In Pursuit of the Perfect Press Packet
Audition Connection •
As a publicist, it’s my job to promote my clients and keep their best interests in mind. But not every singer has a publicist around to help them with such things! To get the most out of your singing career in its early stages, putting your own press kit together is a great (and necessary) way to promote what you have to offer. Here are some helpful tips for preparing your press materials:
The first thing you can do is make sure you have great photographs — it’s the first thing people look at when they open a press kit! Be sure to have digital versions of your head shots, so they can be e-mailed easily. It’s great to have photos in black and white and color. Also, a standard formal shot and a casual shot are important. Remember that you also need the fun stuff — photos that show who you really are!
You may not have received much press at this point in your career, but it’s helpful to use some clippings in your packet. You can either extract them onto a quote sheet or use a copy of the whole review. For extra punch, blow up the line about yourself to about four or five times the size of the rest of review and paste it right on top of the review. Make sure it looks nice and has a good feeling to it. If there are feature articles about you, put them in the press kit, as well. How do you get those feature articles? You start by having a list of places where you have performed — places where you’re known, like your hometown. Put out bulletins to the journalists there, saying, “Singer X is doing ABC, and here is the schedule.” Ideally, you’re constantly sharing information with these folks.
Hometown papers are a really good place to start —they always like to hear about what you’re doing. There may also be places where you’ve cut your teeth as a performer. For me, it was the St. Paul Opera Company. People in that community knew my work from year to year, so if I was doing something else, they would be interested. Go to where you already have, or are building, a following. I would also recommend postcards — not big press releases, but just a card that says, “I thought you’d like to know what’s happening with me right now.” You can do it in a first person, more personal, way, or you can do it in a third party voice: “Sarah Smith will be singing Despina at Opera X, and here is the schedule.” Either way is valid. It’s just a matter of your comfort level and personal style.
Working with PR
If you have a role at a company, I recommend that you get in touch with the press department at that company well in advance of your arrival — I would say a couple of months early. Pick up the phone, introduce yourself, and say, “I’m really happy to be working with this company. I’m singing Mercédès in Carmen, which I know is not a starring role, but I’d like to send you my press kit. If I can help promote the company in any way, I am certainly willing and available.” It’s a lovely way of saying, “Help me, so that I can help you!” It’s a very supportive way of approaching it. The press directors appreciate the information, they appreciate the openness, and they also appreciate that you’re not pounding down their door. It’s a fine line — you want to be assertive instead of aggressive.
Learning the Ropes
Many schools are finally embracing the fact that singers need to learn business and marketing. I personally think it’s terribly important, so in 1995 I began teaching a course at The Juilliard School called “Completing the Singer.” If you don’t have access to a class like this, I would do an informational interview with a publicist or two. Ask them if they have 15 minutes to spare. Generally, it helps if you have someone in the industry call on your behalf to set up this interview instead of making a cold call to a publicist. Once you set up the meeting, go in armed with questions that you really want to know about. That way, you’ll get a feeling of what is involved with public relations.
From a marketing perspective, it’s important to remember that your first impression happens when an artistic administrator or agent sees your press packet for the first time. If you pass that stage and have valid credentials, only then will you get a live audition. It’s all up to you to learn how to promote what you have to offer as a singer (and to get that audition!). Know yourself, be assertive, and be open to learning everything you can about business and marketing in the opera world.
I begin my audition classes by asking singers to imagine themselves as people who are listening to the audition. If they were conductors, directors, or impresarios charged with engaging the most immediately usable among a group of singers, what specific qualities would they seek? I’ve kept tabs on their responses in a cumulative checklist of “What Makes a Singer Employable?”
We assume the singers in question possess enough human kindness not to offer a 12-minute aria to someone who may be hearing the 13th aspirant that day. A relatively brief “dealer’s choice aria” is crucial in cases where listeners are well on their way to a decision based on how a singer walks into the room. Although this may appear superficial and arbitrary, long experience has demonstrated that if a singer’s body language is apologetic, chances are that he or she has something to be apologetic about. Conversely, when the listener encounters a demeanor that shows a person is proud of whatever it is he or she wants to communicate, chances are the performer’s faith will be justified. In fact, I’ve observed that the most successful auditioners never “audition.” Whether they are singing for one person or an audience of 3,000, they always simply perform.
I’ve edited the following list to reflect my sense of what many colleagues have told me are factors that lead to the offering of a contract. Obviously, in those rare instances where an unknown singer demonstrates the vocal wherewithal to sing those “difficult-to-cast” roles where sheer amplitude of sound is a major issue, these factors are less important. Those artists not quite ready to offer the “Immolation Scene” or “Tristan’s Delirium” should note that the fewest of these suggestions 20 Audition Connection relate to a person’s “talent” and the most numerous to their substance as a human being manifested in their vocalism. One should also note that, paradoxically, some of the most important among these qualities (like ego/humility) are ones that must be balanced by their polar opposites.
A usable voice (a great one doesn’t hurt, but won’t do the job on it’s own)
Immediately recognizable vocal timbre
Grace of carriage (and of spirit)
Stamina/consistent physical health
Charisma/aura — the ability to project the impression you’re something special
“The Package” — overall demonstration of talent
Healthy vocal technique
Good sense of pitch/rhythm
Ability to make the words of a text vivid and spontaneous — in several languages
Both intuitive and well-schooled musicality
Ability to communicate
Vocal and personality projection
Awareness of fine points in varying musical styles
Emotional range and contact with material presented
Ability to move effectively and economically
Ability to entertain
Ability to characterize through music
Immediacy — the ability to “stay in the moment”
Ability to deliver spoken lines convincingly
Overall level of preparation
Ability to project being comfortable while performing — which, in turn, makes the person hearing the audition comfortable
Self-awareness (especially regarding the choice of audition material)
About the Author: Owner, ML Falcone Public Relations