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The "IT" factor

For some reason, I've been having a lot of conversations lately with colleagues and friends about the "IT" factor, and why certain singers seem to shoot to the top, while other, seemingly equally talented singers, seem to have to constantly be scratching to find jobs. Why one singer gets hired to sing the lead role at the Met while another one has to make ends meet by waiting tables across the street at Fiorello's. You would think the obvious answer would be that the one singing at the Met has more talent than the one waiting tables, but that's not necessarily the case. The answer is actually often something much more elusive and uncontrollable: Fate. Luck. Timing. It doesn't sound very glamourous when you put it that way, does it?

This is not to say that the people who do succeed don't have talent - of course they do, or people wouldn't want to listen to them. But the way a singer's career unfolds is very interesting, and having one big job can lead to several other jobs, which can lead to several other jobs, and can mean you're on your way. And in the meantime, a similar singer with a similar voice type who doesn't get that one big job, can get left in the dust, waiting for their big moment. It's exactly the same with hollywood actors - do you really think that Jennifer Aniston is the best, most beautiful actress that ever walked the earth? I'm sure L.A. is crawling with waitresses who are just as good as she is, but who didn't end up starring on "Friends" and then marrying and divorcing Brad Pitt, so who will never find themselves on the cover of US weekly.

A friend and I tried an experiment recently; She turned her computer around so I couldn't see what was on the screen, and played me recordings of three different singers singing the same aria; one who sings at the Met, one who sings regionally, and one who isn't really singing much at all and who has a temp job. She didn't tell me which was which, and my first instinct was that I liked the one singing regionally and the one temping the best, and of course I was immediately indignant, saying "Why aren't these people doing more???" But then I had to remind myself; Fate. Luck. Timing. The sooner you realize you have no control and give it up, the less frustrated you'll feel all the time.

That's not to say that singers should just give up on trying to improve as artists - on the contrary - that's the only thing we have control over, and therefore the only thing we should focus our energy on. But we definitely have to give up on expecting life to be fair, and expecting that just because people who are "in the know" tell us we're good, life will be smooth sailing. And this doesn't just apply to young singers who are trying to make it - many famous singers are always looking over their shoulder at the next young somebody who they fear might be their replacement, and they can get crazy and mean as a result.

My point? Maybe all artists should become Buddhists who live completely in the moment, and accept that now is all we have. Or maybe we should all try to marry Brad Pitt. I mean, he and Angelina are apparently sort of on the outs, so I say strike while the iron is hot, people.

Reader Comments (10)

Brad Pitt is not my type. Any other suggestion? :p

February 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSingin'rin

this post hit exactly on what ive been thinking about all week! i'm a young singer who has started late and i have to catch up on everything musically and vocally, but i could just be slaving away for...nothing...?

February 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Dear Anonymous young singer: In my humble opinion, the accomplishment lies in the pursuit of one's dreams, not in the achievement. Whether you become a famous opera singer or someone who sings for fun, you will be a better person if you explore the depths of your artistic abilities and dreams. So nothing, schmothing, keep slaving!

February 24, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersestissimo

Amen to that one Jenny! Great post.

February 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterC'est Moi

You are a wonderful writer, Jennifer, and your insightful posts should become a book someday, truly. Wait a few more years, and then you will have an excellent journal chronicling the life of an opera singer. (It is exciting to see a singer embrace the notion of an international career, rather than simply a regional American one, though there is nothing wrong with that.) I hope you have plans down the road to present your work to a publisher. Or publish it yourself. It will be an invaluable resource for young singers everywhere, I daresay it could become a classic. Now that's a legacy, right? Anyway, I just wanted to say that this field is far more political than many realize, including the very singers who are on the rosters of the "top" agencies. I know you are not a beginner by any means, and you probably understand this already, more than you'd like! From where I stand, the business is primarily driven by factors like relationships, and internal business strategy. Sometimes, this can work against the best interests of a particular singer, rather than in support of them. I am sure you know that there are agencies which work more on behalf of the houses, and then others which ostensibly focus more on the individual career of the artist. What may come as a surprise is that sometimes representation which in theory is supposedly more like a personal management model, is in truth anything but. It sounds terribly cynical, but singers are basically pawns in this business, commodities who are shifted around and given assignments based on the needs of intendants, casting directors, the recording companies (in certain cases), PR professionals and most importantly, the agents involved. I guess what I am delicately trying to say is that one can be left at a disadvantage by being on a particular roster, no matter how high-powered. And the terrible thing is that the duplicity is hidden from the singer. The business is fluid, however, and the balance of these various dynamics are continually changing, so agencies that have historically been powerful can find themselves with serious damage to their credibility, etc. The reality is that singers have far more options than they might be led to believe by the advisors working with younger artists these days. I would urge you to study the careers of every steadily-working singer on the globe to analyze their paths, for you may discover that there are many different ways to pursue a successful career. Certainly one must have a good rapport with, and trust in, any representative, and that is the most important thing, agencies and rosters aside. And as you say, talent, luck, timing and all the other intangibles will come into play no matter what. What I see in your work and your writing is that you never stop learning, you never stop trying to be the best that you can be, and this is ALL, in the end. So you can feel proud of yourself, no matter what, for you sing beautifully and you bring your heart to your performances. Keep your integrity, always, and you will be fine. But be ever vigilant about your own best interests, even if you take a path which on the surface seems to defy the prevailing "conventional wisdom". Hope that isn't too abstract, and all the best to you in your endeavors. You are sure to go far! PS Excuse my offering unsolicited advice, I just can't help myself :-). These are just some things to think about, over time.

February 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

One other thought, Jennifer (last one, promise, sorry for being so long-winded before). Be sure to remember that sometimes not getting a job is actually a blessing in disguise, for any number of reasons, though that sounds like an overly rosy way of looking at life. Things happen for a reason, blah blah blah - you know the drill! And sometimes singers who are chosen by the powerful backers in this industry - all facets of it - are honestly just not ready for the opportunities being handed to them. Or for the pace of the career that often results from this favorable position... The over exposure does some of these singers no favors, in other words. So supposedly having the "IT" factor is not ultimately an asset at all, ironically. Slow and steady wins the race - enough with the cliches, right?!

February 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Dear Anonymous:
Fascinating. I am just curious, how do you know all this?

February 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSingin'rin

Singin'rin, you don't want to know! :-) But I can tell you it's from years of connection to this field. I don't want to paint an ugly picture of the business, and in fact it is undergoing huge sea changes as we speak, out of necessity. (If the status quo were working, there wouldn't be so many frustrated fans, for starters.) Jennifer is a very special young singer, and I find that her writing elicits a heartfelt desire on my part to respond to her candor. I meant it when I said her blog contributions are going to resonate with a lot of young singers over the years.

February 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Yvonne Fair sang about this best.

February 25, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkv

1. Yes to brad pitt but only before his weirdo beard and hair craze began- how bout the Mr. and Mrs. Smith Brad?
2. I love your writing and somehow it has corresponded with exactly what I freaked out and wrote about last night- seems like we're both on the same page and facing the same truths in this career which is a good thing to know...
3. anonymous- your words hit very close to home- so thanks for sharing, whoever you are and however you are involved in 'the business'.

February 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterColoraturaaah

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