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More Than Just High Notes: A Young Singer's Journey To NYC

Starting a career in music takes more than just hours in a practice room. It takes connections, it takes luck, and it takes money… lots and lots of money. Amanda Biggs is a young opera singer trying to make, trying to get to New York City to make a career for herself. But it hasn't been an easy process. In this audio profile, we get a sneak peak into the process of turning talent into dollar signs and then into a profession.

My name is Amanda Biggs, and I'm an opera singer.

This famous opera singer I'm working with in New York has presented me with, "Get to New York. Get to Manhattan, and I will have you sing for all the right people."

I was in Manhattan last fall, trying to live. Within a few days after I moved to Manhattan to live with my friends, Lehman Bros. and everything went crashing to the ground. And so thousands and thousands of New Yorkers were out of jobs and way more qualified for even temp jobs than I was. So, I spent seven weeks looking for a job.

And then my friend who I met at IU, who also lives in Manhattan, said "I have a connection with this famous soprano. We've e-mailed each other a few times, and I think she would be really excited to hear your voice. If I can arrange it, would you be willing to sing for her?" And of course I said yes.

So she just heard me. And this person doesn't just do that. She'd never done it before, and she charges a lot of money for master classes, you can imagine. She didn't charge me a thing and stayed for a few hours. And then later, she told me that she just wasn't expecting to hear what she heard from me. She immediately began telling me that I needed to sing for this person and that person, and I needed to get back to New York, because she knew I was leaving after not being successful in finding a job.

I'm having to raise a lot of money, because the start-up… That's where it's difficult for any young artist trying to launch a career the way I'm trying to launch a career.

AB: So, average rent and utilities in Manhattan would be around $1400/month, in what will probably be a tiny little cracker box.

AC: …with a roommate.

AB:: With a roommate! That doesn't include the fact that I have to rent studio space to rehearse. Studio space is usually about $25-$50/hour. So we're at about $1950.

AC: You gotta eat.

AC: Well, I do have to eat. I don't like to think of myself as a starving artist. LAUGH If my apartment comes with a kitchen and I get to cook, I would say… everything is more expensive… $100/week for groceries. So $400/month times 12, which you can average up to $5000. Because part of the deal is when you're schmoozing, you've got to be able to go to swanky nice restaurants, hope to God they buy which they usually do, but you can't expect it.

AC: Then voice lessons…

AB: I would say voice lessons would be $5000-$7000/year.

AC: Transportation…

AB:: The subway I think is something like $1500-$2000/year.

AC: And if you would fly places…


AC: Well, you're NOT going to fly places!

AB: I'll take the Amtrak!

AC: You need dresses…

AB: I do. I just purchased my recital gown, which was $220. And people don't want to see the same gown on you for two recitals. So, it's like getting married every time. And $7750 to pay my current student loans… So, $45,000 to eke by for one year in New York City. Daunting.

I'm planning two benefit recitals, one in Bowling Green, Kentucky where I did my undergraduate degree, and one in Bloomington. I'm having several private dinner parties. These are dinner parties hosted by friends who have connections. So, I'll go, we'll have a nice dinner, and I'll sing for these people. We'll talk about career endeavors, and I'll have my endorsement from this famous soprano. These people will see "Hey, this girl is serious." So, that's a way I'm raising money.

Once I'm past the recitals, and I know what kind of contributions I'm dealing with, I can then decide where I can afford to live and what I can afford in general. And I want to show my mentors that I'm willing to do work on my own as well, not just expecting them to run around and find people for me to sing for. I'm actually trying to do everything I can. And so I'm going to Manhattan with all the money I can come with, and make that last as long as I can until either A) I run out or B) someone says, "Oh my god, I want to support your career entirely for three years," you know.

Who knows what will happen in the year, who I'll sing for. It's not something that can be easily planned or expected.

My name is Amanda Biggs, and I am going to New York to become an opera singer – an internationally successful opera singer. So one way or another it will happen.

You can hear Amanda Bigg's benefit recital on Friday, July 31 at 7:30pm. That's at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Bloomington.  If perhaps her voice sounds familiar to you, it might be because she was featured in a recent Artworks segment about singers of the National Anthem.

Listen to Annie Corrigan's story on singing the National Anthem featuring Amanda Biggs.

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