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Music Secrets: How to Write an Opera on a Budget PART 1

Music Secrets: How to Write an Opera on a Budget PART 1

Historically, producing an opera, especially a grand scale epic opera, involved numerous resources, finances, and clout. From getting the opera company to the orchestra, to finding a hall big enough for your musical vision, to finding financiers who didn't mind sinking thousands and thousands into a possible flop of a production, the task to produce your own opera could be daunting. 

Then the Internet Happened. And social media. And technology that broke down a thousand barriers to your musical vision. When I composed and produced my opera Libertaria, I took advantage of the Internet and technology and created an epic opera that broke ground as the first original machinima opera and broke ground in its innovative Internet production. I will share some of the ways that I managed to create this incredibly epic opera below. Take a few of these ideas, expand on them, and then make YOUR artistic dream a reality! 


I don't think outside the box because THERE IS NO BOX. 

AUDITIONS AND FINDING TALENT - On a budget
Finding good talent is key to any opera production. While there are software programs and samplers that allow you to create convincing choral parts, for an intricate libretto, nothing can beat a real singer. I conducted virtual auditions of talent by having musicians submit audio files of excerpts to me via sites like Music Xray, email, and even social media sites like Facebook. What was important is that they submitted raw audio. 

What is RAW audio? Audio that has not been edited, tweaked, mixed down with a backing track. It's just the solo voice with nothing. This allows you to hear the errors and issues with the vocalist instead of the beautifully engineered version of their voice. I had one performer submit an edited version of their voice, and there were pitch issues that showed up later that were not in the edited audition. 



Talent is EVERYWHERE! 

The Internet allows you to find talent anywhere around the world. Use services like Dropbox, Soundcloud, and even Bandcamp to easily swap files, share your scores and click tracks, and listen to recordings. Contact people about your upcoming project using social media like Twitter, listserves, and forums where you will find musicians. Try to work with sites that you already have a good "karma" with. In other words, if you suddenly pop onto a site blabbing about how you need singers for your project but don't know the first thing about the social media site, most people will ignore you. Instead, make a short list of social media sites that already have active followers, online groups that care about you and you care about, and other media outlets like magazines, newsletters and more. For example, I am part of an active IAWM listserve, manage several blogs and social media sites, and have clout on some sites like Linkedin or Reverbnation, where I have been active and have fans and online connections in my field. 
electroacoustic
Young Creates New Music Through Internet Collaboration

Paying Talent
If you can afford to pay your talent, please do. No one likes a cheapskate who runs around in a luxury car but won't even tip the waitress. Look beyond yourself if you are connected to institutions like universities or museums, which may have funds available. Grants are another funding possibilities, as well. 

For my project, I was unable to procure a grant to fund the project and pay the performers. I let them know this up front. And unlike many projects that I have been with that promised money on the other end of project completion, I made it clear that this was not a money-making project. 



Libertaria is a project of blood, sweat, and tears, 
and if they were willing to share their passion and talent on my project, 
then I would do everything that I could to promote them throughout the project. 

I allowed cast members to use any clips that they were involved with under a Creative Commons license (to date, Matt Meadows has truly blown up the Internet with clips from Libertaria!). For the animators, I promised an in-kind music score for their next project for free. Cast members have found that the project has boosted their involvement in similar projects and gained them fans and publicity, not to mention a chance to explore a new form of opera. I am glad that my cast and crew found the project so worthwhile because I could have never made it without them.




Union Musicians
I will not share my thoughts on unions here, but if you choose to go with union musicians, which are extremely talented and professional, then be sure that you procure funding first before even auditioning a single performer/singer. These professionals have specific expectations that are part of their union contract, and you need to be ready to meet those expectations to the letter to gain their participation in your project. Some union musicians will participate in projects for free or low pay, even though that is frowned upon, but be sure that you are up-front about what financial expectations and what is expected for their participation. Work this into your budget up front. 

Non-Union Musicians
You will also be able to find many non-union musicians willing to be a part of your project. If you opt to use online, you will have access to international musicians, locals, retired musicians, educators, students, and a wide variety of talent. Once again, find out what they require and budget that in.

Universities and Students
I admit I am biased. I LOVE working with universities and college students and professors. Some of the most innovative music out there is being down in our academic institutions. If you are able to get a college group to perform your work, kudos to you! In the best case scenario your opera can be part of an opera workshop or part of an upcoming performance of the college ensemble. At the least you can have access to emerging talent before they hit the pros. College professors are often eager to cut their teeth on a new innovative project. If you are a college student or college professor, you may have all the talent you need for your project RIGHT THERE. 

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN AN AUDITION
Kate Sikora, Gracia Gillund, and Gretchen Suarez Pena 

Just some basics:
1) Pitch - Are they in tune? What is their range? 
2) Rhythm - Can they stay in time? 
3) Performance - Is it musical? Are they true to your music? Do they improvise? Are you comfortable with that? 
4) Vocal quality - Does their vocal quality fit the character? Would they be better as another character? Can they hit all the notes convincingly?
5) Directions - Did they follow the basic directions of the audition? Are they professional? 
6) Passion - Do they WANT to do this project? Can you depend on them? Will your project be a priority or something they will brush off when you need them most?

TAKE THE TIME TO SPEAK TO THEM
Over coffee is best, but SKYPE, phone conversations, Google Chat, etc. are all good ways to talk to this person about your project. See if they are really ready to dedicate their next year or so to your opera production. And be ready to have understudies, especially if you go with an Internet collaboration. Life is complicated and it is more difficult to keep tabs on your cast and crew if they are halfway around the world and in a different time zone. So be ready for any changes in your schedule or cast/crew. And have a PLan B and Plan C in your back pocket.

I will share more about Opera Production on a Budget! I hope that you found this information helpful! Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Sabrina Pena Young is an award-winning composer and a big fan of Cuban food. She lives with her family in Buffalo, NY where she wonders why she ever left the sunny Miami beaches. Young's latest work Libertaria: The Virtual Opera has been described as "EPIC" and "GROUNDBREAKING" and other such words. Young is currently working on a social media opera collaboration, a commission for Malletkat and Multimedia, and a virtual music ensemble. Find out more about Sabrina Pena Young at her Official Website: http://sabrinapenayoung.blogspot.com/


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