The Rest of the Story

July 16, 2009

(I apologize in advance for the length. I just couldn’t edit anymore out.)

“So what do you do for a living?”
“I’m an opera singer.”
“Really! Oh my gosh. That’s so cool. How exciting!”

This is a typical conversation I have a minimum of a million times a week. I mention the word opera and people automatically think glamor, horns, pointed bras and fat people – oh, the other thing I hear after people take in my height and frame…”But you’re not fat.” So then I continue my memorized spiel (only because I repeat it so many times) about the changing face of opera, the search for the young, beautiful and thin who might also be able to carry a tune blah blah blah. I always reply with courtesy, but inside I’m thinking, “Uh huh. If you only knew what I had to do to try and make this thing happen” Perhaps I’ve become a little battle scarred and thus somewhat jaded.

But a conversation I just had has inspired me to tell you (as Paul Harvey would say) “the rest of the story”.

Disclaimer: This is my story which is typical of many. It does not include those that come out of the womb singing like gods and goddesses. This is the story of those who came out pretty darn talented but work their butts off and hopefully meet the right people along the way to make it to the top echelon.

Now, the rest of the story.

EXPENSIVE. VERY. I’ve been told by many successful singers that you will spend about $100,000 (between school and all the other expenses afterwards) before you make your first dime singing. Fortunately, due to scholarships and cheaper schools I haven’t spent that much, but since school I’ve spent a pretty penny continuing the pursuit. Fortunately, I’ve actually made some money singing (“some” being the operative word there) before hitting that $100,000 mark. Why so expensive even after school? Either you choose to live in NYC or you choose to commute to NYC. Either way, it’s expensive. Since I have chosen not to live permanently in NYC (1 year was enough, thank you), I have to go up there monthly for lessons, auditions, networking, etc… And because I have been blessed with friends with extra beds, it is cheaper for me to do that than to live in the city. BUT, there’s always the challenge of making enough money in the 3 weeks I am home to pay for my trips and the challenge of finding work that allows me to be gone for 7 -10 days a month! Oh the joys! How have I accomplished that? God. I’m finding that in my prayer life, I find a recurring theme, “Lord, I feel you’ve got my on this path, but I have no money in the account. Help!” And he continuously comes through with random gigs nannying, cleaning houses and organizing offices and homes. The conversation that actually inspired this post was a phone call with a guy whose office I’m organizing.

So, the glamor? Whew. I can barely contain myself. Exciting? Yes, but not for the reasons you think. “Will I have the money? Will I not? Will I get that gig? Will I not?” That’s excitement, I tell ya.

So far, about 80% of what I have earned singing has gone straight back into investing in my singing. And 100% of what I have earned outside of singing has been reinvested. If it weren’t for my wonderful husband I’d be up a serious creek!

Typical expenses? Flights, food, hotel stays, audition fees, voice lessons (avg. cost in NYC $150 an hour. Fortunately my teacher doesn’t charge that), coachings (avg. $60 an hour), attending industry events & concerts, music, clothes for auditions, performances and events, taxes (if you’ve actually made enough to have a profit, Uncle Sam hits you like any other small business).

So what about when you do get that gig? Well, you tend to forget all the crap I just wrote about! 🙂 It’s really awesome to be doing what you are passionate about and working with other extremely talented people. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But even in the midst of it, there are challenges.

It can be very lonely. There is a lot of separation from family and friends. My husband and I have been married 3 1/2 years and this month we have finally lived together as much as we’ve been separated. He’s the most supportive man on the planet, but it does takes it’s toll. I’ve missed weddings, the birth of my best friend’s baby, holidays.

Your entire life is committed to this pursuit. It has to be or it won’t happen. You can reach some success, but in order for it to even have a chance to take root, everything has to be focused on it. Even then it’s not for sure, because in the midst of all that is the “who you know” effect. I know many extremely talented singers who just haven’t met the right person and aren’t getting work while others who aren’t that great are working all over the place.

You also don’t hear about the times in between gigs. It can get very discouraging and downright depressing. You want to do something so badly, but the opportunities just aren’t presenting themselves and it gets frustrating. Even with the success that I’ve had, it gets tough for me mentally between gigs. I worked for almost 2 years straight pretty much right out of school. My friends remind me that that is actually quite a bit of success. This is my first summer home since 2005, and I have work lined up for the Fall, yet I’m STILL frustrated! (This profession has driven me to be neurotic).

But in the end, would I try and do something else? Heck no. I would rather nanny, clean, organize and get gigs here and there than work a job I can’t stand. And though I just “complained” about pursuing this, it really is fun and exciting. I’ve discovered emotions in the pursuit I didn’t know existed. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. So glamorous? Right now, no. But maybe someday? Naw, I doubt it. Just like any other work, it’s hard, but oh so worth while.

And now you know, “the rest of the story”.

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3 Responses to “The Rest of the Story”

  1. Jen Says:

    Thanks for the insight, Sarah. There’s a lot more behind the scenes than most of us can ever know. That’s why I never begrudge successful, artistic people–because they’ve worked incredibly hard for it.


  2. Great insight. This will be my all-thing-opera reference from here on. You rock for sticking with and pursuing your dreams – not afraid of hard work.

  3. hthr Says:

    love it…you can share the edited out portions with me over coffee or tea anytime!

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