• Thomas Morris

Becoming a Digital Opera Producer

Updated: Sep 10, 2020

Assistant Director of Programing Thomas Morris on the equalizing nature of technology as a platform for opera. Watch Daniel Welch’s class: Digital Opera Content: How to Look and Sound like the Pros and Lose the Filter: Social Media Strategy with Tracy Cox (aka @sparklejams).

Opera has been around for over four hundred years. And while the world of digital content and social media may be relatively new, it certainly consumes a huge amount of our time: the average American spends over two hours a day browsing social media. But as opera houses in the United States have shut their doors for the foreseeable future, opera singers have found themselves in a unique situation:

The digital stage is the only stage still open.

This unlikely pairing of a hundreds-year-old art form with contemporary technology certainly presents challenges, and there are many who think the two should remain separate. Some believe opera was meant for the opera house, or that you devalue the art form by using social media as a stage. Singers train for years to maximize vocal resonance to carry into massive opera houses: how do you capture this same voice on a microphone in your apartment? In a world where people don’t feel like they should pay for content online, how is the industry supposed to survive online?

It is certainly no secret that technology affects our lives in both positive and negative ways. And it is easy to focus on all the reasons why technology and opera should not mix. But this comparison misses the point that the two can coexist and enhance one another. Though the frontier of virtual reality is exciting, at this time online opera will never be experienced in the same way as watching in person. An aria recorded on Facebook will never be a substitute for hearing the same singer sing the same piece in concert. Yet what technology gives the world of opera is an opportunity to be something it struggles to realize: a platform to elevate the voices of all people. If opera is voices sharing stories, technology can provide a platform for this experience to become more authentic, individualized, and personal. Perhaps this is what the art form needs to make opera more accessible.

The recent quarantine innovation has already been incredible. In April, composer Kamala Sankaram presented the first ever Zoom opera. The widespread Covidian cancellations have allowed extraordinary access to opera stars with virtual masterclasses and personal conversations on Instagram. BIPOC opera singers have used technology to come together and share their important stories in an unprecedented way. Fundraisers have raised $100,000s in support of artists through virtual benefit concerts. Interviews, Q&As, panel discussions, webinars, and more - we’re listening to each other in ways we haven’t before.

As a professional opera singer, the question of success quickly has become one of technical affinity as much as talent. To stay visible and to earn a living, not only do you have to be at the top of your vocal game but you also must know how to record yourself, take engaging photos for your social media accounts, know about Instagram's algorithms, figure out how to livestream and which streaming service to use, and so much more. That's where Daniel Welch and Tracy Cox come in...

Brand Strategist & Media Consultant Daniel Welch (thebeardandlens.com) is an expert on helping opera singers develop a brand, market themselves, and create high-quality digital content. “I’ve been working in the music industry since 1997 and with classical singers on recorded content since 1999. It’s been exciting to watch the opera industry embrace technology and the digital space as the years progress. Now that singers are becoming self-sufficient producers, we’re seeing a fantastic shift in the industry. Where once singers were reactionary in the business, they are now inciting action. Where once they had to answer to companies, singers now are empowered to steer the industry themselves.”

Soprano Tracy Cox (@sparklejams) has developed a following of over 13,000 on Instagram. “The egalitarian nature of social media allows us to build our own followings and platforms — if we think strategically to amplify our authentic messages, we can actually bypass the gatekeeping that has been such an intrinsic part of the classical music world for so long.” Sites like Patreon, largely untapped by the opera world, now allow artists to break away from large and established institutions and create unique and individual content that otherwise would not be possible.

For opera to change and adapt in the future, it’s important for the voices of people of all backgrounds to be heard, and digital content on social media now allows a platform for this to happen. As we share our experiences, we create a strong, relatable, and wider-reaching community.

Singers: share your stories. Sing your songs. The world needs you.

Watch Daniel Welch’s class: Digital Opera Content: How to Look and Sound like the Pros and Lose the Filter: Social Media Strategy with Tracy Cox’s (aka @sparklejams).

Learn more about the New Era Voice Festival

Miss a class? No problem! You can access past masterclasses and series here. Learn more about the M Institute for the Arts here.