Myth: "Exposure" is Legitimate Payment for Singing. BUSTED!

on . Posted in Singing

It’s time to mythbust [insert dramatic music here] “Singing for Exposure!”

(N.B. this is not singing for free according to the Singing Donation Budget or when you take a lower-paying or free gig because it makes you happy and proud even when it doesn’t fill your pocketbook; this is concert presenters who ask you to sing for a lot of hours for dirt cheap.)

More and more frequently people offer ‘exposure’ as a benefit for professional musicians to sing a gig that’s poorly paid (or not paid at all), as if exposure were directly equal to and as effective as money.

“Exposure” is wrongly offered to singers as a concrete, quantifiable benefit, similar to a 401(k) match or an employer’s share of a health insurance payment. Your neighbor works in an office and gets a 1% match for 401(k) funds, you get exposure from a gig. Your friend has a low-deductible health insurance plan through her employer, you get exposure from singing.

Myth #1: Exposure is a benefit directly derived from the gig.

BUSTED: Exposure is a nebulous, unquantifiable element. It is a RESULT of work completed; exposure is what happens when the work is completed, it exceeds expectations and happens to be heard by just the right people. So it’s the right work, done in the best way possible, at just the right time and just the right place for the right people to hear it and act upon their excitement so as to hire you immediately.

In other words, the stars must align and multiple human beings (all with free will) must seize the opportunity in the same way at the same time.

How often does that happen?

Myth #2: Exposure is a form of payment.

BUSTED: Have you ever heard of a corporation including “exposure” as part of the pay & benefits for an employee? Or even for a contractor? People work, which gets them experience and perhaps results in exposure, but they work for money.

“Pay me less and get me exposure!” said no employee ever.

For a lot of people the archetype of the ‘starving artist’ holds fast in their minds. As if money doesn’t matter to us somehow, like we don’t have rent, car insurance, food, and clothing to pay for, it just magically appears. Overflowing grocery bags of complete meals with fresh vegetables magically manifest in our kitchens when we return home from rehearsal at 10 p.m., the dry cleaning bill is mysteriously paid when we pick up our gowns and tuxes, and we just get free cars from the dealer. Random people on the street give us lunch because they can see the invisible sign above our heads that proclaims,

“I’m an artist! I do it for love, not for money!”

It’s so moving to them they can hardly find a sandwich fast enough.

Myth #3: Exposure is a benefit equal to money.

BUSTED: As in any business, there is an exchange of a good or a service for money. You exchange your work (practice time, coachings, travel, rehearsal time, singing in the performance) for a pre-determined fee, known as the Artist’s Fee, a/k/a an Honorarium. With any reputable organization, you will have all this in a contract well before the concert or at the very least a confirmation letter. It’s pretty clear, isn’t it?

So let’s add “exposure” to the mix. Put on some gloves, this gets messy.

Exposure happens during the concert and after, with audience members who hear you and maybe they will find your website and see more of your concerts, other musicians who might ask for your business card and call you later to collaborate, maybe a reviewer may like you and write something nice, maybe another conductor who is friends with the concert presenter hires you. These things may be there, or maybe not.

The determining factor here is that exposure of your singing to others is completely out of your control. You cannot make another musician call you, you cannot make other musicians collaborate with you, you cannot magically please a reviewer into giving you a 5-star review, and you cannot make another conductor hire you based on what you sang last month.

It is all up to them.

You can only do what is fully within your control—you CAN offer your singing through concerts, sing many auditions and competitions, you can post on social media and send out a newsletter, you can blog. Increasing your output (via concerts sung, posts written, your newsletters, announcements in alumni papers) increases your readership and your networking, and this could lead to some particularly advantageous situations, however those situations are RESULTS and all of that is completely out of your control.

Myth #4: Sometimes one concert leads to the breakthrough a singer needs! Who cares if it doesn’t pay?!

BUSTED: There is no such thing as an overnight success. Singing is a long, slow burn of a career—it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Singers are not ‘discovered’ from a single concert, they get work through auditions and recommendations; it’s a culmination of hard work, determination, and an astounding amount of people skills. Singers have a career of momentum that needs to be kept up. Think of it as a wave that grows and changes as it nears the shore--whatever that singer's goal is, that's the shore.

One concert may very well be the tipping point—the wave starts to break and they can stand up on that surf board and ride the wave--indeed that happens to performers—they worked hard, connected with others well, someone called them up out of the blue and voila they were jumping in for someone who was sick, saved the day, got rave reviews, and all of this flurry of activity helped their awesome reputation spread like wildfire. These singers seized particular opportunities but/and they were ready to jump when the opportunity presented itself. They hit the shore.

To Sum It Up:

Offering ‘exposure’ as a benefit an excuse as to why a singer should sing a poorly-paid or unpaid gig is just plain dumb. Key is that presenters who do not offer ‘exposure’ as a benefit don’t need to. They know the value of their own organization and their audience. And they know that is the fulfillment of the agreement--everything else is icing on the cake.

It is immoral to suggest that one particular concert will lead to a career breakthrough. Just as no teacher can ever promise that her or his student will 'make it big,' no concert presenter can ever reasonably suggest that their concert will make a career.

I don't ever promise my mechanic that giving me a break on a tire rotation will make their months' cash flow goal because I might tell the right people who might become customers. I’ve never asked the mechanic to work on my car for cheap, either. I don’t promise him that he’ll get more work when he does work on my car. He does the work, I pay him, end of transaction.

Does your local sandwich shop ever say, “Sure, you can pay in exposure! Which concert did you sing?”

Usually they just want you to pay for your sandwich with cash.

*****

Read more:

An experiment on payment in doughnuts http://creativeinfrastructure.org/2014/03/21/just-say-no/

A handy flow-chart on saying yes or no http://shouldiworkforfree.com/clean.html#no5

The economic impact and several ideas of how to retain the value of your art (through the lense of physical art, not sound art) http://katevrijmoet.com/blog/broader-economic-implications-donating-your-art/

"Exposure" isn't Payment for Singing. MONEY is.

on . Posted in Singing

I once received an email asking if I would sing a series of concerts for what was a very low sum of money. As is typical in negotiations, I countered with an offer that was higher and noted that if my request exceeded their budgeting, I would gladly put them in touch with other singers. Pretty standard.

The presenter said there were no more funds, but s/he could offer exposure, which is when I ended the exchange with a friendly “My fee for this would be $X and I’d be happy to work with you later for less time and/or more money.”

To put it in terms of clothing, I was offered minimum-wage pricing, I countered with discount-store-level pricing, and forewent industry-standard prices because they were unrealistic for the situation. (Calculated out by the hour, this gig paid significantly less than the temp job I quit in December.)

It didn’t work out. Oh well—c’est la vie. This was a situation in which I thought, “Hey, ok, maybe another time. What’s next on my list?” and went on my merry way.

Then came the second round of emails. Keep in mind the first conversation had completely ended and weeks had passed since then.

What I read was the most disrespectful, patronizing email I’ve ever received. It was a helping of “I’m going to give you a second chance,” flavored with “You’re young and you need this gig,” a splash of “this opportunity could mean the difference in you getting future gigs,” a dash of “OUR organization gives you credibility and WE will give you exposure!” a greasy side of “Your colleagues are doing it for what I offered you [then listed  my colleagues who had accepted the fee],” and topped it off with “You’re not making the right decision.”

Hold the phone. “I’m going to give you a second chance”?! What is this, the cheating ex-boyfriend come back to beg?! No, my response was no. No is a complete sentence. Thus endeth the conversation. And this person had the audacity to come back and tell me that *I* was being given a second chance?

Puh-lease. I was not born yesterday.

My response was a blunt three lines of 1) I told you the first time, I do not bank on exposure, 2) my colleagues can do what they want, and 3) my answer remains no.

That relationship has ended. And I’m OK with that—no one has the right to talk to anyone else like that and I absolutely will not tolerate it. And to tell me which of my colleagues agreed to what fee—highly unprofessional, disrespectful, and back-handed.

Mama don’t play that game.

The point that I hoped had gotten through, although I highly doubt, was that I do not bank on exposure—literally. I bank with money, just like everyone else. Occasionally I bank with favors (thank you Steven Covey) and on swaps—traditional barter culture is alive and well. But really, I am a human being who has invested a ginormous amount of money in her education and training, I’ve got great experiences under my belt, and I love to expand my skills and learn new pieces, all the while working with great organizations from small church congregations to pillars of music in the Midwest. We are all in the same industry and partake in the same market. We are all in this together.

There is a deeper level at play here that is not obvious at first glance and may push buttons for a few people so let's go:  I’m a woman asked for what I wanted (I negotiated) and then I said no (I ended the conversation).

*Nicole pushes random buttons and ticks off a whole bunch of people.*

In his book The Gift of Fear, Gavin de Becker aptly notes that

when a man says no, it’s the end of the conversation;

when a woman says no, it’s the beginning of a negotiation.

In my totally unscientifically-researched, real-life experience, this is very much true for a large portion of the population. Not everyone operates in this way, but in enough of it that when I need to negotiate, I brace for either impact (worst-case scenario) or further development (best-case scenario). Occasionally the response is a resounding yes, and then I go celebrate.

The early seeds for learning to negotiate began with the book Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever. Just the chapter titles give you an idea of the breadth of this topic: “Opportunity Doesn’t Always Knock,” “Nice Girls Don’t Ask.” “Low Goals and Safe Targets.” Babcock & Laschever thoroughly hash out the conundrum women face every. single. day.

Luckily they also wrote a second book entitled Ask for it: How women can use the power of negotiation to get what they really want. BOOM. Read it. Understand what to do and then do it.

Add to it that I run my own business—it’s an entrepreneurship or, because it’s just me, I qualify as a “Solopreneur.” I’m a female solopreneur. I deal with money, I’m comfortable talking about money, I like to learn about money, and I enjoy taking care of my money. I even geek out over finding efficient ways to enter transactions in my bookkeeping.

I’m a female entrepreneur who knows her own value. That can be really uncomfortable for other people. I have the brains and support network to determine if a gig is going to make me happy enough, proud enough, and/or paid enough. I do not call myself satisfied when someone else has "been kind enough to let me do something.” (Barf.) This can rock the boat for a lot of other people—people who are happy to assume that when you are mid-30s and a single female, that you are either a) still supported by your family (?!), b) receiving alimony (!!!), or c) have a sugar daddy.

The saddest part is, within the last 18 months, people have asked me each of those last three questions.

Just stop and take that in for a second.

So even though I am comfortable with money, budgeting, and investing, have my head straight on my shoulders in regards to which gigs are good projects, and I run the two branches of my business (music & German) with organized flair, my being is often reduced to someone who is a female artist and therefore I must be dependent on my family, my ex-spouse, or I must whore myself out for nice clothes, fancy dinners, and a boyfriend who’s 20 years older than I because other people need to think that “someone is taking care of me.”

I work. I teach. I sing. I coach. I adjudicate. I practice. I write. I recommend. I network. I hustle to get things done and I know what my time is worth down to the quarter-hour.

And my time is worth a lot more than the suggestion that someone else should “take care of me,” the heinous idea that it’s ok if I don't get paid much because someone else is paying my bills, and that “exposure” is something for which I should hope because God forbid I actually form a career out of good, old-fashioned hard work and get paid appropriately for it.

What I really hope for is to be an excellent example for my teenaged students—currently all girls. I hope that in every lesson, they see that I am young and single and I am my own boss. I hope they realize that it is not a marriage/someone else's money that will define them, but who they are as people, and that it is possible and achievable for them to run their own business(es), too. If they want!

What I pray for every time I adjudicate is that I can create a sense of accomplishment for the student when I fill out that adjudication form—that no matter their score, they will feel respected and challenged and that it will give them new motivation for singing and give them the true sense that they belong in music.

What I strive for when I sing is to connect with everyone listening. To give all the listeners a moment in time that takes them away. Life is hard and music makes things a lot better. To entertain people, to give them something to laugh at, to be moved by, to bring tears to their eyes so they might revisit a precious memory or work through a bit of grief.

This is what I bank on.

It takes money to get there—money to pay the rent, buy groceries, pay the cat’s vet bill, put gas in the car to drive to adjudicate, to pay for coachings so I’m ready for gigs, buy flight tickets. It takes me managing my money well and negotiating conditions and fees high enough that my business runs, pays me enough to live on decently, and I can continue to work in this business. It makes me happy and keeps my bank account happy, too.

**

 

What is Scansion?

on . Posted in Singing

Scansion (pronounced scan-shun) is matching the meter of the words with the meter of the music, so that we have the right ACCent on the right SYLLable, and not an acCENT on a syllABle. (See what I did there?) The accent of the music and the accent of the text must match.MaybeSoCover


Written for Perfect Scansion: Maybe So


There’s a pretty cool scansion story behind the brilliance that is “Maybe So.” It began as an exercise in scansion and ended up heart-wrenchingly beautiful, an devotion to unrequited love. It’s a product of the 2009 Composer-Librettist Studio (the C-L Studio) at Nautilus Music-Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota.


In the C-L Studio six librettists, six composers, and six singers take part in this two-week workshop and exercise collaboration, spontaneity, improvisation, and intense musical output. Collaboration is key and there is not a whole lot of sleep for the composers & librettists, who have 24 hours to create an entirely new piece of music for 1-3 voices.

For each new piece there is a specific goal that is usually a challenge for the composer or perhaps for the lyricist, so if the lyricist frequently writes prose, the challenge may be “comedy,” or if the composer frequently writes freely, the challenge may be that the new piece needs to be “written in canon” (remember how you'd sing "Row, row, row your boat with a few other people at summer camp and you'd all start after everyone else had? That's a canon.) In the case of “Maybe So,” it was perfect scansion.

Composer Cathy Dalton, lyricist Savannah Reich and I were matched up for this exercise. Savannah had her free choice for the topic and it was Cathy’s job to write the piece with perfect scansion. She chose to keep it very simple, which crystalized the emotions and draws out the languishing, fretful situation of the singer.


Take for example, these lines (the strong accents are bolded).


I’d rather keep confusing you
Than run the risk of losing you
I’ll bite my tongue forever


If we make a “postcard” out of those words, we get:  rather confusing, run risk losing, bite forever. The meaning is present even with more than half the words missing, isn't it?


Now contrast that with poor scansion:


I’d rather keep confusing you
Than run the risk of losing you
I’ll bite my tongue forever.


It’s just not the same. This postcard is more like "I'd keep you. Than the you. I'll forever."


Listen to perfect scansion and console your angst-ridden teenage self that still hasn’t gotten over that one that got away…

 

MaybeSoCover

Maybe So

 

Composed by Catherine Dalton

with Clinton Smith, piano
Listen to a clip:
 
 
 

Sing the Body Electric - Adjudicating Solo & Ensemble

on . Posted in Singing

Tuesday evening I adjudicated a Solo & Ensemble contest and was struck by the goals of each of the young singers. While it's impossible to know all their personal goals without having spoken with them, a few things were obvious:  some stood up and sang a song because they love to sing, some because it's what they do in their free time, some want to sing something with their friends, some to learn something, some because they wanted specifically to give the gift of music. Some to do all these things, some just because.

Sing

Sing (Photo credit: Kathleen Tyler Conklin)

In a culture where we are expected to sit back and passively take in something that other people have done, a cultlure that teaches us not to feel what we're feeling and just go with it, whatever "it" is, all these young adults chose to stand up and create. They chose to create an experience, to sing in their other mother tongue (read:  not English), to challenge themselves, to sing something in a language they don't know, to finish full knowing that they've created an experience for themselves that no one can take away.

As an adjudicator, it is your responsibility to meet each and every student where they are. Students are critiqued on their performance only and it takes a lot of skill to figure out where each student is in their own process at that very moment. It is your duty as an adjudicator, and it is your service as a musician to honor each of them.

It is also really fun!

The challenge lies in finding if each singer is singing the body electric--you must ask yourself, "Is this student singing in a way that is connected to the rest of their instrument (their BODIES), or are they singing passively, unconnected from their hearts, dispassionately? What is making them disconnected? And how can I, as their professional resource, help them connect in a way that is meaningful, that is healthy for their voices, and that they can easily remember? THAT is the key.

Any judge can pick students apart. Anybody can be snobbish and practice thorough jerkism. It happens all the time in music, at all our losses.

Short story:  my senior year of high school a judge at Solo & Ensemble came down on me really hard because "I was one of the good ones." (Pretty sick, huh?) I steeled myself for her critique and survived her harsh, egotistical judgement. I took nothing constructive away from that experience because she served her ego. Because she failed to meet me where I was and show me a solid next step in my performance/diction/singing/rhythm/pitch/musicality, she, my accompanist and I all lost that opportunity to grow.

She corrupted that musical experience. With her gigantic ego.

A dedicated teacher shows young singers how they can improve their performance. Professionals use the opportunity to help build the foundation of music in a student's life, whether it's college choir, community choir, a band, karaoke, or simply music at home. As an adjudicator, you are a teacher, a professional, a coach.

So it's up to you as an adjudicator to help connect these students to their bodies, to their voices, to the emotional expression that they are already capable of. It is up to us professional musicians to connect them so they might sing their bodies electric--to sing with their whole bodies, to sing from their hearts, to sing so that the gift of their music increases in dimension--this gift for themselves, this gift for their listeners.

When we work with other singers, we are not only working with bodies and voices, we are working with souls in bodies.

Electric souls in electric bodies giving us gifts of heartfelt sound.

 

Talking Bach with Steve Staruch

on . Posted in Singing

For the video series Conversations with the Bach Society of Minnesota I sat down with Minnesota Public Radio host, violist, and all-round cool dude Steve Staruch to talk about the drama in Bach's oratorios, churches without bathrooms, and roadtrips to Bethlehem.

[embed=videolink]{"video":"http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ZWJudy6-fbE","width":"800","height":"450"}[/embed]

Making Music in the Holidays

on . Posted in Singing

The holidays are a feast for the senses—you might not think so, given the sensorial overload that it usually is—but if you stop and think about it, the smells of cookies and meals cooked especially for a large gathering (or a small one), the sight of a Christmas tree, the mood that can be created with just a few candles and dimmed lights.

Getting to that special Christmas mood is also a feat, given the additional school programs, parties, big crowds at every single store, and the Christmas card list that seems to grow exponentially every year.

Being a musician at the holidays is a bit of a different feat, as we’re the ones who are part of the main attraction, but also somehow behind-the-scenes. Can you imagine a Christmas school program without music? Just spoken word. Or a Christmas service at your church without the usual organ and then several slots for special music? Or if all 3 (or 11!) Christmas Eve services were held without music?
All of this music requires special and additional preparation, including purchasing music (months ahead of time), rehearsals, practice, and extra time to allow for all that extra traffic on the way to rehearsal. Christmas Concerts, too, and if you’re a conductor, you’ll be thinking of Christmas in June. Probably earlier.
Christmas in the post-War United States

Christmas in the United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A couple of years ago I realized that if I was going to have any time to put Christmas decorations up before December 26th, I was going to need to put up just a few things and they needed to go up on Black Friday. So that was indeed what I did. My wreath went up at 10 am on Black Friday, my 2-foot Christmas tree with the special decorations from the Erzgebirge, the tea light holders from Germany, which is it for decorations. Any Christmas cards I might receive in the mail go into whatever basket is handy. I stopped trying to find time to send out Christmas cards years ago.

The rest of the time is filled with rehearsals, practicing, worrying about how bad the next snowstorm will be and if I shouldn’t just leave an extra hour early, trips to the dry cleaner’s to pick up a concert dress, yet another email to my cousin saying that I won’t be at extended family Christmas this year as much as I’d love to be, I’m working; luckily my family knows that the holidays are when musicians work the most. There might be time to curl my hair before the early rehearsal on Christmas Eve, there might not be. Outfits are planned weeks in advance.

The time between Christmas and New Year’s (appropriately known as zwischen den Jahren in German—“between the years”) is a blissfully quiet time.

It’s when we sleep.