My librettist David Cote and I recently solicited materials from singers for an upcoming studio reading of two scenes from our opera-in-progress, Invisible Child. Many singers do not have a website, and are also not on Facebook, MySpace or have clips on YouTube. If you are young and/or do not have management, you should at least be on one of the social networking sites (i.e., Facebook or MySpace), or have a website, or some sort of page with a bio, resume, sound clips and a headshot. It is impossible for us to figure out if you will be appropriate for a role, unless we have a lot of time, which we don't.
Granted, the world of professional opera is different: relationships between composers, librettists, directors, producers, management companies and individual singers over many years will reveal the right people for roles fairly quickly. Perhaps our case is unique, but still, it can only help to put yourself out there so even more people can easily discover you.
Admittedly, we are more swayed by vocalists who either take time to present themselves well, or have a manager to do it for them. However, many management sites are not comprehensive, and that's a shame: we didn't have time to call each manager and ask for materials. It is just much easier to listen to a few clips online, look at a headshot, and read a bio and/or resume.
Did it matter to us whether a singer had management or not? Not really. In fact, since managers are in business to make money both for their clients and themselves, and our project is small peanuts since it's not a major role with a major opera company, managers really just get in the way. The few managers we know and talked to really could not help that much, and that was expected. They cannot put us in touch with people on their roster who regularly work with major opera companies, only those who are not getting enough work—and you have to ask: why aren't they getting enough work? Maybe they are really good, but it did give us pause. Of course, often times, how would we know? There were no sound clips online.
Fortunately, the singers we are using are all excellent—we are very lucky. Almost all of them have something online somewhere, or we have heard and seen them live, so we know how good they are. Or, they are quick about getting us materials when asked. Others recommended a few singers we are working with, often more than once. This is why it is important to be friendly to your peers and keep reconnecting with your teachers: you never know when someone will talk you up to someone else, and heartfelt, warm words of praise from someone important count for a lot when you have little else to go by.
What was revealing about this process of looking for singers, is that with a few exceptions, they are pretty bad about promoting themselves. Sometimes we received recordings and head shots that were years old or materials weeks late (or not at all), or some of the sound clips were so low-quality that it made us not want to listen. If you are singer, why would you send a bad recording? The sound is what is most important: if you can't get that right, nothing else matters. It doesn't take much: just set up a hand-held recorder in your coach's apartment and record a few arias and songs.
It is surprising—although I guess it should not be—that many schools do not bother teaching students how to promote themselves. Perhaps singers (and schools) think they will eventually get management, so why bother? The truth is, a lot of great singers do not have management, and a lot of bad ones do, and as I mentioned before, many management sites are awful: few or no sound clips, outdated bios, maybe one small headshot, etc.
So if you are a singer, what would be useful to have online? After viewing over a hundred singer pages and sites, what follows is a list of what I think is useful.
Suggestions for Online Materials for Singers
1. Biography: at least have a medium-length one, but having three versions—long, medium and short—is optimal. You don't need to have a PDF or Word document. People generally know now how to copy, paste and reformat text from a website.
2. Headshot: a clear, recent 8 X 10 headshot, no more than three years old, preferably in color (graphic designers can easily change it to grayscale with the click of a button). Have two versions: one that is 72 dpi (for online use) and 300 dpi (for print). Note that the image you have of yourself on your home page (if you have a site) does not need to be your headshot. You can also include images of you in different roles, which is also often highly revealing.
3. Sound Clips: 3-5 (or more) sound clips that best represent your singing, and that no more than one or maybe two years old. If you focus on opera, you should have opera clips. If you love new music, make sure to have a few clips of you singing modern works.
4. Resume: in my opinion, what is important here, at least for opera singers, is a list of roles you have performed, with the companies you have worked with, and when you worked with them. You can also include recordings you have made (if any), and if you are younger, teachers and coaches you have worked with.
5. Concert Schedule: this is important because if someone wants to hire you, they need to know if you are available. You can include this on a website if your management doesn't do this for you, or even do this for free on MySpace, which actually works quite well. This is by far the one detail that is most overlooked by singers, and wasted the most time. We found many singers we wanted to work with, but then found out later that there was a conflict, sometimes of only a day or so (they had to miss one rehearsal, but could have made the recording date).
6. Contact Info: at the very least, include an email address, but a phone number is also useful if you are comfortable putting it online. If you don't check email that frequently, make sure to include a phone number. Or, if you use Facebook or MySpace, that can suffice, as long as you make it clear on your site that you use one of those sites.
You don't need a hip flash site, a downloadable press kit or any other fancy gizmos. Just the basics, but done well. In fact, you don't even need a professional site. You can accomplish all of this for free on MySpace, and even Facebook.
What else could you include? If you have professionally released or self-released CDs, include some links to those pages on Amazon, iTunes or some other site so people can purchase your CDs. If there is something else about you that is pertinent or interesting—you have a social conscience and work for shelters, you are vegan and/or a gourmet cook, you have a blog, you also sing musicals or pop music, or maybe you also play an instrument—make sure to mention it. Sometimes those details can make a difference, or at least make you seem more interesting, After all, if are working with someone for days or weeks on end, eventually, you will want to talk about something other than music or opera.
I look forward to working with many of the wonderful singers I didn't have a chance to experience this time around, and for those I haven't yet discovered, I hope I will be able to find you online.