Claudia Friedlander

Voice Teacher

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14

The Liberated Voice

A beautiful voice is a free voice. The practice of singing unleashes the flow of creativity, endows greater depth and nuance of feeling, and empowers expression. It integrates body and mind. 

I'm a voice teacher, and it's my aim to revolutionize the way singers think about and develop classical vocal technique. Advances in the fields of biomechanics, sports science and psychology have yielded information and resources that are of tremendous benefit for my community. It's time to allow traditional methods to evolve with the help of modern insights and technologies. 

Delight: We've really just touched the tip of the iceberg where the potential power and transformative ability of the acoustic human voice is concerned. These resources will expedite and augment mastery of singing.

Fear: In the absence of these resources, a sizable majority of conservatory and college voice majors graduate without having become professinally viable, and the careers of professional singers are often cut short due to fatigue or injury. 

Here is my blog, my Facebook page, and my YouTube channel. My Twitter handle is @VoiceTeacherNYC. I also oversee the Voice Studio group on Carnegie Hall's interactive educational site, Musical Exchange. I write a monthly column on fitness and singing for Classical Singer magazine and you can read the first four installations here

11 Questions

1. Marketing is a means of informing my community that there are resources available that they never knew existed, that the practice of singing is not just an art form but something that can absolutely transform every aspect of their lives, and that rather than being at the mercy of luck or natural talent, their potential is virutally limitless.

2. This is my party, so I can touch everything. I have no academic affiliation at the moment and am accountable only to myself and to my students. I still need to be reminded of this, though, as my thinking is often limited by traditional expectations of what a voice lesson is supposed to look like. 

3. I can measure my web site traffic. I can measure who follows me on Facebook and Twitter. I can measure who interacts with me via social media. I can measure who actually signs up for a lesson or a training session or a workshop as the result of my marketing. I can examine my calendar for short- and long-term business activity to see a variety of trends.

4. Internally, the shape and quality of my teaching is always evolving, but as I mentioned it is sometimes hard for me to see where change is needed because I get stuck in the traditional paradigm of what a voice lesson is supposed to be. Where my customers are concerned, I absolutely need to change their desires and expectations. My field is dominated by teachers offering variations on 19th-century singing techniques. My prospective students do not know that it is possible to work in the way that I work and the results they can get from it, and there is pervasive superstition and attachment to the way that things "have always been done". I need to make a dent in these perceptions in order to change their relationships with their voice and the way they pursue their practice.

5. I promise to demystify the practical journey to mastering singing while leading you to explore the real magic and mystery of emotional expression and self-realization. To expertly assess where you are in relation to your goals and create a plan that will move you as swiftly as possible in the direction of achieving them. To make the process fascinating, deeply rewarding and empowering.

6. The hard part is attracting the talent pool as an independent teacher. I’m competing with major institutions and the voice teachers who are affiliated with them. I’m saying they should come to me instead, without the imprimatur of these storied institutions and their resources.

7. I am making trends. I am proposing a major paradigm shift in how we should think about and apply vocal technique. Were I to become affiliated with an institution of higher learning I would likely seek ways to expand and improve the vocal curriculum. 

8. There is emotional risk for my customers because learning to sing means uncovering and dealing with psychological blocks and facing a variety of fears. This process will destabilize them in a number of ways. There is risk to me in the sense that I may alienate my colleagues because it is difficult to send a message that I have awesome new resources without also sending the message that the old ones are inadequate. 

9. I am in charge. But because I am much better at teaching and writing than marketing, I have all but neglected it up until now. So you could say that my role as marketer now needs to take priority over my role as generator of cool content for a time. I already have a ton of cool content. Now I need to focus on how to use it to generate more business for myself so that people can actually benefit from it.

10. I need to spend money to augment my online presence (web site, promotional photos and instructional videos) and my real-world relevance (giving workshops, attending performances, attending and presenting at conferences). I need to spend money driving traffic to my online resources and real-world events. I need to spend money to improve the quality of my brand (making my home studio more functional and attractive and possibly moving by business to a dedicated professional space). 

11. I need to spend my time reaching out to and engaging prospective new students. My inclination is to just try to educate everyone and shovel content at them without actually engaging them in dialogue or directly inviting them to come work with me. I've had a popular blog for several years now and a monthly column in our trade magazine, so I'm known and respected in the community, but because I do not have effective and consistent means of engaging them this has not done very much to build my business. 

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14 P's

I'm listing these in their degree of importance to my business. 

POSITIONING

My axes are:

x. Pedagogue vs. coach

y. Self-realization vs. career development

My niche among voice teachers is that I am an outstanding pedagogue who prioritizes developing the singing voice as a means of self-realization rather than expediently launching careers. Coaching and careers are important - certainly things I also address - but what you come to me for is comprehensive vocal technique as a means of gaining access to your feelings, ideas, and creative stores and the courage to express them so that your artistry is authentic and unique throughout your career. The only other voice teacher I know of who lays claim to this quadrant is my own mentor, W. Stephen Smith - he's very supportive of my work, and there is certainly room for both of us here! 

PERSONALIZATION

The success of my teaching and my reputation rests on my ability to express insight into each student’s process and goals and show appreciation for their individuality. Every voice is unique, and every singer faces a unique set of challenges in developing and unmasking that voice. My ability to customize my teaching to each student’s needs and my responsiveness to their individual personalities, goals and experiences is what defines me as a teacher.

PLACEMENT

I have a much higher social media presence than most classical voice teachers and I need to continue to build my reach in this area. Raising my visibility is paramount because I do not hold a faculty appointment. I need to work on leveraging my affiliation with the Weill Music Institute of Carnegie Hall some more, and the current project we are launching on Musical Exchange will help to facilitate that. I am presenting workshops at symposiums for both the Voice Foundation and the Performing Arts Medical Association this summer. I write a monthly column for Classical Singer Magazine. I am marketing my workshop to colleges and conservatories. I need to build stronger relationships with the National Association of Teachers of Singing and Opera America

PROMOTION

I have a bad habit of giving stuff away. I tend to generate tons of content to post online, and it generally isn't structured in a way that leads people to do business with me. I do this because I love to, and people do read what I write and say "thank you," so it's something I will continue to do. I just need to find ways to use what I'm already doing to build my business. This is something I could really use this community's help with. 

PRICING

I need to be on the high end without being ridiculous. I am offering a premium service and my qualifications are as high as they could possibly be without serving on the faculty of a prestigious conservatory - I have a doctorate, I publish frequently, my students sing professionally in a wide variety of genres, and I have broad visibility online. I need to communicate value more effectively through the trappings of my teaching, e.g. I should dress well every day and keep my studio more orderly and attractive. I need to earn enough to live reasonably comfortably without becoming unaffordable for the singers who need me most. I do not want to raise my fees to the highest level some of my peers charge because the ones who charge the most trade more on cult of personality than skill and put themselves out of range for most emerging artists.

Those are the most important of the P's for my business as it currently stands. The rest follow in order of decreasing importance.

PURPLE

“You don’t get to decide if your product or service is remarkable, the consumer does.” I am often surprised by which of my blog posts generate the most buzz. My readers “like” the metal post, the “discovered” post, the “relevance” post, and the ones on Vibrant Voice Work. What readers find interesting are a) the things that are niche and entertaining (metal and vibrators) and broadly relevant (the business of opera). I think that pedagogy, anatomy and fitness are worth talking about, but that is not what is putting me on the map - it’s this other stuff, things that are either super cool and unusual or all-embracing. I also need to pay attention to which aspects of my workshops inspire the most discussion and which of my YouTube videos get the most play. 

PUBLIC RELATIONS

People probably care more about my own story than I realize. I became a teacher because when the conservatories failed to provide what I needed to become a great singer, I became determined to improve things. The psychological and physical aspects of my journey are inseparable from the pedagogical. Many people can relate to my story because all too frequently singers emerge from graduate programs without the wherewithal to take the next step.

PERMISSION

I need to compile an email list and create a monthly newsletter. This is something that I simply have not done and clearly should. I haven’t done it because a) I don’t know how and b) the idea of committing to yet another regular writing deadline stresses me out. But I can learn how, and if I just keep an open draft to work on that I gradually add information to as it comes in then I won’t have to scramble to produce it on deadline each month. 

 
PLACE

I need to make my studio more welcoming, attractive, and clutter-free. Eventual web site overhaul.


PERSISTENCE

I need to tweet and post more consistently. I need to advertise my studio more consistently. I do show up, but I do not show up with enough regularity. 


PLACEBO

I need to employ this principle in my actual teaching. If I express certainty that what I am telling my students (and prospective students) to do will get them the results they want, they’re more likely to do as I say, including seeing me more frequently. I spend so much time focusing on exploring the things I don’t know yet, the things I’m not yet certain about, but that is what I do to improve my teaching. My students don’t need to know about that. They need to feel confidence coming from me that what I’m saying is right and true. 


PAVLOV

There are many things about my teaching and studio culture that differ from my peers and there are those that are not different. I can evoke a Pavlovian response by looking more like what they’re use to, but I’m trying to change people. It may be more useful for me to play up what is different rather than tap into the habitual reactions they might have to a voice lesson situation.  

PUBLICITY

I do put myself forward as the expert source for media but I have already experienced how little it actually does for my business. I will continue to do this but I do not count on it.  


PEOPLE LIKE US

What is special about being a member of my studio? How is this a tribe? I do have my readership and want to encourage more online interaction among my readers. Singers who have studied with me, Steve, and other teachers that Steve has trained certainly have common views and experiences. I would love to build community but at this point am not sure how this would help to build my business. 

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SOME CHOICE WORDS

This are the words from Seth's list that feel the most important for me to develop. 

STORY

In a business like mine, the story that's the most tempting to tell goes something like this: "I'm going to make you a start overnight." Everyone wants the quick fix, to be discovered, to believe that success will be swift, easy and quantifiable. I'm competing with people who tell that story. 

The truth is a harder sell. Mastery requires daily dedication over a long period of time - being satisfied with incremental progress, dealing with plateaus, confronting unforeseen physical challenges and psychological blocks. What you're buying into with me is a process, not a product. My story is about the value of engaging in a process and walking a path, for the sake of the journey rather than the destination. 

The diet and fitness industries provide some good examples of this distinction. Most continue to sell the quick fix, in spite of the fact that it's a well-proven fact that long-term weight loss and fitness gains require committed lifestyle changes. One outstanding exception that I would like to role model is Beachbody. Tony Horton's P90X and other workout regimens bucked the trend by saying "this isn't going to happen overnight and it isn't going to be easy but the results will be worth it." They still focus on the results, but what they are selling is the journey. 

So my story needs to be, "You're going to achieve the voice you always dreamed of, but it's going to be so much more than that - you're going to walk this path that is going to enrich your life in ways you never imagined possible." 

EXPERIENCE

The experience I facilitate for my students should includes the following:

  • They are affirmed in their desire to sing and their ability to realize their goals and potential
  • They find the process challenging and fulfilling
  • I provide a positive environment that feels safe and promotes focus and concentration
  • They understand what they need to work on and are confident in their ability to work on it
  • I push them far enough outside their comfort zone to be useful and empowering but not so far that they freak out
  • They feel like I really get them and trust me to help
  • They understand how their vocal work relates to and supports their communicative needs and skills beyond singing
  • They leave feeling like their skills and understanding have been expanded, excited to keep at it.

"THE WEIRD"

My "Weird" are the singers who a) desire the experience I just described and b) are in it for the long haul. This may be a rather limited subset of people who are serious about learning to sing well.

Some of the most "successful" classical voice teachers regularly make their students cry - my community is fraught with codependent student/teacher relationships. Many singers want to be told what to do without discussion of why they should do it. Many value the notion of tradition and like the idea of doing things the way they have been done for generations. Many want quick fixes and don't understand the process vs. product thing. Many do not appreciate being nudged outside their comfort zone. I used to think that it was my job to persuade all of these people that my way of working is the best way, but this isn't realistic and isn't even necessarily true. 

My "Weird" are excited by the idea of engaging in something cutting-edge and revolutionary. They're smart. They are interested in mining their own creative depths and becoming fully realized human beings - they're after more than just outward professional success. They are independent, inquisitive, and open-minded. They are risk-takers. They are athletically inclined and emotionally available - or if they're not, they want to be.

DESIGN

Here is what Design means for my business:

  • The physical appearance of my studio, as well as the tools I use for teaching: piano, musical scores, text books, vibrators, visual props (model larynx etc)
  • My physical appearance - the "unifom" I wear to work and my overall look
  • The way I present my materials online, whether it's my blog, social media, or sites that publish my content
  • The appearance of any advertising I engage in.

All of these things need a lot of work - truthfully, it feels overwhelming.

Studio: I would greatly prefer to have a dedicated studio space but have been teaching from home. This is a big improvement over the years when I was renting hourly studio space at locations where I could not have all my helpful stuff around me, the piano might be out of tune or just plain inadequate, the lighting was garish, etc. etc. However, my situation is far from ideal. What is working:

  • Nice piano
  • Excellent climate control
  • Adequate sound-proofing
  • Some good equipment (musical scores, smaller tools)

What is missing: 

  • Clean, attractive space. My living room is cluttered. I need more light. It opens up on the kitchen, which is usually a mess. Internally I am always apologizing for the state of my home. 
  • Adequate space. I would like to do more physical work with my students and incorporate tools like a stability ball and use of a foam roller, which would require more floor space and more storage space than I currently have. 

The situation could be improved with an investment of research and money. Some more space could be created by replacing some or all of my living room furniture and installing better storage throughout my apartment so that there is more floor space and the tools I need could be stored under the piano (there are other things there right now). I can improve on the lighting. I am not particularly optimistic about banishing the clutter, however, as this small space houses two busy people and we do not always have time to return the apartment to the level of order that I'd need to not be internally apologizing. So while things could be better than they are, I don't think I can create what I really want here. It would be better for my business in many other ways to have my own dedicated studio space. That would require a sizable investment and smart planning to make sure it pays off rather than sinks me. 

My physical appearance: I have put a lot of thought into the image I want to project and have made some progress in that direction, but it isn't a daily habit. I don't always look the role, and I really think I need to, both when I'm teaching and when I'm out and about in the neighborhood, as I'm often likely to run into colleagues. Because my work these days also includes physical training for singers, I sometimes have to transition quickly from being a trainer to being a voice teacher, but my students know that this is part of my business model and so there are days when my uniform in the studio can be nice leggings and a hoody.

This is one of those "Just Do It" things. If I make the time to dress the way I've decided I should, there isn't anything stopping me. I probably need to do it for myself more than for my students and colleagues - it just makes me feel more professional. 

My online materials: I put a lot of time and work into designing my blog when it first launched, and it's not so bad, but it's still DIY and looks it. I need a real web site that will meet all of my business and teaching needs, I need it to look awesome, and I can't do it myself. I will need to hire someone to do it for me, and I'll need to find a way to pay them. Once that's done, I can bring my social media home pages into alignment with the look and feel of my web site. 

Adverstising: I'm guessing that this will be more about copy than graphics. I am confident in my ability to generate strong ad copy once I've figured out what story I'm telling. If I need graphics for advertising or fliers, I will probably need some help. 

FEAR

I am including Fear in this section because it is so pervasive in my community. Cultivating the vulnerability you need to sing well is a scary thing. Most singers are quite fearful a lot of the time because they do not know what is going to come out when they open their mouths. They don't know what is working when they are singing well, they don't know what the problem is when they aren't, and they don't understand the process whereby they can improve and become more consistent. This makes them easy prey for my colleagues whose story goes, "I'm going to make you a start overnight."

The value of Fear for my marketing is this: I believe that the willingness and courage to face fear is integral to the learning process. I'm not the kind of teacher who will tell my students that I can make their fear go away if they put their trust in me and that I will fix everything for them. I will teach them to face their fears skillfully and give them the tools they need to trust in themselves. 

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