Practice, Perform, Repeat

May 20, 2013

In the beginning, there is an artist and a dream. Then there are lessons and years of practice and graduations and eventually the realization that you're succeeding at making a living doing what you love most. It turns out, though, that that is where the work really begins.

Ideally, being an artist would only be about the performance on the stage. Alas, equally as important is an artist's performance off the stage. Being an artist is a 24/7 profession. In fact, it's one where most of what you need to know is not what you learn in school, but what you learn by experience. I was told once that 98% of small businesses fail within the first 5 years. This information followed swiftly on the heels of hearing that as a freelance artist, I am a small business.

So again, the beginning. More lessons, more practice and now additional coachings and classes on what you didn't learn in school (and a part-time job so you can pay for those coachings and classes!). On top of the above, all of which generally consume a good chunk of your day, you have to spend some time convincing other people that you're talented: auditions. Sometimes it feels like being an artist is synonymous with 'getting rejected for a living.' There are so many people vying for so few spots.

Lesson one that I didn't learn in school: how to take an audition and then just walk away. We take so many auditions that it's numbing, but not before having some real heartbreakers. It is an enigma that artists are expected to give a full-out performance in an audition room and then walk out unaffected and go on with the day.

But then, voila! You've pounded the pavement, gotten a fantastic job, given stellar performances, been in the right place at the right time and landed on a roster of a great agent or manager. But even when you've reached the stage where someone else markets your career for you, it's still your responsibility to market yourself-to make public appearances, to see and be seen. Whether that means coffee with your colleagues to sustain professional friendships or meetings with your management to discuss future contracts or parties with patrons to promote your current performance, there's always work to be done to stay current and in the public's eye.

Lesson two that I didn't learn in school: social media! With the ever-growing trend of instant gratification, you now have to keep up with a webpage, Facebook fan page and Twitter feed. I always think, "No one can possibly care this much about what I'm doing." Trust me. People care. Even when I've been Fourth Girl From The Left in a show, someone has asked for my autograph and website URL. We need these people. They are our audience.

Maybe you are incredibly successful and have someone to do all of these things for you-along with someone to make your travel arrangements and respond to your fan mail-but when your body is your livelihood, there is no one who can take care of that but you. What you eat and drink, when to go out or when to stay home, how much you sleep, work and exercise are suddenly much more significant when the delivery of your paycheck depends on your health.

Lesson three that I didn't learn in school: I am not invincible. In fact, I'm pretty sure that in college, I learned that I am invincible. Partying until 7am didn't mean that I couldn't float a high C the following evening. Jet lag didn't affect me, nor did a lack of oxygen at high altitudes ever affect my performance. Imagine my disappointment when I learned that this is no longer the case. Nothing is as upsetting as having to cancel a show because you know your voice won't make it through to the end. Sure, it stinks to have a cold when you have a desk job, but singing a two-and-a-half hour opera or doing eight shows a week on less than healthy vocal chords does not only hurt your performances and reputation, but can also do serious, long-term damage to your instrument. In school, there is a lot of coddling and there are a lot of options. When your rent being in on time depends on you singing a performance, there are fewer choices. But, like in life, sometimes the only way to learn is by making mistakes.

Many people have imparted this advice to aspiring artists: "If you think you can do anything else as a career, do it." Well, I disagree. Love it with all your heart, dive in headfirst and don't take 'no' for an answer. Sustaining a career as an artist may be challenging, but there is no greater reward than having the ability to change someone's life through art. It's not easy, but I don't know anyone, at least in my experience, who ever promised that it would be. I've certainly slammed into some pretty big obstacles that I wasn't prepared to face, but if I started the adventure knowing the answers to all the riddles, where would the fun in that be?

© Leah Edwards 2016