Shawn sang for our concert series, Music For All Seasons four years ago. At that time, just about to receive his Master’s degree in Voice from CCM, he showed a great deal of promise as a fine young lyric tenor. Amazing what four years of hard work can bring about!
Rafael de Acha
What we do is a soul service to others: be sure you are serving and treating yourself well in the process.
“Now what…”…the two words every performer dreads. The two words that force one to contemplate life’s choices, skills, and prospects… Hopefully a little bit of my story and advice can help those who are transitioning into a career, and help enable them to address the question of “Now what” head-on!
I’m very thankful that I make all of my money through singing, whether on stage or teaching. Though it is a difficult career- I’m hard pressed to find one more emotionally challenging – I’m very grateful for the chance to be able to support myself and pay off my student loans through singing!
I made a move to Europe in May of 2015 to fulfill a concert contract. Luckily I landed a fest * contract one month later at the Stadttheater Gießen, where I sing both as a soloist and in the chorus. I also cover** large roles, which has allowed me to expand my repertoire.
Just a side note for those thinking of moving to Europe: chorus contracts are much better than soloist contracts. You receive better pay, health insurance, and your retirement fund builds up. Also, though this depends on the theater, chorus contracts allow flexibility to travel for auditions or to pursue projects. For me, my multi-faceted contract has offered the best of both worlds.
I have now begun to appear as a guest soloist, and in the coming season will be debuting in Slovakia, Czech Republic, Portugal, Scotland, and Switzerland. Lots of opera, lots of concert work, and lots of recitals. Bach and Mozart pay my bills!
Having an agent definitely helps, but many of my engagements come from my own research and networking. The biggest advice I can give to singers transitioning into this career is this: make sure your voice, acting, and stage skills are at a very high level. Do not cut corners with your ongoing training, even after school! I know many singers here in Europe who “land” their first contract and then stop working on their voices. This is the exact opposite of what one should do.
My voice has been changing in the last year, and will continue to do so during my late twenties and early thirties. A singer needs to make sure that his/her voice is where it needs to be. Skype makes this very easy for those who travel a lot as you can stay in touch with your vocal coach through it. Also, learn how to mark***. This will save your voice when you have 8-hour days of staging rehearsals.
Another piece of advice, and the biggest thing that I am learning at this moment in my life, is to allow yourself to have interests other than singing. It sounds silly, but this has been a revelation to me. Find your joy! For me it is my Christian faith and my new-found hobby of gardening. Find things that fulfill and ground you. The career will always be turbulent, so find things that make you feel settled, and learn to enjoy where you’re at and what you’re doing.
Oh, and one more thing and I promise this is the last: save all of your receipts for tax purposes. Whether it is application fees, lessons, audition attire, gas to drive to gigs, save everything, and work with a tax service. You will get a lot of money back. For singers in the US making less than $50,000 per year, the United Way offers a free tax service. Call and make an appointment.
Be courageous, and diligent, and also be kind to yourself. What we do is a soul service to others: be sure you are serving and treating yourself well in the process.
Shawn Mlynek, tenor
J.S. Bach – The Passion according to St. Matthew https://youtu.be/kjBkVGwXSPc
Ah! Mes amis…from Donizetti’s La fille du regiment https://youtu.be/24rttFkfWug
By Strauss – George Gershwin https://youtu.be/_2ghmxhIr7w
* Fest (fixed) – German term for a regular, steady or exclusive performing contract.
** Cover – Understudy on a stand-by basis.
***Mark – To sing softly, rather than full-voice.