Have a Thick Skin and Track Your Finances

Interview part 2: Stephen Svanholm’s online service gives singers advice and tools for self-management.

There is no artistic boundary Stephen John Svanholm has not crossed. He began his musical career as a guitarist in a heavy metal band just to step one day onto an opera stage to sing Figaro. Recently, the Stockholm-based Lyric Baritone founded The Opera Stage, a website designed to “enable singers without agents to learn how to manage their own career paths”, as stated in its press release. In part two of the series about his work, he talks about today’s challenges for singers and the tools to meet them.


AIF: What is the main challenge for singers in promoting themselves?

Stephen Svanholm: In the past, a lot more singers took the tightly prescribed traditional path from college to agent to opera house. Today, far more singers manage their own careers. The opera business is far more open and in a field with many unrepresented artists, one must both formulate an individual career strategy and be willing to put in the time to actualise that strategy. In an oversaturated market, the challenge lies in knowing which avenues to invest in, develop and employ.

AIF: What quality does an opera singer need in an environment as international as the opera world?

Stephen Svanholm: Flexibility is hugely important – both artistic and practical. Most artists, especially in the beginning of their careers, will have to juggle an array of musical and non-musical jobs. Once hired, they will also have to exhibit artistic flexibility, and will often be asked to sing roles outside their Fach now, especially in early Fest contracts. Also, developing a thick skin while remaining open as an artist is essential. Rejections are inevitable for all artists. I think it’s essential to be able to absorb any constructive feedback and criticism from these experiences, and move on with positivity.


AIF: What kind of help does a singer get when he or she signs up at The Opera Stage?

Stephen Svanholm: If an artist registers on The Opera Stage, they become a Basic Member free of charge. A Basic Member can create an Artist Profile, adding audio, video, photos, reviews, and stage experience. All Artist Profiles appear in our public Opera Industry Directory. Basic Members can use an array of other career tools: Our YAP Calendar is the only calendar available online which lists Young Artists Programs by their deadline, along with links to the program’s home page. In addition, artists get access to our Opportunities Board. We believe strongly that singers should not have to pay for information about any openings or work which are non-paying or pay-to-sing, as well as for info about competitions, courses and masterclasses.

AIF: How does a singer benefit by upgrading to the premium service?

Stephen Svanholm: With our very reasonably priced monthly subscription the artist becomes a Premium Member and can get access to our Paid Jobs Board, which features a large selection of paid work worldwide, daily. We also send a daily Jobs Bulletin with new jobs which each artist can filter according to their needs. Premium Members can also take part in Agency Panel Auditions which we are holding in London and Berlin in February (more cities to come) for a subsidised price. There they will be able to sing for a panel of at least five agents.


AIF: So, does a singer still need an agent?

Stephen Svanholm: We have members with agents as well as without. I think a lot of singers can fill their diaries nowadays without an agent. There are a lot of openings out there, and it just requires some initiative on the part of the artist and willingness to really take the chances presented to them. 


Of course, having an agent still has great benefits.The singer can have someone else handle the admin side of their career and also the highest level mainstage soloist jobs will continue (at least for a while yet) to go through agencies rather than subscription services. However, to find the right representation for them, artists need to be in the shop window and sing as many roles with the smaller and medium-sized companies as possible.

Find more information at theoperastage.com





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Bernd Hendricks. Born in Duisburg, Germany. Based in Berlin. Writer, German Language Educator. I was six years old when I went to the opera for the first time. My Grandma took me to Hänsel und Gretel at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Duisburg. The first time I met an opera singer personally was during my time as foreign correspondent in New York when at a Christmas party a baritone pelted me with questions about the language of Zauberflöte. He was preparing for his role as Papageno. After my return to Berlin in September 2010, I have been giving German lessons to singers on their audition tours. My workshops in Berlin, Vienna, and London are based on my widely read book Ach, ich fühl’s—German for Opera Singers in Three Acts: Studying, Speaking, Singing. My latest book, Die Frist ist um—Navigate the Language of 10 German Operas, takes you on a journey through the language of the most popular and often performed operas in the German-speaking countries. I am also the author of several non-fiction books and two novels.

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