The path to becoming a working singer is nonlinear and full of many twists and turns. Undergrad is over and you may ask yourself, “Now what?”
Time spent away from formal schooling is a gift. It gives you time to re-evaluate your goals, brush up on your skills, and get centered. Given my own experience, I highly recommend soon to be, or recent, graduates to embrace a gap year, or two, between undergraduate and graduate study.
1. Experience the “real world” now.
The “real world” of cramped cubicles, student loan debt, and negative bank account statements truly sucks. It’s heart-wrenching, and humbling, to work jobs that aren’t music related. Post-undergraduate, I had no plans. I almost completely gave up on singing and worked at a car dealership. If having an existential crisis while sobbing quietly over a copier doesn’t light a fire under your butt, then you’ll never work hard enough to make it as a working singer.
2. Si parla, si canta: Learn languages.
Recently, a friend of mine said, “there’s no excuse to be ignorant in the digital age”. Perhaps you didn’t have time to take Russian in school because it conflicted with that required Modal Counterpoint course. Carpe diem and go for it. There are a variety of free apps, such as DuoLingo, Livemocha, or Babblefish, to help you learn a new language.
3. Tackle student loan debt.
Take the time to slowly chip away at your student loans. Contact your lender(s) and figure out grace periods, calculate repayment, and schedule due dates. It is absolutely paramount to pay one’s loans on time, every time. Research graduate loans and repayment. It’s a sobering reality, but nonetheless, one that should be addressed as soon as possible. Ask yourself, can I/should I borrow so much for graduate school? How much interest will I rack up when I do go back to school?
4. Get in shape.
Sweat out some angst and self-loathing at the gym or with a run in the park. Stay active. Take precautions now to safeguard your health and avoid a sedentary lifestyle. Singers are athletes and we need to train and condition our instruments just as the marathon runner does throughout the year.
Thanks to the wonderful world of the internet, with a few click you can listen to amateur and professional performances of singers on YouTube, Soundcloud, Pandora, your local classical station, and even American Public Media. Visit your local music store and expand your mind and your vinyl or CD collection. Discover new singers and repertoire. Compare different role interpretations. Look at old recordings of your recitals/performances and objectively critique yourself.
6. Catch up and clean up.
Clean out your inbox as well as your closets. Catch up with old friends and family you’ve perhaps neglected while in school. De-clutter your room, apartment, or house. Those free t-shirts from every collegiate event? Donate them to Goodwill. That irritating girl from Sociology that clogs your Facebook feed with boyfriend drama? Unfriend her. Once you’re able to eliminate clutter, you’ll be able to clearly take inventory of your life.
Keep your vocal mechanism in working order. It is, after all, a group of muscles that need to be toned and conditioned. In the words of the great American actress, Helen Hayes, “if you rest, you rust.”
Keep in touch with professors and classmates. There’s no need to be embarrassed about your circumstances. You need to keep yourself active and visible in the singing community. Join a local choir and meet singers there. Audition for local community theatre (Crossover can be good for you and is encouraged). Establish a LinkedIn account. Brush up on your website and social media pages. Go to lectures, workshops, master-classes, concerts, and recitals. The person waiting for the restroom at the Philharmonic may be the ticket to your next gig.
9. Be nice.
Be courteous to colleagues and practice mindfulness. Be positive. You don’t want to get a reputation for being negative or difficult. Follow the golden rule.
Let me again say, you never know who may run into again. Complain about people in the privacy of your own home with one or two trustworthy colleagues. Monitor your social media presence. Things come back to bite you in the butt.
No matter how hopeless you may feel, no matter how directionless you may be, you’ll find your way. You don’t have to be singing at the Met now. There will be time to accomplish your goals and set new ones.
No one is going to hold your diploma over your head and call you a failure for not working as a singer. Many of my friends and colleagues have exited the performance arena to become successful doctors, lawyers, pedagogues, parents, marketing professionals, or what have you. Breathe and understand that it really will be OK.