Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Five Ways to STAND OUT in the Crowd!

It’s a funny topic for me to talk about… I actually laughed out loud when I got the assignment to write this article. Though, in all fairness, looking back on my life it seems I’ve always stood out: the chubby kid who could cuss like a sailor - with a piercing soprano singing voice, the bookish church organist at age 12, the countertenor divo, and now the muscle-bound baritone… I guess in some ways that makes me qualified to talk about ways to STAND OUT. As audition season is upon us, we have another chance to reflect and plan ahead. Working from the outside to inside, here are some ideas to help you get in touch with your inner (and outer) STAR!

The first line of information you send to most people you meet, whether in an audition, casual meeting, or “blind date”, is visual. Working from the outer-most layer, in, what does your appearance say about you? Are you well-groomed, polished, comfortable and confident – the classic diva/divo in the best possible sense? Are you more casual in your wardrobe, using softer fabrics with more flow than shape? Or perhaps you just throw on whatever is mostly clean and don’t give it much thought? However you do it, the way you present yourself to the world speaks volumes. It’s an opportunity to say something – to answer some questions about who you are, and how you operate, before you’re even asked. A person can just as easily come off like they don’t care, and that they aren’t interested in what anyone thinks of them, just by how they look. That’s all fine, too, if that’s really what you want to say. Just be aware that people ARE watching, and they will respond – subliminally and otherwise. Picture the person you want to be seen as, and dress the part. Anyone can do this. You don’t have to be made of money to look like you’ve given some thought to your personal “packaging”. There are tons of blogs and magazines for those who need some inspiration, and professional makeup advice is readily available – just head over to Nordstrom, Macy’s, Sephora, etc. explain your project (whether it’s an audition, performance, cocktail party, etc.) and get some help. Figure out what makes sense for your look  - as an extension of “who” you are – and make the outside match the inside!

This ties-in with “dressing the part”. Your social media presence is another key element in the way other people interface with you. It gives your friends, fans, followers, and potential employers glimpses of who you are, and what you stand for. What does your online presence say about you? I can’t stress this enough: you have to be the guardian of your personal brand.  What does that mean? Here’s an example… If your facebook page is full of photos of you partying with your friends in lots of bars, people are going to assume you’re a raging alcoholic. Nobody is sympathetic to the fact that the only time you post photos is when you’re out drinking with your friends, because that’s when you feel cute, and how that only happens once every 6 months… All they see is a drunken fiesta. Over, and over… Period. Your online presence speaks volumes about you. People share their interests, political views, triumphs, pains, and more… Where is the line between appropriate sharing, and a potentially negative over-share? Think about your audience, here. Not everyone that sees your social media presence is interested in hearing you wax on about how hard your life is, how drunk you get every weekend, or how much of your Dad’s money you spent at Gucci… The truth is, whatever you put out there says something about how thoughtful or thoughtless you are. How do you want to be perceived? Here’s a trick: think of a person you truly respect and admire. Now think of inviting that person to scroll through your social media pages. What would you want to hide from them? What do you wish to have said differently (or not said in the first place) on your page? Make a list, do a big clean-up where you delete all the unfavorable stuff on your public profiles, and ALWAYS think before you post!

If you want to STAND OUT you have to do more than look the part, and have a great website/online presence. You have to back those assets up with ability, depth, and knowledge. That way, once you’ve broken through the first level of approval (the surface level) and actually get to talk in an audition, or when you meet someone for the first time, you actually have something to talk about. As a singer, you need to know so much more than notes and words. You have to know social history, music theory, technique, language, physiology, stagecraft, what’s going on in the orchestra, acting, how to tell a story – and that’s just the basic stuff... What happens beyond that is the magic. The more studied, educated, prepared, experienced, and truly accomplished you are, the more you have to offer the world around you. The more accomplished you feel, the more secure and calm you are in general. It truly trickles into every aspect of your life, and the people around you can sense it too. Be useful. BE TRULY ACCOMPLISHED!

So there you are: dressing the part, your website and other online profiles are clean, slick, and streamlined, you’re honing your craft on a constant basis, and really walking the walk of accomplishment.  Great! There’s more… Another asset setting you apart from the masses is your authenticity - and whether that stems from a place of positivity or negativity.  People will come to respect you for your confidence, honesty, reliability, and complete presence when you can offer yourself freely and without malice. The reverse is also very true – it’s easy to fall into the pit of dishing out harsh criticism, undermining your colleague’s reputations behind the scenes, and being the “go-to” for gossip. It might serve you with a quick fix, like breaking the ice with new cast mates in a production by ripping on the stage director or another colleague… but in the end, you’ve only served to undermine your own integrity in the view of others. I’m not saying that we should all posture ourselves toward an impossible sainthood (because, uh, that’s real?…), but to keep in mind that everything we say or do is interpreted by those around us.  That simple fact should motivate us toward thoughtfulness and clarity. You’ll sleep better at night, too!

I mean that in every way. In your career, do what you do best. Singers, in your auditions and as you select roles to pursue and perform, only present what you do best.  Save the hard work and wrestling matches for the practice room and your teacher’s studio. An audition is never a good time to try new tricks, new repertoire, or something that is “difficult and therefore impressive”. Incidentally, “difficult and therefore impressive” only works out if it’s easy for you and you do it perfectly. If you can’t, put it away and do something else. Again, ONLY SHINE. If you do what you know you do well, there’s a different kind of confidence you bring to the experience. It’s in the way you breathe, the way you move, the way you communicate. It’s the kind of confidence we can see, feel, and that makes us comfortable entrusting you with a role (or trusting you in general). Having worked on, and truly earned this level of confidence will allow you to shine even brighter. It’s a worthy and a noble goal. I challenge you, as I challenge myself, to do it: ONLY SHINE!

With love,
Zachary Gordin