AUDITION SECRETS! FLETCHER ARTIST MANAGEMENT
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Back before the hustle and bustle of the summer YAP season began, I was able to interview leaders from some of today’s top young artist programs. I’ll be back to those once the summer winds down, but in the meantime, I wanted to turn my attention to what happens past the training and into the professional realm of artist management. Oftentimes there’s a big grey area in between these two stages, and don’t worry – we’ll talk more about that at another time. 🙂
I had the pleasure of connecting with Alex Fletcher of Fletcher Artist Management last month. A little bit of background: Mr. Fletcher was introduced to opera in college while pursuing a degree in Business Management. He studied voice himself, and while his teacher urged him to go into a music conservatory program, Fletcher was more interested in the business side of the classical singing world. A year before he graduated, he interned with Washington National Opera’s PR Department; this was the start of his career on “the other side of the table,” and after working for some time in the artist management field, he founded Fletcher Artist Management in 2009. His boutique firm features a small, highly selective roster with singers performing at the world’s top houses.
I asked Mr. Fletcher a series of questions, many of which are based on questions I’ve noticed singers tend to ask frequently when bringing up the topic of procuring management. Below is an account of our correspondence (with follow up thoughts from me in italics):
KD: Many singers believe they should get an agent as soon as possible. What are your thoughts about that?
AF: While agents can open a lot of doors, I think singers need to be ready to be represented, and that timeline is different for every artist. I know a number of singers who procured management at a very early point, only to look back after a few years and realize they didn’t really have a grasp of the industry at that time, and might have evaluated their management choice differently with more information.
KD: Can you talk about what you mean by not having a grasp of the industry?
AF: Every manager has a different approach and working style, as well as stronger and weaker connections and ties in various arenas of the classical music world. Understanding more about the opportunities available within this world, and where one would like to focus and most perform can inform which sort of manager might be best suited to an artist.
I’m not sure why this is such a missing link in today’s training, but it is – the singing business is NOT just about singing. You need to know what’s going on – find out what the business is like according to different people at different levels, find out what opportunities are available for singers at your current level, find out what the odds of being hired are, find out which companies do which kinds of rep…research and read – there are many sources out there! And when you can’t find info, ask questions!
KD: Does it really matter if I don’t choose the right manager? Why not just go with someone that offers to represent you and change your mind later if it doesn’t work out?
AF: Some artists simply go with the most aggressive or persistent manager they first meet, and this lacks the organic process that I feel creates the best partnership. Just like changing jobs, switching managers brings with it a variety of challenges, so while it is certainly doable, it disrupts the flow of a professional relationship, and necessitates the jump-start of a flow with a new partner.
KD: You mentioned a singer’s readiness for management – what, in your opinion, constitutes readiness?
AF: I think an artist needs to be in a position where presenters in the field will view them as viable for casting opportunities. I think they should be at a point personally where they are organized and have a sense of business, as they are truly running their own company as an artist, with the manager as one component of that business.
This is a great point – if you’re not running yourself as a business, a manager really has to take a
chance on whether you will be doing your part once you are working together.
KD: Would you say that a singer needs to have a certain amount of experience first?
AF: This is somewhat unique to an individual, but it is certainly more attractive if an artist has a certain amount of experience. Managers like to work with some momentum, rather than having to launch an artist’s career from ground zero (though this certainly does happen and can work).
KD: If a singer is interested in obtaining management, what do you recommend the first steps to be?
AF: I think the first step should to be to learn what sort of agencies are out there, and evaluate what kind of roster you might like to be on. Generally, there is a division between agencies in terms of corporate and boutique structures, with each of these providing different positives and negatives. Getting a good lay of the land and learning what the options are is a great first step in determining where you’d like to be. After that, I think talking to artists who are on the rosters of the companies you’re interested in, and learning about their experiences, is very important.
KD: How does one know where to find a list of managers, and how would one determine the pros and cons of different types of rosters?
AF: A very good resource is operabase.com. This is a quite comprehensive listing of managers by country. MusicalAmerica.com also has a database of managers.
In terms of pros and cons, categories like larger roster (which can mean more information flows through the agency and there are more opportunities) versus smaller roster (which can mean more selective and more personal attention paid to each artist). I think it’s always advisable to look at where the artists on a roster are working, and if this matches and/or exceeds the level the artist would eventually like to be working at. Do the artists on the roster seem to be working, based on the information available? Are they performing operas, concerts, recitals? Are the materials on the website current and well-organized?
Research is imperative! If none of the singers on a manager’s roster are singing the repertoire in which you specialize, chances are that manager doesn’t work much in that arena. Gathering information is important in every aspect of this business, and I find it’s rarely done to a level that would be as helpful as it should be. Ask questions!!
KD: Sometimes a singer is chosen for management and a singer with a very similar amount of experience and talent is not; what could be some reasons for this?
AF: The great difficulty of this business is that it is a subjective one. There will always be intangibles that factor in to the decision of who is offered management, who is cast, who becomes a “star”, etc. Artists can only be the best representations of themselves, and stay true to that. Managers, and casting professionals, are often looking for that “it” factor, and often, it’s difficult to describe what precisely that is.
That means you have to do your research and then go see who connects with you. Just because a manager appears to be a good fit doesn’t mean it will feel like that in person. You want to work with someone who is excited about you and your talent.
KD: If you think a young singer is not ready for management, what do you recommend s/he does in the meantime?
AF: An artist not yet ready for management should work on their craft, first and foremost. This includes voice lessons, coachings, developmental programs and education, etc. Secondly, they can network and begin to build contacts and relationships within the field. This can be done casually and gradually, so that when they are ready, they are somewhat known.
If you’re not sure why you aren’t getting auditions, getting hired, or getting agents to hear you and/or make you an offer, it’s time to ask for professional, trusted opinions. I recommend asking multiple sources who know you well and who you trust – not just anyone. Knowing what you need to work on is the first step to getting to where you want to be.
KD: It seems that singers who have gone through a larger YAP typically have an easier time making connections and advancing their careers. What do you recommend for the other 97% of singers?
AF: The great advantage of a large YAP is that the networking and exposure are built in to the program. However, there’s nothing that stops artists not in these programs from creating exposure and networking opportunities for themselves, also.
Building a rapport so that you are connected already to someone through others is a great way to do this – networking is a must.
KD: Some singers express concern for being older and not having management yet. What would be your advice for them?
AF: This varies drastically from artist to artist, and is difficult to answer in an overarching manner. In general, age is more important to some fachs than others. For example, soubrettes and light lyrics do need to do their career building earlier on than those who will performing Wagnerian or Verdian works.
KD: What about artists who are older and don’t sing this heavier rep – is it “too late” to have a career in opera?
AF: I wouldn’t say “too late” necessarily, but like any industry, there are barriers to entry, and age can certainly be a barrier depending on the repertoire the artist wants to sing.
Ok – if the statement you just read caused you to have a mild panic attack, remain calm – there are LOTS of ways to have a career as an artist. If one particular avenue seems to be closed off to you, we just find other avenues. I appreciated Mr. Fletcher’s transparency throughout this interview, especially on this and on the question below.
KD: I have observed so many singers’ stories about being told they need to lose weight in order to be considered for a role, in all size houses. And yet there are some singers with a larger body type who are doing quite well in their careers. What are your thoughts on this?
AF: Weight is an issue in the industry, and is more or less important depending on the house and who is doing the casting. In general, this also fach based, rightly or wrongly. A house is more likely to cast a plus sized person who sings Isolde very well than one who sings Susanna at a high level.
KD: Many singers seem to be under the impression that, if they just had management, they would have a thriving/stable career. Does the singer’s responsibility to market themselves stop once they have management?
AF: Most certainly not. The artist and manager should work together as a team, and each should network and tend to relationships that they have established. Artists are ambassadors for themselves as much as the manager is, and most careers are stabilized by having several re-invitations per season from houses where the artist has already worked. Managers have little control over that process, as the artist is the one coming to work every day at the opera house and making the relationships there.
This was a rhetorical question, because I thought you should hear it from someone else besides me. Managers are a gateway to relationships and partnerships – they can get you access, but it’s up to you to actually form and cultivate your own business relationships with those who can and do hire you.
KD: How does a singer ensure that s/he will keep his/her manager and not be dropped from the roster?
AF: This is a difficult question to answer as managers all have different styles and each manager-artist relationship is different. In general, I don’t subscribe to the term of being “dropped” from a roster. The artist is employing the manager, not the other way around, and if the manager has concerns about the relationship, those should be addressed in the form of a discussion, rather than unceremoniously severing ties. In general, I think artists can maintain a good relationship with their manager by being collaborative, prompt with correspondence, appreciative and respectful of the manager’s time and efforts, and open and honest in the relationship. I think the manager should do the same with regards to the artist.
Mr. Fletcher’s philosophy and viewpoints here are ones I share – the artist manager is a position of service, as is a voice teacher or someone like myself. Maintaining an honest, open relationship that is based on mutual respect and value is to everyone’s advantage.
KD: What are your commission rates?
AF: Our rates are as follows (which are industry rates in North America): 10% for opera and recordings, 15% for semi-staged events (such as opera in concert), 20% for concerts and recitals.
KD: I know some artist managers charge a retainer – what are your thoughts on this?
AF: I don’t see much justification for charging a retainer. If the artists are earning money, the manager earns money. In my time in the business, I haven’t charged a retainer, and I haven’t felt financial pressure to do so. The one exception I could see is if a manager is starting and charges the retainer for cash flow purposes, but then applies these as a credit against commissions when the artists begin booking.
KD: Is there a certain time of the year that’s better to approach a firm/agent about management?
AF: If an artist is auditioning regularly, a manager will want to take advantage of the audition season, which runs in New York generally from October to December. Also, the business tends to be quieter in the summer, so managers may have more time to carefully evaluate a relationship with an artist. I would suggest mid to late summer as a good approaching time for artists who are still auditioning. For an artist who is mostly working and auditioning infrequently, the window of approach is much more flexible.
KD: Any additional advice about artist management?
AF: The relationship and responsibilities between artist and manager are often misunderstood. I think it’s a topic that can’t be covered enough. I would reemphasize how important it is to be organized and captain your own ship, rather than relying on others. It’s also important when entering a managerial partnership that expectations are discussed and are clear. A manager is not going to get all of your work for you, and should not be expected to. They should be expected to add value to your career endeavors and to be an advocate for you. A healthy partnership between artist and manager is one where work is done collaboratively and from both sides, and hopefully results in a long and fruitful career.
I hope you’ve noticed some overall themes here – researching, networking, and due diligence are musts. Forming positive business relationships is essential. No one “makes it” in this business alone – get to know people, and ask for help! My thanks and gratitude to Alex Fletcher for sharing his time and expertise. You can read more about Fletcher Artist Management at www.fletcherartists.com
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