Who Decides?

Does any one singing teacher decide what the standards in the music industry should be? Does any producer? Does any music director, or publicist? Does any one person decide who will be the next big opera star? rock star? Broadway star? TV star? movie star? What happens in the “real world” to shape our music industry standards? How is it that some people have a lasting, significant influence on the music business and others don’t?

Do the schools that teach classical singing decide what a classical singer should sound like or is it the opera houses, or perhaps it is the audiences? Maybe it’s the conductors in the opera houses? Maybe it’s the managers of the singers? Do the magazines and newspapers, through their reviewers and their writers, decide who will have a blazing career and who will be a dismal flop?
What about the people who [claim to] disdain the whole thing? They don’t do the publicity, they don’t do the things that others do, but somehow, they succeed anyway. There have always been celebrities who claim “I never wanted any of this. I never intended to be in show business,” but there they are.
Can you purchase a career? People have tried. Maybe some have succeeded. It’s not something you typically know. I have had a few students who had plenty of money to spend and spent it, only to end up at “Don’t Tell Mama’s” with all the other wannabees, no matter how grand their budget was. I remember well Pia Zadora, whose husband was a multi-millionaire. He bought her whatever career help he could and she did sing a few times on the Tonight Show. Wonder where she is now?
How does anyone keep in touch with what the music industry standards are at any given time in any segment of the industry? How do you know what’s expected in Nashville? How do you know what they want on Broadway? How do you find out which people are the latest big hits in jazz?
We all know about the pop singers. Adele, Beyoncè, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber. It’s hard to miss them. Beyond that, you really have to be a “follower” or “fan” of a particular segment of the music industry to know what’s selling and who is “hot”. Some artists stay popular for years, or decades. Tony Bennett, Angela Landsbury, James Earl Jones, Betty White. All artists with lengthy careers but also individuals who are well respected by their peers in each area: singing, acting and TV entertainment. Some artists are popular for one season on TV or have one (and only one) best selling recording. Some people do one Broadway show and never get hired again.
When I have spoken at singing voice conferences about sticking to the “industry standards” I have been stared at, wild-eyed, by the teachers, as if I was talking about Martians invading New York. One school actually brags that they “don’t teach to the marketplace” even though they also brag about bringing in casting directors and agents to meet their students. (Think they might be a tad conflicted?) When I suggested at one of these conferences that those of us who work with successful singers with careers in the various areas of the business have to know what those areas of the business expect and/or want, I was told “well, it’s only your opinion”. Actually, the music industry doesn’t consult me to see if I have made my decision about what should be popular this week. I don’t think it checks with any of the other singing teachers here who have successful Broadway performers, opera singers, or jazz artists in their studios, to see if the teachers have decided what the standards should be, either.
Truth is, no one knows how these things evolve or who is going to be doing what where. It just happens, slowly, that things show up, some people get attention, and the music industry keeps on keeping on. There is a new crop of performers every generation, and some of the older singers hang on, doing what they have always done. There are people who stop performing and people who try, succeed and then fade away. No one can explain any of it.
If you teach singing, however, and you expect those you teach to sing in public anywhere, and if you do not pay attention to the current trends in the music business, including the opera houses and recital halls, you are not doing your job. Even if you are a tenured professor of voice at a university or conservatory, you have an obligation to stay on top of what’s happening in the real world of music outside your school.
You need to know that the “music industry” is deciding every day and you need to know what those “decisions” are and how they impact what you are doing with your students.
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