mailing lists. (One way is simply to inform people that you have posted a site and would appreciate comment; that’s not pushy, but it will get useful responses.) If you find a site which might lead to a gig, such as an opera company with a tempting TBA in next year’s schedule, drop them an e-mail with a compliment or two and an invitation to visit your site to see you in a similar production a year ago.
The www can be overwhelming. But if you remember why you are establishing your site–to interest your visitors in your singing–you can use it simply and economically. And in that use, you will have fun and may profit.
Singer Web Talk
Two months ago, TNYON sent out an e-mail query asking singers if they had a website (or were planning one) and asking about how they were using it.
I’ve actually gotten work from my website. I have my photo, bio, audio clips and upcoming performance dates listed. People have found me by doing a search on opera singer and soprano. It’s an amazing medium!
My website has pictures, sound bytes, biographical information, and is linked to some opera companies with whom I’ve performed. As a follow-up to conventional mail, I e-mailed the web address to several agents and got several positive responses. I believe the e-mail is becoming as necessary as a phone, fax, and P.O. Box. Having a website is a great way to advertise, but people have to know about it. I’m still learning how to link it with search engines. Have someone who knows what they’re doing help you design the page.
A website is a little like a full page ad in Musical America. It can make you look a little desperate. I think they are more effective when geared as fan pages or diaries than as marketing tools. I don’t believe too many producers are out there on the web looking for performers. But it is handy to be able to ask someone to visit my site, especially if they need to view my materials immediately, or if I want to invite a contact to see what I’ve been doing lately. I have at times been away from my stash of résumés and headshots, but been near a computer. At these times I could print out my website for (temporary) submission to a producer.
I would not use audio or video on my website for a couple of reasons. One, it is difficult to make as good an impression with a video as it is with a live audition. Secondly, most people don’t have fantastic speakers and multimedia software available on their computers. Anything I put on my website is only as good as the equipment that plays it. My goal with my website is to become better known and to make people want to hear me in person. My website is one more (inexpensive!) way I can get my name and face out there, especially since I am self-managed right now.
I’m planning a website, which will include audio clips as soon as I record them. The website will serve all my careers as a singer, as a singing teacher, and as a journalist/editor.
I maintain a personal/professional website, and the response has been terrific. Can’t say I’ve had a bid from the Met yet 😉 but I have received several inquiries regarding academic and performance jobs, and have either been invited to send materials or informed that those materials had already been downloaded to someone’s files! What better way to say “Soprano for Hire” than with a website?
My site includes sample recital programs, biography- cal info, résumés, representative writings, and online scrapbook of some of my favorite photos. No sound or video files yet, although I get requests frequently and hope to include some soon. One of the best results occurred recently when I was strapped for time and truly struggling to connect with a woman who wanted to interview me. I had to laugh when I got her voice mail requesting permission to interview my websites. Those sites [and the Editor] did a fabulous job; a photo was transferred electronically from the website, the article was created using information in the web pages, and I wasn’t misquoted even once! 😉 Go, Technology, Go!
My website was set up for free by a very nice fan up at Opera North (VT.) It has no audio/video clips but is very well organized. So far it seems to have made no great impact on my career. My only problem is that there are some typos, and some updates I would like made, but since he has control of it, I must wait until he is able to find the time.
I have a website now being built. The address will include rodneygilfry. (Isn’t that clever?) My goal is to have a website with the address www.rodney.com. I want to be known by only my first name, just like René, Kiri, Tom, Neil, Flicka, Jerry, Jimmy, Jackie, etc. See what I mean? You ALL know who I am talking about. Maybe www.rodney.com will help. Is that too much to ask?? How many “Rodneys”are there in this business, anyway? I will have audio clips, at least, in my website. I sincerely doubt it will generate any work for me except in maintaining the site!”
I just set up my own realm, and my business homepage should be installed there this month. I’ve been too busy to do any work on it yet, but I’m planning for sound and sight, with video clips a possibility, according to my friend (the computer guru!) who will actually be putting to use all the info I give him for the page.
My website features a workshop conducted every week by my voice teacher, Sam Sakarian. You can reach it by going to http://www.polyphony.com/operasakarian. On it you will find the photos and résumés of the singers who participate in the workshop along with our current repertoire. As you may expect, singers are very inhibited about recordings, and though I have an audio page for other types of music (http://www.polyphony.com/audio.html), I haven’t included any recordings of the singers, myself included.