Resumes, Emails, and Websites, Oh My

Question:  "While I do understand that what makes a good resume is a rather subjective judgment, I’d love to have access to some concrete tips and/or examples of resumes that really work in a singer’s favor.”

Angela: The resume issue comes up all the time and frankly everyone is confused. When  employers describe the resume format they want, we all know it goes something like this:

OPERA EXPERIENCE (roles with organization and location in chronological order)
ORATORIO EXPERIENCE (solo work with organization and location in chronological order)
CHORUS EXPERIENCE (A and B houses only)

This is clear and beautiful, and we all aspire to it. But this format doesn't work well for young singers or for careers that haven't followed this exact track. When performance experience is jammed artificially into these categories, resumes can end up looking unbalanced and confusing. Since I've had the opportunity to view a ton of resumes and have seen a lot of what works and doesn't work, let me offer some thoughts that may help to make assembling this document easier.

The format above is what I like to call The Gold Standard, and you should keep it in mind. But you have to structure *Your Resume* in a way that makes sense for you - where you are right now – for the audience that’s going to read it.  The only rule is establishing a clear and honest professional history in a readable format.  There’s no right choice, because it depends on you.

The best technique for figuring out how to structure Your Resume is to look at the resumes of people who are doing similar work at a similar level and copy what immediately makes sense to you as the reader. I recommend spending some time on the BSR website and the web checking these out. I'll have some links down below of some good examples. However, everyone’s experience in this business is so wildly different that you shouldn't expect to copy someone's structure exactly, but rather that you’ll have to pick and choose what works for you based on the information *you* need to include. Here's the best way to think of it: Your Resume is a fluid, ever-changing document that outlines for potential employers where you are in your career right now, and why you would be someone they want to hear and hire. A resume is targeted to and altered for the intended audience and establishes two things that employers look for: experience and momentum.

Experience: What I’ve done, where I’ve done it, with whom I’ve done it, and how well I did it.

Momentum: How recent were my gigs, how busy is my calendar, whether I’m always working somewhere,  do I have future gigs, do I get asked back to gigs, and whether I’m given increasing responsibility at those gigs (i.e., chorus to supporting to lead in the same company).

The ideal resume shows both (see The Gold Standard above). But at some point, we all end up in a hole where you’re missing one or the other. Here’s how to handle the hole:

  • If you haven’t done anything big yet, but you’re solidly busy doing a variety of small things in all different genres, then highlight momentum. List your gigs that show experience relevant to your audience in chronological order. Don't force them into separate sections, because that takes away from the point, which is to highlight that you're consistently working somewhere and therefore employable. 
  • If you’ve had a career interruption, then you need to highlight experience: put your biggest achievements first and leave off the years. The employers reading Your Resume will know exactly why you’re doing this, but so what? It is what it is. You want the first lines they see to be your greatest hits so that someone will give you a chance to build up some momentum. Don’t bury the lede.
  • Keep restructuring Your Resume as your experience and momentum change, adding more and more elements of The Gold Standard format. Got a few gigs on the calendar? Add an Upcoming Performances section with dates at the top of Your Resume, above your non-chronological experience section. When you have enough gigs behind you to show momentum, merge those sections and go back to chronological order for the whole thing. Win a competition? Add the Awards section. Get a couple of opera roles and some oratorio work? Separate out your experience sections into Opera and Oratorio.

Speaking of, SECTIONS: These will vary based on where you are and what you're trying to establish for the reader. Create experience sections that will give you the right places to list *your* experience. Opera, Opera Roles, Oratorio, Concert Experience, etc. are all standard options. Other categories could include Operetta Experience, YAPS, Additional Opera Experience (for chorus gigs), or whatever, really - as long as your experience and momentum are crystal clear, it's Singer's Choice. Some more categories to consider using:

Partial Roles: If you don’t want to say where and/or when, but you want the employer to know you have this experience, just list them by name.

Additional Experience: If you have some one-off gigs that don’t fit a category but are relevant, like you worked for a year singing on a cruise ship.

Additional Roles: For complete roles you actually performed but you don’t want to say where (i.e., in high school or college or in your living room for your parents), just list them by name.

Roles Prepared: If you have several major roles that you’ve coached and memorized and could perform next week, then just list them by name. This is a great section to have if you’re trying to show experience without momentum, such as when you’re engineering a fach change or a career build/rebuild/refocus. This section might give a company a concrete reason to take a chance on you.

Additional Concert Experience: Do you have full solo Opera and Oratorio sections, but you also performed with a professional chorus at a big hall or something like that? Or are you mostly an opera singer, but you have some oratorio and concert experience that you can lump together? Add a section like this.

Musical Theatre: Are you crossover? Add this section to your resume. Put it at the bottom for classical auditions.  Put it at the top for musical theater auditions. Are your credits in this category many and varied? Have a separate musical theater resume, and put a section of your greatest/most recent MT experience at the bottom of your classical resume.

Speaking of, ORDER: What do you mostly get hired for and/or what do you WANT to get hired for? Put that section first.

PICTURE IN THE CORNER: I'm told that putting a picture in the corner of your resume is becoming an industry expectation (BSR now requires this for all their Annual Audition resumes) which means that it could become part of The Gold Standard resume format. It's certainly helpful for employers to see your face while looking at your professional history. If your headshot translates well into a tiny black-and-white photocopy, then do this right now and join the crowd. BUT: does it still look exactly like you, as you might look when you walk into the audition? Are all features still visible? Does the transfer look neat and professional (clean edges, high definition)? If you have a color photo on your resume, does it still work if you print it out in greyscale, which is the version a potential employer might end up looking at? If the answer to any of that is no, then include what you have now for employers that require it, but set it as a goal to work on getting a photo that works better in miniature. It creates confusion about the singer when the auditor is looking at a picture on a resume that looks like a blurry face with some eyelashes and hair, or one that looks like an entirely different person than the one standing by the piano, or one that makes the resume look informal.

CONDUCTORS, TEACHERS, DIRECTORS, MASTER CLASSES: The best piece of advice I ever heard on this list ever is that it's a reference list, not a Who’s Who. List people who are obvious indicators of your training and experience level (like major conductors and directors and former teachers), and/or people who would:  a) remember you, and b) say decent things about you if someone called them.  Master Class lists in this area are sort of tricky, because they don't really say much about you professionally. If they were recent (like you're just out of school) and The Great Artists might say great things about you if called, leave them on. If they weren't recent, consider taking them off. Another way to go is if they were public performances with a notable artist in a notable venue, in which case consider including them somewhere in your experience sections.

SPECIAL SKILLS: List things that are well and truly special and relevant to the audience reading Your Resume.

Examples of special skills:

  • you play the violin (and you're a mezzo)
  • stage combat ability (like fencing) if you're a girl and might be cast in a relevant role
  • specialized and serious dance ability that would be useful in a performance (like ballet, if you own toe shoes)
  • you can do juggling or tumbling or other specialized gymnastics and you might be cast in a role like Papageno
  • you speak or can work in one of the non-standard opera languages

Things that aren't special: any part of the standard musical education, such as speaking Italian, German, or French, or playing the piano, or any generally expected theatre training, such as basic dance, basic stage combat, etc.

Tip from the Auditors’ Table: If you do summer concerts in the New England area for companies like Longwood, NELO, etc., be mindful of how you present this information on Your Resume.

If you sang an aria, any variation on this order or wording is fine:

Featured Soloist, Scenes and Arias in Concert, New England Light Opera Summer Concerts, 2012

If you did a significant part of a major role in a scene with other people (and it really has to be a whole scene to constitute a partial role, not just an aria):  

Suor Angelica (partial), Scenes and Arias in Concert, New England Light Opera Summer Concerts, 2012

WRONG (I mean, really, seriously, totally wrong, don’t ever do this):

Suor Angelica, SUOR ANGELICA, New England Light Opera, 2012

If Your Resume implies that you performed an officially assigned role with a company as part of their regular season in a staged production when it was really an aria or scene in a volunteer Summer Concert, then it really looks like lying. It will be noticed. Eyebrows will be raised. I've seen it happen, and it's not pretty.

Some more thoughts on marketing materials:

You are your brand, and every piece of marketing material you put out there is a representation of who you are as an artist. After talent and skill, employers are looking for a clear indication that a singer is professional, personable, self-aware, and reliable.

Email:  Try using standard business communication techniques for handling your professional singing email address (even if it's the same as your personal email). If you’re going to be away on vacation, consider setting up an automatic out-of-office response ("I will be away from my email from 1/1/13 to 1/7/13 and will respond to all messages when I return - thanks for contacting me!"). If you only check your email once a week or something like that (although this is a confusing/unusual practice in the age of smartphones), then consider setting up an automatic response that lets people know this ("I don't have regular access to my emails, but will respond within a week- thanks for your message!"). And in a situation where you do get an email but you don’t have time to deal with it, try making it a policy to write back a quick “I received this and will get back to you with more information early next week”. These steps are hugely appreciated by people trying to do the administrative stuff that makes gigs happen, and the singer who takes them is GOLDEN. Angels will sing your name in the heavens. It's also a great practice to treat everyone's messages this way, even if they come from colleagues or pro-bono gigs or whatever, because how you do one thing is how you do everything, and your responsiveness will be noted for future opportunities. (I know I for one regularly recommend singers for gigs, and it's almost always the singers who were easy to get in touch with.)

Websites: It probably goes without saying, but websites are an industry standard for professionals now. Here are some guidelines about setting one up. 

Website Dos:

  • Wait until you have some interesting credits. You only need a few, but you should definitely have something concrete to start with. 
  • Match it to where you are in your career. Include only relevant sections. Less is more.
  • Professional pictures and recordings only.
  • Try to clear it with other singers and musicians before putting their information or pictures on your website, just as a courtesy.
  • Consider using one website for all of your marketing for all of your jobs. Do you perform and teach and do some other interesting and relevant line of work, like modeling or yoga or arts administration or whatever? Have them all on the same site under different tabs. We’re all wearing multiple hats in this business, so as long as the other lines of work are complements to your singing, then why not? I've see a bunch of these triple-threat websites, and I think they look fantastic. 

Website Don’ts:

  • Try not to set up your website but then leave it “under construction” for a long time, because it can make Your Singing Business look like it's still in beta testing.
  • It's best not to include pages you don’t have content for, like a News page that is a year out of date because you actually rarely have news. There’s no shame in not having news, but don’t call attention to it. It’s like a big sign with an arrow that says NOTHING TO SEE HERE. Also try not to leave your website untouched with really out of date information. If you don’t have time to edit it regularly, then leave out sections that will highlight this (like your Upcoming Performances are from 2011).
  • Websites are the most helpful when don't look “home-sewn”, if you know what I mean. Streamlined, clean, and formal sites almost always look the best and inspire the most confidence in the singer's professionalism.

LINKS: Here are  links to a few resume examples (there are many great resume examples throughout the BSR member profiles). A big shout-out of thanks to these folks! Note that Erin's picture looks exactly like her both in color and in black and white, and note the elegance of her formatting. Note Courtney breaking out her theatre experience and her YAPs into distinct sections. Note Eric putting an Oratorio and Concert Performance section first. As the reader, you get a clear picture of exactly where these singers are in their careers right now.,

Comments and questions? Send them on over. Next posts: more thoughts on resumes and audition tips from the auditors' table!