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10/19/2014

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anonymous4

As a singer who is somewhere between young-artist and emerging-professional, I signed this petition, in hopes of opening up this type of discussion. However, I too found the language to be unnecessarily dramatic, and I understand why artistic administration feels offended and (perhaps) ambushed.

For me, it comes down to one key question:
If you apply to sing for a company, and you pay the fee, and you submit all the necessary information, and you are denied an audition: what happens to your money? For example, Ms. Rogers has been publicly vocal about the fact that they received over 1000 applications for their young artist program this year. At $35 an application, that comes to over $35,000 and knowing that a company is pulling that kind of money in audition fees alone can seem overwhelming and discouraging for us. For the singers that make it to the live round of auditions, their fee will grant them the ability to sing for a lovely and talented panel, the benefit of a space to sing in and a competent accompanist. Certainly that is worth $35 (or more!). Those that don't make it to the live round, however, are paying the same price for seemingly little benefit. How is their money spent?

There is plenty of speculation on this question, and it is frustrating to both sides. Does anyone have an answer?

Is there any possibility of reducing the cost of the base fee and then charging singers who *do* get auditions separately for the pianist and space rental? It might cost a little more for the auditions you do get, but at least it would add a level of transparency and reduce costs for those who are getting "declined without audition" repeatedly in an audition season. In order to reduce the "us vs. them" feeling in the business, I think both sides need to communicate as openly as possible. Why are some companies charging $20 and some charging $75? Why do competitions often charge upwards of $100 to enter? I don't think anyone begrudges the person who gets paid hard work that goes into screening applications, but why does it seem to cost such varying amounts to accomplish that task?

Thank you for picking up the other side of this!

Cindy

Anon4, thanks for your comment. I've created a file of questions singers are asking, and intend to present them to a panel of administrators who agree to answer them. :) I believe we'll see that there's no one-size-fits-all response, but I also think that if we as a community can come up with some proposals that work, some of these companies might be willing to revise their policies.

anon

I think it's important to stop using "Audition Fee" and "Application Fee" interchangeably. There is a big difference. There are very few reasonable minded singers who begrudge a reasonable audition fee. We understand the costs and are happy to help offset the costs for the sake of making these audition opportunities available. It's the application fee paid by those who don't receive the audition that is the real crux of the issue. Simply put, those that aren't getting auditions are subsidizing those that are. This is why people are feeling victimized and use language like "predatory". I agree that the language in the petition was needlessly inflammatory, and the overall demands are unrealistic and counter-productive, but I understand where the sentiment comes from.

Hannah Spierman

"And while there certainly are companies, competitions, training programs, and individuals who are unscrupulous in their business dealings and who take advantage of some singers' naivete, those who advocate for young singers take great offense at being lumped into one stewpot with the charlatans."

How do you propose we differentiate between the unscrupulous and the advocates? Suppose we consider the advocates to be only those companies whose administrators have been quoted in this article -- after all, how can we tell who's unscrupulous and who isn't, if only a few have spoken out -- and suppose we limit our applications to only those advocate companies. We may not have a chance of being hired, since the application volume for those advocate companies will obviously be enormous, but at least we'll know that our applications and their attendant fees will have been received by ethical administrators.

All due respect to the advocates, who take offense at being lumped in with the unscrupulous, but there's often no way for a singer to know which kind you are. Are all men rapists? Of course not - but we understand why a woman can sometimes struggle to feel safe around any man.

anonymous5

I think the comment above expresses some of the issue from the singer side well. I would add two other thoughts.

1. The issue of application fees (which I consider different from audition fees) does not only exist in the YAP and competition world. Some companies do charge fees just to apply for their general auditions. This *is* an employment application, and to pay for the privilege of submitting a couple pieces of paper after which you may or may not actually be heard does begin to make you feel like part of their income stream and not a potential employee. The fact that it is obviously in their financial interest to extend deadlines and encourage applications from as many singers as possible does not help the perception. We all know no one is getting rich from this, but it does feel like some places are managing to stay afloat on the backs of singers who aren't even working for them.

2. For me, this is the bigger issue: the enormous proliferation of YAPs over the last number of years. (Competitions too but to a lesser extent, I think.) It seems that every little hole-in-the-wall company now has its own YAP, to the extent that my impression is it's getting harder for non-YAP singers to get work as secondary roles or covers (based on anecdotal evidence alone; I'd be curious whether AGMA or anyone has actual numbers for that.) Given what we all know about the precarious state of the opera industry right now, it's hard not to conclude that everybody and their brother are starting YAPs because they help the bottom line, that it must be cheaper than hiring comprimarios and covers and choruses for individual productions. It's possible this is not true, but it's the obvious conclusion for people outside of administration to draw without any information to the contrary. Does the opera world really need this many YAPs and "summer institutes"? Who are they actually serving? Singers? Companies? Directors who need an income stream during the off season? What is their role in the finances of the opera business as a whole? Again, we all know no one is getting rich, that everyone is hurt if companies *can't* stay afloat, that directors need regular income to stay in the business too, but who is actually supporting whom? Without more financial openness it's hard to know and easy for young singers to start to feel taken advantage of.

Brynne

Thank you for posting this! It is very good to see some of the "other side" of the story here. And I think you make a very good point in saying that singers should use more discretion in applying for YAPs and competitions. As a young singer I was told over and over again, "apply for everything!" That's exactly what I did, and now I look back on a LOT of wasted money, time, and effort, which would have been better spent focusing on the opportunities which were best suited to me. Singers need to learn to be more sensible and pragmatic in the application process. But also, teachers and coaches should stop repeating this "apply for everything" mantra to us - it's NOT helpful! It only leads to empty bank accounts and wounded egos. I know it's hard to be brutally honest to a student, but really it's for the best. Much better than allowing them to waste their time and money on something that's clearly not for them.

singerteacher

Yes to anon's comments. Some companies' replies seem to think people are upset about audition fees, not application fees. Not so.

There's also a huge lack of information about what actually happens to those applications. Does someone actually listen to every single application audio all the way through? Or do some not even make it to the listening phase? If they make it to the listening phase, how many minutes (or seconds) of each recording are actually heard? Do listeners actually listen for "potential," or are they really looking for perfection? Are the recordings grouped by voice type? Are some applications fast-tracked (e.g. those with previous YAP experience)? Demystifying the process would be helpful for singers, who can then decide whether they should apply or not.

anonymous

I am so glad this conversation is happening. The "Us VS Them" mentality is not just debilitating for the industry but for the singers and admin as they go into each audition. I spite of all this, I like to think that everybody hearing me wants me to sound good. Even if there isn't a spot for me, they want to be entertained at the very least.

That being said, as comments above have mentioned: the million dollar question among my YAP colleagues is, "why are application fees not refunded when an audition isn't granted?"

This article gives some good general advice about the YAP world, but how many companies advertise what spots are open? You can count them in one hand. I know specifically of one summer festival that does list roles to be filled by YAPs, but many of those listed have already been granted to returning artists. Also, finding companies that fit your skill level? After eight YAPs, I can tell you the skill level is wide-ranging in even the most prestigious programs. I tend to choose my auditions based on the company's repertoire. That's really the only information we sometimes have available without a direct "in" with the company.

Let's not even mention the companies that send out emails to all previous applicants inviting them to sing again because they are "ideal candidates."

Justin

In agreement with several other commenters on here. The issue is with application fees. If you are not granted an audition, where did that money go? There's no accompanist to pay, there's no space to rent, and I suspect they're not paying somebody $35 every time they look through an application. If I paid $35 for an audition, I'd be completely understanding and have an idea of where that money went. But if it's just an application, the only place that money can be going is towards another applicants audition, towards administrative pay, or towards production budgets. That's unfair to people who have devoted themselves to their musical career, forgoing a higher paying job.

Simple solution? Get rid of app fees and only require payment once an audition is granted. If you can't afford to do an audition tour without application fees, then you need to become a regional company because it is not on the singers to fund your talent search. As a singer who also straddles straight theatre and voice over, I know for a fact that the application process does not require a company to charge a fee. It is part of administrative budget to account for those applications and every company on the planet has to work with it. Which heavily implies those monies are going towards the company's budget rather than actual application processing expenses.

Opera is hurting, there is no denying that. But the solution is not to recoup those expenses from the throngs of amateur and emerging professional singers trying to get their career started. I've long thought there are far to many small, ill suited companies vying for that overhead which could go towards settled companies with a better chance of sustaining an ongoing production schedule. I'm far more inclined to pay $35 to a company auditioning for 8 shows in a calendar year than one company auditioning for 1 show in a summer. It does seem to suggest that many teachers or aging professional singers believe they've found a way to make a paycheck by starting a summer festival or training program. As has been said, if companies would be more open about the quality of their program and the quality of singers they expect, we could put our money where we would like it to go rather than throwing it everywhere and hoping.

Cindy

Hi friends,

Thank you all for such a great discussion! Please keep it going! I am in the process of compiling a list of "What Singers Want", which attempts to encapsulate the collected concerns and proposals that singers have for improving the system from the various social media discussions I've been monitoring. I'm also putting together a list of questions which I will then present to a panel of admins for response. The results will be published on this blog and I will submit them to Classical Singer as well.

If you have questions, anecdotes, proposals, commentary, etc., please feel free to post them here or email them to me directly at Info @ TheBusinessOfSinging dot com (or you can do it through my website).

I would also VERY much welcome the input of any administrators who want to comment on this thread. If you prefer to be anonymous so that you can speak freely, please email or FB message me.

Thank you all, and let's keep talking!

Cindy

Another_Young_Singer

I appreciate Cindy trying to take up the side of "the Man" in this discussion, but I still think it's framed in the wrong way. My friends who are orchestral musicians completely balk at the fact that we singers pay for applications and then are not even guaranteed an audition. By contrast, they are typically required to submit a deposit check and it is returned to them when they show up to play. That way if they don't how up and there's been a time set aside for them, the panel keeps their money. If not, they simply return it. That makes sense. My friends who are actors or musical theatre performers state frankly that any audition that asks for money is a scam. Only we opera singers are frequently required to pay money to get a form letter telling us we won't even be heard.

It's simply ludicrous and the notion that it should be excused for YAPs because it's on the job training makes no sense to me at all. There have been major lawsuits over this loophole employers find by having "interns" otherwise known as un or underpaid employees who do labor for "experience." But the unfortunate part of the equation is that without YAPs (at least in the states) it's almost impossible to move on to roles with any respectable opera companies and THAT is the real heart of the outrage Cindy references as unique to this generation. The millenials are the most debt riddled generation in the better part of a century and job opportunities are terrible in all fields, particularly the arts. The YAP system acts as little more than an extension of academia, wherein singers without certain schools and connections on paper are not even considered and thus this further entrenches this hierarchy of overpriced music schools. Their are some companies that will not even hear a singer for a YAP unless they attended a major conservatory, and then these same bureaucrats are the ones encouraging singers to "find their own path." It's completely dishonest. The discussion that needs to be had is of the efficacy of the entire YAP system and how it blocks certain young singers from moving further in their careers because they lack certain qualifications on paper or are late vocal bloomers at the same time there is a death of fuller bodied operatic voices (Verdi, Wagner and even Puccini) on the great stages of the world. Opera companies need to do more than offer 4-8 slots to young singers who all invariably attended 1 of about 7 schools or a handful of other YAPs. Perhaps more open auditions (I know it's a pain to have cattle call auditions) because something has got to give. Cindy is right to keep encouraging young singers to make more informed choices, but at some point the business has to take some credit for limiting those choices.

1timeadmin

This is a really interesting and important topic, and I personally respect both sides of the issue and the position that singers are in as well as the position that administrators are in. I don't have a real solution- all I can provide is some comments on the current system as a former YAP administrator:

There are a lot of singers out there applying to YAPs who simply do not have the goods and will not have solo careers, but who are not being told this early enough. Degrees in vocal performance are being handed out left, right, and center these days regardless of vocal talent. And I feel like this is where the problem starts- people with voice degrees who have some illusion that they will therefore have careers as soloists. If anything, the universities are being predatory by accepting the tuition money, knowing (or maybe not knowing) that there is no future for the singer in the business. And Another_Young_Singer is wondering why it seems singers must have attended "1 of about 7 schools" to get into a YAP, and that's because only about that many schools are being selective enough in the quality of singer they accept at the undergraduate and graduate level, and only that many schools have faculties that are teaching good operatic singing and are preparing their students for the business. If you've got Cappuccilli-level raw talent it doesn't really matter where you go, but otherwise there are only a handful of schools and programs producing singers with potential worth YAPs investing in. And again, let's be real- 4-8 slots per year in about 6-12 YAPs is only maybe 20-80 singers in the YAP circuit each year, and that's being very generous. How many singers are graduating with degrees every year? There simply aren't enough positions to offer.

While yes applying to YAPs is similar to a regular job application, it really isn't, since a live audition in an appopriate space is a requirement, and there are significant costs involved in making that happen. And as Kathleen Kelly is quoted as saying- this is all done above and beyond administrators' regular paid hours. Flights, hotels, pianist fees, venue rental... some companies go all over the USA. Imagine the trade-off of companies only holding auditions at their own house/rehearsal center but having no application fee- instead of applicants making an initial $30 or $35 investment for the company to come to the applicant, applicants would have to cover all of their own travel expenses, maybe take significant time off their day job, and so on. It's kind of a catch-22: singers won't get discovered unless the company hears them, but the company can't hear them unless they set up an audition tour. Maybe this comes down to teaching singers about the business as others have mentioned, but anyone who thinks that a YAP or a company can afford an audition tour, do all of its regular activities, and pay their singers a living wage without busting their budget does not understand how thinly stretched companies are in the current climate. Wasn't it just last year that the Seattle YAP folded?

At the same time, I do sympathize with the concerns of applicants who do not understand what their money is going towards and what actually happens during the screening process, and I do also see that at the most basic level it is a job application so a fee should not be charged. I think a petition calling for companies to be more transparent about that process would definitely be productive. The only real solution I see is for companies to appeal to funders/donors to underwrite the audition tour so fees can be waived, which in the current economy is highly unlikely.

Cindy

1timeadmin, thank you SO much for adding to the dialogue. I can't tell you what a soapbox issue singers' education is for me and it's great for someone who's been on your side of the table to speak out about the way things really are.

There's a lot to be said about education reform for musicians and that's the next big conversation I hope to have. Not only are those music degrees being handed out willy-nilly, kids are being encouraged to run up crippling amounts of debt they will NEVER be able to pay off with a job in music. NO ONE SHOULD GO INTO DEBT FOR A MUSIC DEGREE.

Another_Young_Singer

I agree that the university system is taking advantage of naïve singers, but I am eternally unimpressed by people who blame this current phenomenon on butt hurt singers who got duped into believing they have what it takes to make it in this business. The above former administrator said that Cappuccilli like talents will be fine wherever they go and yet. . . .where are the Cappuccilli like talents? Where are the hall filling voices that are necessary for the continuation of this art form? It's not even necessary to use such an extreme example as him. Where are the Thomas Allens and Kiri Te Kawawas? Where are the VOICES? Is everyone else to afraid to address the elephant in the room? THE YAP SYSTEM IS NOT PRODUCING LASTING, SIGNIFICANT ARTISTS. Am I not supposed to say that? You say that only those 7 schools produce good singers, so then what's the problem? You shouldn't need to hold so many auditions tours when there are so few schools that know what they're doing. The opera business is thriving right? Just a few dumb singers who haven't realized they don't have what it takes? Sorry, but that's not the extent of the problem at all.

Hardly anyone who gets the early kiss on the forehead from the administrative powers that be actually emerges to become an artist who makes a lasting impact in this business or gains even the remotest of followings. That doesn't merely speak to a market flooded with deluded wannabes, but rather to bureaucratic figures who are consistently failing to identity and cultivate real potential as opposed to the young, trendy, anodyne figures that have come to dominate in all other types of media. The singers who do best in those positions are lighter voiced singers (who have an easier time concealing their technical problems) who can sing comprimario roles like Anina without making the Violetta sound silly. It's your job to seek out or attract talent and put it up on your stages. If the best voices are not the ones who make it through the pre-screening because their voices don't record so well, or they didn't go to one of the magical 7 schools, then it's up to the impresarios to do their best to accommodate singers with different backgrounds and training histories.

Almost none of the greatest singers of the 20th century were trained in the utterly homogenized and regimented fashion singers are expected to be trained now. In the cases of Christa Ludwig and Bjørling, they primarily learned how to sing from family members. Freni and Pavarotti worked extensively with a renowned teacher who took them under their wing and taught them 5 days a week. The YAP system encourages quick fixes and a collection of as many roles and achievements as possible in this rat race to hit it big by the time you're 30 (when most of the top YAPs “age out” and some of the lesser ones do so in the mid 20s) while neglecting the glue that holds the entire enterprise together: a reliable vocal technique. This compounds the problem in the long term and makes it even less likely that singers will emerge who can actually help to sustain this art form. So yeah, keep picking pretty 22-year-olds who are thrilled to be able to leave their job temping in NYC or waiting tables for a few years to sing Marullo and Gastone until they are shoveled onto the dung heap wit the other used up singers only to be swiftly replaced by the next eager bunch waiting in the wings. And where do these singers go whose careers amounted to little more than being professional young artists? Right back into the conservatory system they just came out of 5-10 years prior to advise the newest group of gullible singers to do what they did and go as fast as you can before the business passes you over. The blind leading the blind indeed.

Young artist programs are supposed to be a tool to extend the resources of an opera house onto individuals who could potentially do good work in this art form. It's not supposed to be the sole way to move forward. In the best case scenarios now, a singer is fully developed BEFORE entering this process, and then can use the YAP system as a way to bide time until a great opportunity comes forth. This is is not at all helping young singers improve, but in any case how many people in their mid 20s know how to sing given the outlandish expense of voice lessons and the fact that the conservatory system (besides bringing many to the brink of financial ruin) prioritizes repertoire and getting into YAPs over actually learning how to sing? It's one great big cycle that someone is going to have to have the courage to break.

Some important people need to sit down and figure out what happened and how we can fix this. This problem was not created by lazy millenials as I honestly believe most people go into this field because something inspired the and then they get lost along the way. What was happening in the 50s an 60s that allowed there to be so many great exponents of this craft at the same time? Well for one thing, the quality of the singing was valued over past accomplishments. I think we need to zoom out and ask questions about whether or not these programs are helping or hurting opera as a whole. Because the point isn't for young singers to have a gig, or for opera companies to have cheap labor, but for us to be able to present this art form to the public with the best artists possible. Isn't that the point of all of this nonsense?

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Where's Cindy Singing Next?

  • The Mother, The Consul, Dayton Opera, October 20 & 22, 2018
    http://daytonperformingarts.org/opera-performance/the-consul

Cindy on Stage

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