Top Billing Entertainment Academy

Where Every Performer Gets Top Billing

Archive for the tag “Performing arts”

Where Your Money Goes

As a non-profit 501(c)3 our staff, board members, and performers are all owners of Top Billing Entertainment Performance Academy. As such, we are all stake holders and all of us partner together to make the shows happen; as the Executive Director I want to make our budgets and processes as transparent as possible. We have been blessed over many years by amazing donations of money and items, but mostly of volunteer hours. We do musicals because we love doing them. Not every child is an athlete, and musicals can uniquely feature performers of all ages with special needs in addition to those with amazing dancing, singing, and acting skills in a team oriented environment. In addition to the athletic and music components, stage musicals help build discipline, confidence, and presentation skills. We love giving the performers a Broadway level experience where every one of them gets a featured solo moment, but to create these professional level productions takes a small army. We are especially proud of the amount of national awards our productions and performers have received as well as the amount of talent scouts and agents that attend our shows to recruit our performers.

If we charged each performer for the instructional time, costumes, sets, theater time, etc. which we provide for each production, the cost per person would range from $500-$700. Instead we ask each performer sell tickets or program ads to help cover the costs. We are working on grants and other income streams, but currently have been making ends meet through donations from our staff and board members. Below is a sample budget of the costs for our summer productions. The biggest factors are the amount of performers in the show, the length of time we are in a theater, and the cost for the performance rights, but with the rehearsal space and other costs added in, we are generally always operating at a deficit.

Again we do the shows because we love doing them. The musical productions are also good advertising for our private lessons and classes (although the majority of our musical performers do not take any) and they help launch our performers to the next level. To keep all this awesomeness going, we truly need each performer and their families to follow through on their commitment of volunteer hours and ticket sales, as well as maintain a positive and supportive learning environment. We are planning for and hoping in the near future that large grants and other income streams will come our way, and would love any help offered, but mainly need everyone to take up their small burden to help make the large musical productions possible. When we all work together, we can make dreams come true.

General Musical Budget_Page_1General Musical Budget_Page_2

6 Tips to Find a Good Performing Arts Private Instructor, Class, or School

So you finally decided to take music, dance, or acting lessons, but where to go? How do you find a good program and a good teacher? Here are six tips to help you find the right teacher for you.

1)      Know what you want and what you can afford.

Take a look at your budget and your schedule. Are you looking for a once a week activity or every night? Do you want to do solo performances or group performances? How much can you afford to spend? How far are you willing to drive? Deciding these things will help you to narrow your choices down to something you can live with.

2)      Do Some Research.

There are a plethora of websites that give reviews. Check out the local studios on Yelp, Google, and Angie’s List. Also check professional membership groups like National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) or other similar groups for your discipline. Every year Backstage does an edition listing the best teachers and schools as voted by readers in NYC and LA. But remember like everything else in life, you may not agree with all the opinions presented on the web, however they will give you a feel for the studio. Also check out class fees to get an idea of the going rate in your area. For example at the time of this post in Covina, CA half hour music lessons range from $20-$30. In Hollywood, CA they range from $40-$60. The local community college is also a great place to get quality classes for cheap and they take all ages. My husband took fine art classes at the local community college when he was in 4th grade after his school day was over. During high school I took music classes in the evening at the local community college. At the community college dance class I took a few years ago, we have a bunch of retirees. They are usually offered at all times of day and are a great place to start your training. Also check out what your city offers. Many have a large selection of music, dance, acting, and art classes. They are a good place to start, but if you are a more advanced student one on one classes are the way to grow.

3)      What do they offer and what is required.

Most studios offer 2-4 recitals or showcases a year. Most charge an extra fee for recital or performance participation. Some provide your book or learning packet, most do not. Do they offer scholarships? If so, what kinds of commitments are involved? Most places that offer scholarships require the families to do many volunteer hours. Some places will allow videos and photos of the performances and rehearsals, but many hire professionals and sell photos and DVDs of the performances as a fundraiser. If it is an on-camera acting class, do you get a copy of the footage? If it is a dance class, do you have to provide a uniform and specific dance shoes? For many dance studios you must purchase specially designed costumes for every dance number your child is in, so take this in to account. Do you pay weekly or monthly, and are they willing to work out a payment plan if you need it? Find out as much as possible about all the “hidden fees” involved in your activity.

4)      Meet with the teacher before you pay any money.

Most good schools will offer a meet and greet, free introductory lesson, or free class observation to make sure you are a good fit with their program. At that session you can ask all your questions, talk to other students and their parents, and get a feel for the teacher’s style. They might have a very reputable program and successful students, but if the teacher rubs you the wrong way for any reason then you have not lost any money or made a commitment you do not want to keep. On the other hand, if you are hesitant and the teacher is awesome, then you will be excited to start classes.

5)      How to tell a good teacher.

Make sure their training and accomplishments and in line with what you want to achieve. If you want to be an opera singer, don’t learn voice from someone who doesn’t sing. If you are getting ready to audition for a certain school or scholarship program, find a teacher who has either attended that school, is one of the people for whom you will be auditioning, or has many students who have auditioned for that school. Make sure the teacher you want is the person who teaches the class. Sometimes teacher’s assistants or other professionals teach 50% or more of the time. You are paying for this teacher’s time, so make sure you are getting your money’s worth. Often I have to remind my students that private lessons should be tailored to the student and that they should speak up about what they want to learn. Make sure the teacher gives you good personal attention and is available to answer questions or give advice during class time, via e-mail, or open office hours. Another thing to consider is how well-connected the teacher is to the industry you want to get in to. Do they offer special classes with industry professionals? Do they have the inside scoop on various auditions, competitions, performances? What professional memberships are they part of? Lastly, make sure your personalities and teaching/learning styles are compatible. If they are not compatible, don’t worry, just keep looking for a teacher you like. You will know it when you find the right teacher for you.

6)      Don’t stay too long or too short with one teacher.

When you are first developing your technique, it is important to stay with one teacher. As an opera singer it is imperative to stay with one teacher somewhere 3-5 years. I think the same can be said of dancers or other types of performing that are very muscularly technical. Getting too many different methods and techniques from different teachers can be more harmful than helpful when you are first starting out. However, once you have a solid technique in place, definitely check out other teachers so you can gain new and clearer perspective on your craft, make more contacts, and gain different performance opportunities. I would never go to more than one teacher at a time for the same skill, but different teachers for different skills at the same time is great. For example, the crossover effect of acting classes on how a performer sings can be remarkable. Similarly you do not want to stay with one teacher for too long and get stagnant. Sometimes it is hard to stop working with someone you love, but you have to keep growing and a good teacher will understand. My motto as a teacher is “my job is to make myself obsolete.” After three years, my students should know what I am going to correct in their performance before I have to say anything. Hence why finding someone you admire and enjoy learning from is important, a good student will become like their master.

I am proud that you are looking to better yourself and your craft by learning from a master teacher. There will be lots of bumps on the road to becoming a performing artist, but keep learning, keep playing, keep creating. You are worth being the best you can be, and the world needs your skills as an artist!

10 Steps to Becoming Famous

English: Justin Bieber at the Sentul Internati...

English: Justin Bieber at the Sentul International Convention Center in West Java, Indonesia. Português: Justin Bieber no Sentul International Convention Center, Indonésia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are really two kinds of fame: 1) people who are famous for honing their abilities and talents and 2) those people who are famous for their “personalities.” These are 10 steps to help you achieve the first kind of fame.

1)      Know Your Craft

Take lessons, classes, perform at open mic nights, talent shows, school events, community theater, etc. Know the history, the greats, see every production you can. Remember it takes about 10 years to master a skill and as the adage goes, you do not want to jump into the water with sharks if you can’t swim. If you start trying to do things beyond your skill level, you are setting yourself up for failure or to be taken advantage of. Always keep learning new aspects to your craft. Professional performers practice and rehearse 6-8 hours a day. You must love your craft enough to spend every free moment with it, and you may have to give up other activities to be truly great. I do not always have fun practicing, but I love performing and I am dedicated to it. Music, dancing, acting are muscles that you have to work out daily. I set daily practice sessions with a timer and make myself practice whether I feel like it or not. Sometimes it is only 10 minutes, sometimes it is hours, but I practice every day. In another post I will discuss what to look for in a good teacher, a good class, or a good school.

2)      Find a Mentor

This could be a teacher, coach, manager, anyone who has done what you want to do and can help you avoid common mistakes and pitfalls. Sometimes this person will magically fall into your life, but more than likely you will have to go find them. Again, more on the details of finding a good mentor in a later post.

3)      Research Everything

Before paying a lot of money for any class, photos, demo CD, or any product, do research online and see what other people say about it. If it is a scam you will know. Remember managers and agents take max 15% of what you make on a gig they book you. You should never pay them up front. is a good place to start for all kinds of informative articles and audition listings for newbies. There are also a ton of books on various topics teaching how to do it yourself. I like the “Dummies”series of how-to books, they get right to the point.

4)      Compare Yourself Only To Yourself

Each performer is on a different journey as an artist, by comparing yourself to others you will only damage yourself and your process. Learn from your mistakes so you do not repeat the same ones over and over, and keep learning your craft. Use other performers as inspiration, not a measuring stick.

5)      Know Your Type

Being aware of how others perceive you will help you. This is LA after all and a media driven era, if you are a small petite blonde woman and trying to record gangsta thug music you may not get far. Mangers and agents want to represent total packages. Casting/Booking Agents want to cast a package. Do you have to look like a model? No. But don’t go to auditions for models and then be disappointed when you don’t make it. Be honest with yourself about your looks and your talent level. Audition and perform in things that are appropriate for your level. You will get better, and one day be able to create and choose bigger and better projects. An acting teacher I had once said, embrace the things about yourself you hate (crooked teeth, cellulite) and use them as an asset instead of a drawback. Also character actors have long successful careers, while pretty people generally lose work as their looks fade. On the converse, if there is something that you hate about yourself (crooked teeth, cellulite), then you may need to start working out and get braces. It is your decision, not something you have to live with. You chose how you look and what you wear. Moreover, you do not always have to play to your type, there are petite blondes creating gangsta rap successfully. When you are aware of how you are perceived, then you can use it to your advantage to reach your goals.

6)      Be Prepared For Failure

In LA a successful booking rate is 1 out of 10 auditions. As a performer you will be rejected all the time. You have to learn not to take it personally. Usually it has 40% to do with things you can control and 60%  to do with a million other things you cannot control. As a person who regularly sits on the other side of the table at auditions, I cannot tell you the number of times we cannot cast the most talented performer there because they are too tall, short, young, old to play against other cast members, the wrong size for the costumes that were already built, or have a crazy stage mother or reputation that production staff does not want to have to deal with. Also I have been cut from an audition, only to get a call from the same people a few years later who booked me for a job. Just because you are not selected this time, doesn’t mean they won’t remember you in the future. When in doubt, go back to working on your craft.

7)      Decide What Success and Fame Means To You

The world will tell you money equals success and fame, but I have found this not to be true. To me success is completing a goal, fulfilling a dream, and making the world a better place. You have to decide as a performer how you will measure success. Will it be the number of performances you do, the art you create, or the lives you touch? That is for you to decide. Also remember there is no age limit on success. You are never too old or too young to start. You and you alone decide your destiny. Heed naysayers warnings, but don’t let them stop you.

8)      Set Monthly/Yearly/10 Year Goals

This has helped me stay on track and achieve my goals more than anything else. I heard a great story about Michael Jackson setting goals. When he was recording “Thriller” he would write with a dry erase marker on his mirror every morning, “I will record the #1 album of all time.” It was no accident that he did. According to “Life Medicine, Wisdom for Extraordinary Living” by Nancy Spence, Ph.D., you should write down monthly, yearly, and 10 year goals in each of the following categories and refer to them often:

a)      Personal Life (Health, Hobbies, Love Life)

b)      Emotional Growth (Controlling and dealing healthfully with your temper, anger, sadness, etc.)

c)       Professional/Educational (Schooling, Lessons, etc.)

d)      Social/Public Service (Travel, Volunteer Work, etc.)

e)      Spiritual (Dealing with death, God, your purpose for being here at this time and place)

f)       Financial/Material (How you deal with money)

Yes, you need to think about all these categories to achieve your goals. They will help keep you balanced and happy. What use is all the money and fame in the world, if you have no family or friends to share it with?  You may not meet all your goals on time or they may change. That is okay, but you must have goals! “Don’t waste your time or time will waste you.”

9)      Deal Wisely With Finances and People

I have heard story after story of people making it big, winning the lottery, and ending up in double the amount of debt. Learn how to budget, invest, save, and spend. You will have seasons of plenty and seasons of want, and you will not be successful forever. When the money comes rolling in, make sure you put some away for a rainy day. Read all of your contracts. If you don’t understand them find a lawyer to help you. Never sign anything you don’t fully understand. Treat people fairly and kindly. There are a million stories of that lowly assistant you were rude to becoming the big boss. Make it a rule to NOT gossip, ever. The performer’s world is small and it will come back to hurt you. On the flip side, if you are great to work with, word gets around fast and everyone will want to hire you. Your reputation is your talent AND your attitude and work ethic.

10)   Get An Online Presence
Put your art out there. Get videos of your band or your acting on YouTube. Start a Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Linked In account for your art, not for your personal stuff. Promote your performances to your fans. Post pictures, audio, whatever you have. If Justin Bieber can be discovered on YouTube, why not you?

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