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What to Do When You're Not Working

It has been a difficult year for everyone, especially for performers. With the slew of canceled gigs and shuttering companies, many singers have found themselves lacking consistent work and training opportunities. These performance "dry spells" are not limited to the pandemic. Many working performers regularly go without paying gigs for extended periods of time. However, a pause between gigs does not have to stifle your development as a musician; if you build your skills in "off months," you will be more prepared to seize the next opportunity that comes your way!

Hone Your Audio/Visual Skills

If this year has taught us anything, it's that the ability to mix and edit recordings is an invaluable skill for performers. The more comfortable you feel using audio and video software programs, the less painful video auditions and pre-recorded performances will be. Use your free time to get acquainted with programs such as GarageBand, iMovie, and Windows Movie Maker, which are usually included with your standard computer. If you feel the need to upgrade, invest in audio editing software such as Ableton or ProTools, or video creation software like Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere Pro. You can find software tutorials on YouTube, or if you are looking for further information for specific software programs, you can find classes through Lynda, Udemy, or LinkedIn Learning.

Expand Your Reading List

Operas and musicals are often steeped in allusions and references to historical events, myths, and great works of literature. Singers can spend hours researching their roles. A number of stage works have been inspired by books, including Carmen, Turn of the Screw, and Lucia di Lammermoor. Just as many have been based on myths, such as Orpheus and Eurydice, Dido and Aeneas, and Wagner's Ring Cycle. Expanding your knowledge about historical events can help you better understand operas such as Nixon in China, Doctor Atomic, and Dead Man Walking. Composer biographies are also very helpful for context, as they can give you a better idea of where a work fits in the composer's canon.

Your reading list can also include technical books about vocal pedagogy, acting technique, and music theory. Open yourself up to new perspectives in your training; you don't have to incorporate everything you read into your practice, but you never know what will fit into your toolbox.

If you need some guidance, join the Modern Singer Book Club! We challenge everyone to pick up something new, so we've cultivated a list of books in four categories: For the Betterment of Humanity- books that expand our knowledge of the people around us, For Thought- books that have been turned into opens, For Growth- books about music and the industry, and For Learning- books that learn something outside of the music industry.

Brush Up Your Languages

During a normal season, it can be difficult to find time to study languages, but free language-learning apps like Duolingo, MemRise, and Babbel make it easy to keep your skills sharp. Spend some time working on your Italian, German, and French, or branch out into other languages like Spanish, Russian, or Czech to expand your potential repertoire. Language and diction skills tend to fade without regular practice, so even five minutes of practice every day can keep you in shape for your next gig.

If you're looking for in-depth study, you may want to invest in a more substantial language program. Rosetta Stone, Rocket Languages, and Fluent in Three Months have full online courses. You can also explore private tutors or language clubs, which will give you a chance to exercise your new skills in conversation.

Listen, Watch, and Learn

The best way to build your repertoire is to expose yourself to as much music as possible. Listen to recordings of your favorite singers, watch videos of operas you've never heard of, and check out unfamiliar composers and sheet music at your local library. Make a musical wishlist of songs you want to sing and dream roles you would like to learn. Even if a piece is too challenging for you now, it could be a great fit for you down the line. The next time you find yourself digging for recital songs or a new aria, you'll have a piece ready to go!

Another way to build repertoire is through networking and crowdsourcing. Industry Facebook groups are especially useful, giving you the opportunity to connect with other singers and gain new perspectives on potential repertoire. They can also connect you with active composers who may have new or in-process music for your voice type. You could give a world premiere performance!

Build a Teaching Studio

Teaching voice lessons is an incredibly common and useful side hustle for working performers. Not only are teaching artists able to pass on their passion for music to aspiring singers, but working with voice students can enhance a singer's understanding of their own instrument as well. Private lessons also help generate income that can fill in the gaps between performance gigs. The pandemic has made fully virtual lessons a regular part of the industry, and it is easier than ever to build a studio from anywhere. Create a Facebook page or website for your studio to get the word out, or use websites such as LessonFace and Musika to connect with students from all over the world.

A professional musician's work does not end when the curtain closes. The time you spend developing your knowledge, technique, and self-marketing skills outside the concert hall will pay off when you arrive at your next job with a host of new skills and a desire to keep learning.

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