Thrilled to Announce That Rejection is the Norm
Updated: May 28
In case you needed to hear this today: rejection is the norm in this industry.
As we (hopefully) turn a corner into Spring, this is around the first year mark where I decided to really commit to auditioning as a freelance soprano. No school to protect me from the real world, no more pay-to-sings, just me, YAP Tracker, Audition Oracle, and a LOT of recording, planning, and practising. Oh, and did I mention I work a full-time, non-music job? It's been a year of hustling, stressing, celebrating, and petting cats.
And so, I applied. And applied. And applied. And while I got some awesome gigs - more than I'd ever bargained for - I got SO many rejections.
At first, it stung a little. As a soprano, you're told to get used to it (a dime a dozen, as the industry loves to tell us), but it still sucks to read the empty-sounding platitudes of yet another email telling you that you just didn't make the cut.
However, as the PFOs rolled in, I realized two things: a) Lots were very explicit about my rejection having nothing to do with my ability as a singer, which I’m choosing to believe is true and b) It was kind of nice just to get consistent emails from different opera companies after a while, regardless of the results. The last part may speak more to my existential loneliness, but I think the first part is worth paying attention to.
One of my biggest realizations throughout this process is that no one ever talks about rejection being the norm, and not the exception. After eight years of schooling, not once was there a conversation about the wild notion that rejection doesn't necessarily mean you're not good enough. Rather, as I've discovered, there are likely a million other factors being considered that have little to do with your ability as a singer, and a lot more to do with things such as location, language barriers, casting limitations for the upcoming opera season, and many, many more things.
That's why, as the business of "audition season" winds down, I wanted to be absolutely transparent about my personal "stats" as a singer. For your reading pleasure, I'm outlining exactly how many programs I applied for, how many callbacks I got, and how many gigs I actually scored.
So, without further ado - here we go!
Audition Season 2022/2023 - Thera Barclay
Voice type: Soprano
DOB: Why does this matter again? My supposed "expiry date" is in September of this year.
Claims to fame: Holding very high notes for far too long, entertainingly curly hair, high spice tolerance
Number of Programs Applied To:
Looking at the good old audition spreadsheet, I counted a total of 36 programs so far. These programs are a mix of young artist programs, festivals, and other miscellaneous gigs (agent auditions, other personal development programs, etc.). I refused to apply to any pay-to-sings as I feel that, at this point in my artistic journey, I've paid my dues (literally and figuratively). Anything I applied for was either tuition-free or a paid gig.
Of the 36 programs, I received a callback for a whopping 3 applications.
Now, some of the programs I applied for didn't have callbacks; you were either accepted or you weren't, but I clearly didn't make it past the majority of the pre-screens for programs that had callbacks. I was invited to do a video audition for an American YAP, and my admission status is still pending. The other two applications that I scored callbacks for were actually for the same opera company, and I could only attend one of the auditions anyway, since it was in Europe, and there's only so much PTO a girl can take from her full-time job. Cue womp-womp sound effect.
The juicy part! How many acceptances did I actually get?
If I remember correctly, I scored 5 acceptances.
Here's a breakdown of these amazing (and in some cases, upcoming, but sure-to-be-amazing) experiences:
- One was a tuition-free, week-long festival in Switzerland, where accommodation and lunch were provided - SUCH an amazing time!!! Also, there were many cats.
- One was a paid opera here in Toronto
- One was an invitation to audition in Vancouver for representatives of opera agencies and companies across Canada
- One is a paid YAP in Vermont
- One is a paid opera with shows in July and a touring component in October
Ye Olde Pie Chart
Don't lie - you were all hoping there would be a chart. I would never disappoint you. If I did the math correctly, here it is, in all its pie-shaped glory:
Can you see that tiny sliver of the graph for the callbacks? Yeah, me neither :') .
Looking at that graph, you might think to yourself, "Wow, Thera is really bad at singing. She gets rejected 84.7% of the time."
Let me be clear about one thing: by no means do I consider myself a prodigious singer. I'm the first person to offer a laundry list of things I need to work on. Objectively, however, I know that I have the capacity and the ability to perform at a professional level on an operatic stage. Based on the feedback of instructors, coaches, clinicians, and directors, and on the level of education I've pursued at this point, I'd venture to say that I can and should be paid to sing. "Professional" to me means "PAID to sing" rather than "PAY to sing", and that's a pretty important distinction. It would seem that approximately 14.7% of companies agree with this notion.
Something worth noting is the reason for the rejections themselves. Sure, for many programs, I would venture to say that the competition was just too stiff, that the level of singing was extremely high, and I just didn't measure up. However, for some programs, the timing of your application submission can be a big determinant in whether or not you'll be granted an audition. Many companies accept singers on a rolling basis, and once the slots fill up, then you're out of luck. And of course, there are geographical factors, whether or not the company's season actually has roles available for your voice type, and a million other reasons with varying levels of insidiousness. Point being: sometimes, it's not a "you" problem.
The final takeaway from all this? I hope whoever's reading this can feel that the audition season process (i.e. madness) is a little less daunting. I hope we can really examine the realities of the business and discuss how bizarre it is that the astronomically high level of rejection that singers face is absolutely the norm, and not the exception. I also hope we can openly discuss our rejections without feeling that they are a personal attack on our artistic ability. These discussions are especially needed in educational institutions that churn out singers but often fail at providing a realistic perspective of how to actually deal with rejection, and the fact that it's basically inevitable. Rejection isn't a failure - it's much more about supply versus demand than good versus bad.
And to anyone who needs to hear this: I hope those PFOs aren't weighing as heavily on your heart. Chin up, and keep on singing. You're doing just fine.