I’ve been thinking, maybe a little more than I should, about the education of singers.
Now, I’m far from the first person to think that undergraduates are underexposed to the realities of making a living in this field: the advanced degrees needed, and the corresponding debt. The fiscal realities of a freelance career. The inherent biases in the industry. The challenges to sustaining healthy support systems. The tricky nature of telling your non-industry significant other that you need to kiss someone else ‘professionally.'(Several times. For practice.) The inevitable reality that, even though you’re not making enough money to both pay your student loans and live, you still need to file and pay taxes on all of those 1099s.
And, while I realize that the collegiate programs need to educate the students as to how to be artists, I feel that they have a responsibility to also let these fledgling artists know what they can expect upon graduation.
Let’s face it: a student entering law school or medical school can guesstimate their income post-graduation, assuming everything goes well. But singers are shown examples of those who have succeeded, those with big contracts, with some earning heft. They’re not shown the adjunct faculty member who is toiling at their craft and producing the next generation of artists, but is earning at or below the poverty level…the freelancer whose medical condition necessitated a ‘real job’ and the corresponding insurance…the performer whose personal life disintegrated over a showmance. Or, when these ancillary stories are told, they’re framed as cautionary tales…”don’t let this happen to you, kids. Work hard, make art, live your dream!”
I submit for your approval the ideas that conservatories should be choosier…that artists should be given tools for both art and life…and that opting out of a performance career is not something of which anyone should be ashamed.