SINGING IN NEW YORK
This week I want to talk about how hard it is to start into and then be in this business.
So, what does it take to be a singer on the New York Cabaret Scene? Honestly (and firstly), it takes MONEY! I hate to say it but it’s true. I should be leading with TALENT as the first thing but, as we all know, no matter how talented you are, if you are not in a position to self-produce, no one will know how talented you are. Getting sponsors and/or producers to pay for your show expenses is a great thing but I’ve been doing this for 30 years and I can count on one hand the number of people who I personally know have had one or two shows “produced” for them. Let’s just say that TALENT is a given to survive in this business, but money is a necessity!
Secondly, after your first show to friends and family, I would say that it takes EXPOSURE to the community. When I say to find a producer above, I mean find a way to sing without paying for it if possible. Other ways to do this would be Open Mic and Piano Bar exposure which many argue does cost money with the cover charges and minimums. BUT, I would say that $20 – $30 at an Open Mic night once a week is a helluva lot cheaper than producing a show that can cost between $2,000 – $5,000 depending on the number of nights you play and your band and rehearsal costs, etc. Vary the Open Mics that you attend and try different ones each week to see which one you like the best. By varying them you also hedge your bets on more exposure to more folks.
Many of us produce shows as organizers of talent to venues that pay the talent but, expenses over what they pay the group, fall on us as the produces. This is why there are so few actual producers. Smart producers watch the budget and build in the additional expenses when creating a budget for the overall show. This is how and why I produced (at my own financial risk) the “People You Should Know” series, several years ago. I wanted to present new, incredible talent to our community and to other reviewers. While the series was successful, honestly, it was mostly friends and families of the 3 acts coming to see the show which was a shame. A show like this or a show like Richard Skipper Celebrates, if you are lucky enough to be invited to sing, are GREAT ways to get some exposure and a great way for the community to see several talents on one stage. The Catch 22 though is that you need a “name” or some exposure in order to be a draw to the community.
The other things you need to have to stay in this business are: tenacity, a thick skin, and a willingness to listen to constructive comments from reviewers, to grow your skill set. When one gets a “real” job, there is a learning curve and one is trained in their new responsibilities, and it takes months before you can actually feel like you have a grasp on what it is you are supposed to do. Then it takes years to grow into this job and to then get promotions where, once again, you get a new skill set that you have to incorporate into where you were to then move forward. How do you get the promotion? Job reviews. Why do we think with singing we have to pay any lesser “dues” in building ourselves to be the best we can be?
This brings me to the “overnight sensations”. We all know several folks who have come onto the scene with no more talent than 100 folks already working but they are handsome/pretty, young, or they are tucked under the loving arm of someone higher up on the food chain who makes a call for them and TA-DA, they’re an instant star playing the big rooms and by-passing all the dues paying (but I’m not bitter, I swear!) I once made a call and that act has surpassed me and then-some but it is what it is folks. This will always be. There are other folks with real talent who have been on a steady incline for years who are now only just getting what I personally believe they have deserved 5 or more years ago but they didn’t know someone. This is where TENACITY and a THICK SKIN comes in. If YOU do not believe in yourself and your talent…no one will. Decide with a logical head as to how long you think you can last under the “not making it big” umbrella…a year? 5 years? How long are YOU willing to pay your dues? What does your art and need to sing mean to you? When do your dreams change to the acceptance that singing is a lovely, expensive hobby?
There is so much more one needs to be in and stay in this business – a good MD, great material, a great director, a club who believes in you, invitations to groups gigs for the exposure, etc. but initially, before you even start, ask yourself how much money, time, hurt, frustration and dues paying are you willing to do to perhaps even just get your foot in the door? This VIEWS was not meant to be a buzz kill, it IS intended to be a wake up call to those considering coming into this business with the expectation that you sing 3 shows and then “Play the Palace” (insert generic fancy place of your choice!).
Dues must be paid, you must learn your craft like any job you undertake, openness to growth must happen and there must be a desire to do it all over again when the first show and the 2nd show and the 100th show goes down.
Re: Social Media
While I agree that it’s easy for us to see each other on clips on Facebook and Twitter and YouTube, etc., there is nothing like seeing a show live….flaws and all. For me, I don’t think that seeing clips or even full numbers is keeping me home from the show. What the clips do for me, in a way, is allow me to check in BEFORE I go to see a show to see if I like the “preview” of what I hope to see. This can just be a “can this person carry a tune” check so that I’m not wasting my time. What I would say to anyone posting anything is to make sure that it is a good representation of your talent and vocal quality. Clips can work just as easily against you as for you.
Having been on the MAC Board for several years, we always discussed how to get the concept of what Cabaret is (to me, a less expensive alternative to theatre for those visiting NY) to the masses outside of NY, LA, PA, Chicago, Florida and Boston. The word “Cabaret” is an issue too because people think it’s a questionable men’s club, or it’s men in drag like in a Paris revue (OK…NY too actually LOL) or like the movie Cabaret…it’s a marketing issue at this point so having the social media there to help explain what these shows are and sharing the info with people who think Cabaret is solely as I have defined it above, seems to me a good thing by way of using social media to our advantage.