Singing is a completely collaborative art form. You cannot go it alone. Like it or not, your singing is the product of a tremendous amount of teamwork. Here’s a look at six of the people that will help you along the way:
1. Your Teacher
Your teacher will play a major role in shaping your professional voice. Her main job is to strengthen your technique (how you produce sound, how you breathe, how seamlessly you move from high notes to low notes, etc.). She will also help you choose appropriate repertoire and offer career advice. You and your teacher will share a special one-on-one relationship, so she should be someone you feel absolutely comfortable with. Some information on what kinds of things you should be looking for in a standard voice lesson can be found here.
2. Your Accompanist
You will work with a lot of piano accompanists throughout your singing life. Treat them well. These are seasoned musicians who’ve probably been at their craft a lot longer than you have. Don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s their job to follow you; that’s simply not true. Both you and your accompanist have a duty to what’s on the page of music in front of you. You’re in it together––your pianist is your partner in every musical sense. Take a look at the article on auditioning for a few extra pointers on how to interact with your accompanist in an audition.
3. Your Fellow Musicians
All the rules for how to treat an accompanist apply to each and every one of your musical peers, be they instrumentalists, composers, arrangers, or conductors (especially conductors!). Be aware that these people are your collaborators and your equals. No one ranks beneath you in the process of making music. Use the golden rule and treat your fellow musicians as you wish to be treated. Always be a spectacular team player and come prepared to any rehearsal (that is, know your music ahead of time so no one has to slow down for you). When show time comes, let them take a bow and give them some of the credit.
4. Your Fellow Singers
No getting around it, singing is a competitive business. But that’s not to say you and your fellow vocalists can’t be friends. In fact, author Sharon Stohrer notes that networking among your fellow singers––asking them about their teachers, where to find gigs, what summer programs they’re applying for, etc.––is a fun and helpful part of the career process. It’s also important to have some singers around you whose opinions you trust. After all, no one but a singer will be able to understand what you go through on a daily basis. However, be careful when asking your peers for advice. A singer with the same amount of experience as you doesn’t always know what’s best for you and your voice. Plus, jealousy can often creep in subconsciously when singers talk to each other, even among the best of friends. You might find that a friend will say something like “I don’t think you should sing that song––it doesn’t fit your voice well,” when the truth of the matter is he’s a bit annoyed because he wanted to sing that song himself. Don’t take this kind of advice too seriously.
5. Your Vocal Coach
Contrary to what you might think, a vocal coach is different from a voice teacher. While your teacher helps you with the mechanics of singing, your vocal coach guides you through your songs. Your coach is the one who will help you fine-tune your language and diction, your phrasing, your dynamics (how loud or soft you sing and when), and generally helps you map out a blueprint for performing each piece in your repertoire. Your meetings with your coach will likewise be one-on-one, so set about choosing a coach as carefully as you would choose a teacher (you can even ask your voice teacher for a recommendation). There are several Internet directories for vocal coaches, but be aware that a lot of these listings are the equivalent of paid advertisements. Word of mouth and networking will help you with this decision.
6. Your Manager
The monthly magazine Recording describes a manager as someone “who guides, directs, nurtures, and develops the artist, helping you reach your professional and commercial potential.” Similarly, author Richard Owens looks at a manager as a “go-between,” or someone who helps you navigate the musical job market. This is a person you probably won’t encounter until later in your career. Experts advise that you avoid auditioning for a manager until your voice and experience are “saleable.” Once you have several gigs to your credit and you find you’re getting some interest from performance venues, you can investigate getting a manager. Mr. Owens suggests searching your local colleges for musical business courses before choosing a manager so that you’ll be prepared when it comes to the sticky process of negotiating contracts.