Who takes voice lessons?

My mother never understood how I had so many students. She would say, “So many people want to be professional singers?” and I’d say, “No, mom, some want to be professional performers, but some just want to get into the musical at school, or into a special ensemble in choir, or some just want to be better.” That blew her mind. She couldn’t understand why anyone would spend money on something if they weren’t planning to make money at it. (And why they’d give it to ME, of all people.)

But my mother issues are a whole ‘nother story. And ones only hinted at in this blog.

This summer, I read Seth Godin’s This is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See.  In the chapter, “In search of ‘better,'” he creates an X-Y graph showing elements that people care about. From a business perspective, one element might be convenience, and another one price. What kind of clients fall within these parameters? Who is willing to pay for both? Who wants one but doesn’t care so much about the other?

I decided that, from a voice teacher’s perspective, my parameters would be technique and performance. What kind of client/student wants to be a better singer, but doesn’t really want to perform? What kind doesn’t really care about developing strong technique, but just wants to be able to perform with a band or at open mic? Who wants to understand technique better so they can help their classroom students, but doesn’t really want to perform themselves? Who wants to perform at the highest possible level of ability? This is what I came up with, based on the students I’ve worked with over 20 years:

Types of Voice Students (click here for bigger version)Image 9-19-19 at 9.44 AM

By “professional performer,” I mean opera/musical theater, because that’s what I do. CCM performer means contemporary commercial music such as rock, pop, jazz. And please don’t feel that I’m judging any kind of singing here – except maybe “shower.”

This doesn’t mean that students are forever relegated to these arbitrary quadrants. The “always wanted to sing” dabbler might start out not wanting to perform (and, in fact, be terrified of doing so), but then dip their toe into karaoke, and maybe later, community theater. Or start out in the church choir, and then decide to try auditioning for a symphonic chorus. A community theater ensemble singer might go for a lead role – and get it!

As a teacher, who do you want to work with? I have to be honest – I prefer working with people who want to perform and who want to develop their technique to the highest extent possible. That’s my “ideal client.” I have friends who enjoy working with adults who have no intention of performing and who do not want to work with high-strung high school students with tons of rehearsal conflicts (in other words, my people). Knowing who you click with might mean that you don’t market yourself as “all ages, all styles,” because that might not be the best way you can serve yourself and your client. It’s not for me. But some people are happy to serve all markets, and good for them!

As a student, where do you fall? Does your teacher recognize what’s important to you? Are they helping you get to where you want to be? Are they pushing you hard enough or too hard? Are you their ideal client? Are they your ideal teacher?

Don’t Memorize The Words – Tell The Story

I follow Marketer Extraordinaire Seth Godin’s daily blog. The biggest thing about Seth Godin is that he doesn’t talk about selling your product, he talks about telling your story. Consequently, a lot of his blogs, even though most people would think they were intended for someone in a traditional (non-artsy) business, relate to us as performers. A recent one was called “Awkward Memorization,” and I’ve attached it here.

A few lines that stood out for me:

Watch a great performance and you’ll see no artifacts of memorization. Instead, you will see someone speaking from the heart.

This is what it means to know something by heart.

And:

Don’t memorize your talk. Memorize your stories.

Are you working on a song for an audition? What’s the story? Is there more than one story? Identify your story or stories. Where does one finish and the other one start? Tell us the stories.

Singing a string of words is rote memorization and it’s boring. Sing from the heart. Be vulnerable. Be authentic. Tell your stories.

Competitions – Subjective Wastes of Time or Valuable Learning Tools?

Yesterday was the MacDowell Club of Milwaukee’s first annual (?) music marathon, which was a competition for classical performers ages 14-19. Four of my students entered; two placed. All four sounded and looked fantastic, and sang at a level which I considered their personal bests up till now.
Competitions are hard. Not so much the getting up and doing them part, but the results part. Of course, that part is easier when you win or place, but that doesn’t happen all that often. I have never won a competition. I never went to state for WSMA; they added the starred first my senior year of high school, and of course, that year I got a first. No star. 
I suppose if I counted 2nd runner-up in the Miss West Allis Pageant as a competition, that’s not entirely true. The best thing about that was that my sponsor was Steve’s Glass, so I had a banner across my body that said Miss Steve’s Glass. It could have been worse. A friend of mine in the Miss Cudahy Pageant was sponsored by Advanced Screw Corporation.
Not winning or placing in one competition does not mean that you won’t win or place in another one. By the same token, winning or placing in one competition does not guarantee that you will win or place in the next. There are people who won or placed at NATS who had trouble getting a college to take them for music; there are people who did not make it to the NATS finals who are now at or will be attending prestigious conservatories or universities.
The singing world is full of professional competitors who don’t actually get any work.
Seth Godin, a motivational speaker and marketing entrepreneur, said this in his blog the other day (bolding mine):

Don’t expect applause

Accept applause, sure, please do.
But when you expect applause, when you do your work in order (and because of) applause, you have sold yourself short.That’s because your work is depending on something out of your control. You have given away part of your art. If your work is filled with the hope and longing for applause, it’s no longer your work–the dependence on approval has corrupted it, turned it into a process where you are striving for ever more approval.
Who decides if your work is good? When you are at your best, you do. If the work doesn’t deliver on its purpose, if the pot you made leaks or the hammer you forged breaks, then you should learn to make a better one. But we don’t blame the nail for breaking the hammer or the water for leaking from the pot. They are part of the system, just as the market embracing your product is part of marketing.
“Here, here it is, it’s finished.”
If it’s finished, the applause, the thanks, the gratitude are something else. Something extra and not part of what you created. To play a beautiful song for two people or a thousand is the same song, and the amount of thanks you receive isn’t part of that song.
Substitute “awards” for “applause” and you get the idea. 
If you do not win or place, this does not define you as a singer, as an actor, as a performer. You define yourself. You do the work, you do it well. You cannot control outcome, only process. All of yesterday’s performers should be proud of their process – they did the work, and they did it well. 
Bravo to all four of you!!