This article discusses how to provide voice lessons to an established artist.
The slow start
Whenever a teacher opens a voice studio for the first time, they start by working with beginning level talent. Like any new business, building a brand in those first few years is a slow process. If you are going through that phase now, keep going. Eventually, after a lot of hard work, you will start to attract more established clients with a higher skill set. If you have finally reached the point in your career where you have started to gain a few talented students, you also may have found yourself hitting somewhat of a roadblock.
Congratulations! You have discovered what I call the 'double-edged sword of voice teaching.' It is a strange phenomenon where you outgrow your teaching approach. It happens after you have transformed several students from 'rough around the edges' to a 'finished product.' You have great outcomes and a record of success with beginning level students. Now, all of a sudden, you are starting to attract individuals who are at a mid-career level or higher. (Or, at least they are not starting at ground zero.) Strangely, these new and exciting singers only take one or two lessons from you and then they disappear. But, why?
Well, your old teaching style may not work for more talented singers. So, what do you do?
Share the experience
First and foremost, with highly talented clients, you are no longer the only authority in the room. Sorry if being an authoritarian is a cornerstone of your teaching technique. Word to the wise, if you keep this approach, you will quickly go back to being the only person with authority in the room. Meaning--your talented clients will leave. They will not like your 'vibe,' and they will not like you. Et voilà, your career will plateau.
So, you do not want to plateau?
When you have an especially talented client, you have entered into a realm where the traditional teacher-student dynamic changes into an artist-mentor relationship. It is an equal partnership, and you both will be bound together by this journey. For this kind of relationship to prosper, it must be built on trust, communication, and positive interaction.
What is an artist?
For the sake of this article, an 'artist' is anyone who has encountered some professional success, fame, or recognition. They could have sung as a principal or young artist for an opera company. They could be an influencer or singer-songwriter that has published singles, EPs, or full albums. They could be on Broadway, or they could still be in school. Regardless of age or music genre, once an artist has obtained recognition, they can no longer be approached like someone who has little to no professional experience. It is as if their eyes are opened and they understand the world for what it is. The innocence is gone.
These singers do not follow instructions blindly. Sometimes, they can even be a little difficult to pin down, but, once the right environment is established, they often become the hardest working and most rewarding clients. Successful artists also expect you to work as hard as they do, so be prepared to have a comparable work ethic.
The two kinds
The newbie artist will likely expect you, the teacher, to prove yourself either by reputation, with fast results, or both. Even if they are nice about it, they still tend to write people off pretty quickly. At the end of their first session, do not be surprised if they end up giving you the 'Hollywood yes' when you ask if they would like to work with you again. Remain calm. If they do not come back for a second session, do not be too hard on yourself. This artist can be tough to please. No matter what, teach with grace and kindness. Always think of what is in the best interest of the client whether they pay for one session or fifty. Let the relationship happen naturally. Always keep in mind that you are not the authority, but rather sharing a learning experience.
Artists that are in the early stages of their career are usually still a little 'green.' It does not take long, however, for them to realize that there are money-hungry parasites lurking everywhere. These are the industry people--it does not matter which industry--who smell the opportunity for money, leverage, and power. These money-grabbers often seek out newly successful artists and prey upon their naïveté.
Eventually, the parasites chew them up and spit them out
The battle-tested artist will be more cautious. They are certainly more familiar with the business and are far more willing to walk away if they do not like your energy. They still want you to prove yourself, but they also want someone who can get them to the next level while being kind and compassionate.
Although this individual may still look energetic and fresh on the outside, they have gone through a lot to get where they are. They will not let on that their journey has been difficult. They hide this notion because they recognize that society does not believe that a successful artist 'suffers for their art.' However, the sheer amount of trauma from this lifestyle can be overwhelming. They will probably never talk to you about it, but they will certainly have an underlying 'if you know, you know' attitude.
With this seasoned artist, you have to embrace the various facets that make them who they are. There should be an understanding that they are knowledgeable in their own right, but that they also need an objective opinion on their voice in order to grow. They will immediately recognize if you can help them or if you are solely trying to build your reputation on their talents.
Think for a moment, do you know how easy it is to spot a salesman on a used car lot?
That is how easy it is for an experienced artist to spot people who want to take advantage of them. Do not do that. Care for them. If you are good at what you do, you should want to do that anyway. Be a gentle soul that understands the difference between the artist standing right in front of you and the person inside.
Once you both have had a moment to evaluate each other, your sessions will feel pretty normal. You, as the teacher, may have a moment or two where you are simply blown away by their talents. That's okay. You do not have to be more talented than your students; you just have to offer trustworthy guidance. The goal is to take yourself out of the equation, and make them as good as possible, right? Once you develop this trust, then you may begin teaching vocal technique.
Finally: speak their language, be their fan, and like their content
What is the most important tip for building a relationship with an established artist? You cannot just meet them halfway. Do not expect them to sing through the Vaccai, your go-to vocalises, or warm-ups ad nauseam. You must meet them wherever they are and build the instrument from there. They do not have the luxury of time for a complete vocal rebuild. In fact, they probably like their instrument the way it is. They may want it to be stronger, higher, more flexible, etc., but try to refrain from attempting to change their sound altogether unless they specifically request it.
Additionally, you should be one of their biggest fans. This may be a strange concept for the traditional voice teacher, but influencers and artists understand that one 'superfan' is worth 100 or 1,000 casual fans. Of course, do not be obsessive, but invest some time into understanding and appreciating their content.
You will have clients who are on several different social media platforms. Go stream and share their music, subscribe to their YouTube channel, follow them on Instagram, give them a comment full of emojis (my 2021 favorite is 🎉 🎉 🎉). They will appreciate the effort, and it will show them that you value their talent and artistry.
My social media all in one place: www.mhvoicestudio.com