Now that you have a shiny new diploma from your Music Academy or Music School, you are probably thinking – next step, ‘”get an agent who will represent me and do all the business work and set me on my way to becoming an opera star”. It may not be quite as easy as that and if you have been looking outside your academic shell, you probably know this already. Especially in these pandemic times.
First of all, let’s take a look at what makes an ideal agent (I will use he and she interchangeably, without prejudice for either male or female):
- Has excellent communication skills. The ability to present – to sell – a young opera singer must come from strong belief in that individual’s ability.
- Has excellent contacts in her territory. That may be one country, an entire continent or a group of countries with the same language – Germany Austria and Switzerland, for example. These contacts and her networking abilities will ensure that she gets contacted whenever new opportunities arise, a season gets cast or last-minute replacements are needed.
- Be trusted by the opera and classical music community as a person that can be depended on to find good new talents, be professionaly responsible and reliable in dealing both with the artist, as well as being reasonable in negotiating contracts.
- Have a good relationship with the artist and be able to advise her/him on which roles to study, career strategy, career potentials, etc.
- Be organised and able to keep records in a professional manner.
- Follows up on leads supplied by the artist and/or discusses the pros and cos of these leads with the artist.
- Has experience and knowledge of opera repertoire, maybe even has some training either as a singer or musician.
- Be able to recognize his limits of influence or knowledge and able to give advice on were to go for better service.
All of the above facets are equally important. In our opinion, the most important is the professional network within the industry and the trust built between agent and opera company and agent and opera singer.
Having noted the above list, it is important to realize that agents, no matter how dedicated they are and how much they travel to keep up with their artists and networks, also only have 24 hours a day at their disposal. Meaning that most agents will have a well definied territory where they have their greatest area of influence – their area of core influence as it were. There are only a very few agents who are as powerful in the United States as they are in Germany and Korea, for example. Very simply because of the language, cultural and time zone differences and their own predilections.
Agents are often ambivalent about taking on opera singers at the very beginning of their career. On the one hand, agents get the opportunity to sign-on a great talent early on and build them up from the very beginning, maybe even making them “flavor of the month” for a few years and therefore assuring the singer and the agent a profitable relationship. On the other hand, it takes ever so much more work on the agent’s part to make the young singer known and there is absolutely no guarantee that success will come as planned or that the singer will “up and leave” the agent in a year’s time or so, making all the seed-work for naught.
Most importantly, the chemistry between agent and singer has to work. You have to like one another. You have to completely trust one another.
There are many other facets to this topic – how do I know if an agent is the right one for me, the financial relationship between artist and agent, what if two agents claim to have gotten you an engagement, etc.
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