Résumés, biographies and audition repertoire lists are the print materials most commonly requested at auditions and for Young Artist Program application submissions. Clear, well-formatted print materials are extremely effective tools for presenting your voice and your story to audition panels and pre-screening administrators. By contrast, a poorly organized bio or résumé can be very confusing and frustrating to read; not only do they make you look unprofessional, they may also make it look as though you have something to hide. 

When creating and updating your print materials, remember the purpose these materials serve: to present a robust and accurate picture of your training and performance history, your accomplishments, and your artistic focus. List items in a clear chronological order so that the reader understands where you’re coming from and how things are now developing for you. List not only what you have done, but also when and where. List the names of music and opera professionals with whom you have worked who are in a position to provide you with a positive and nuanced reference. 

Keep things as simple and factual as possible, especially where your résumé is concerned. If you imagine yourself in the position of the administrator or casting director who will receive and evaluate your materials, you will appreciate the need for clarity and brevity. They do not have a great deal of time to spend on every bio or résumé that passes through their hands and must scan each quickly for relevant information. While it’s only natural for you to want people to be excited by your accomplishments, do not exaggerate or distort information on your résumé to make it appear more impressive or clutter up your bio with superlatives. 

Résumés

Your singing résumé should be a single page in length and should include:

  • Your name and contact information.
  • Your Fach. Keep it simple, i.e. “Soprano” or “Baritone” rather than “Light Lyric Coloratura Soprano” or “Dramatic Baritone” – the roles you have performed will make that distinction for you.
  • Performance experience, including company/location and year. 
  • Awards and competitions.
  • Education and training. 
  • Teachers, coaches, conductors and directors with whom you have worked. 
  • Relevant special skills. 

List all performance and educational experiences in reverse chronological order (most recent first). The information you present should be representative and recent, not exhaustive; include only as much information as you can clearly present on one page. Format all material with clean columns and tabs. Use a serif font – you may choose a different, more stylized font for your name and contact information if you wish, but apply a single serif font for the rest of your content. 

Mezzo-soprano Cindy Sadler is dedicated to helping singers take ownership of their talent and leadership of their careers. Cindy provides advice and mentoring on the business of singing through a monthly Classical Singer column “Ask Erda,” her Business of Singing seminars and in private consultations. 

What categories of information belong on a singer’s résumé? In what order should they appear?

This isn’t a simple question! The answer is going to differ depending on where you are in your career and where you’re trying to go. But some things are universal. The first thing to ask yourself when writing a résumé is, “What kind of work am I trying to get?” Your résumé should be tailored to that – list the experience which is most relevant to that work first. The second question is, “What experience do I have?” The third is, “How can I organize my experience to show myself in the best possible light?”

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, you’re a young singer applying for a YAP, pay-to-sing, or an audition with an opera company or agent. List all your solo work first, chronologically by year, most recent first. Your first category should be OPERA. This is a list of all the full roles you’ve done. You can include anything upcoming at the top of the list, in bold. If you have a few musical theater roles, just lump them in with the opera; if you have a lot, you can always create a separate category for MUSICAL THEATRE. Next, if (and only if) you have room on your résumé, you can list OPERA EXCERPTS. (I hate the term “partial role” – it seems self-aggrandizing. We all know that means you did a scene). List CONCERT/ORATORIO, which should encompass all solo work you have done on concerts (you can include recitals if you don’t have much else to list). 

As a young artist, it’s fine to list chorus work on your résumé, especially if it was opera and you don’t have a lot else to list. But make sure you list CHORUS after all other solo work. 

After you’ve listed all your performance credits, you can add categories such as: 

AWARDS/SCHOLARSHIPS (be judicious, choose only the most impressive. There’s no need to list every honorable mention you ever got).

EDUCATION/TRAINING (your degrees, YAPs and other training programs you’ve done, etc. Please don’t list master classes. Singing once for someone for 20 minutes is not a credit. If you did a semester-long workshop, that’s a different story). 

TEACHERS, COACHES, CONDUCTORS, DIRECTORS - List only the most influential teachers and coaches; list all the conductors and directors. Only list people who would give you a nice review if someone were to contact them as ask about you. Also, don’t list a conductor unless you worked with them as a soloist (unless your whole résumé is for choral work).

If you still have room on the résumé, you can list things like LANGUAGES and SPECIAL SKILLS, but these are pretty much “filler” categories that should exit your résumé as soon as you have more performance credits to fill up all the white space!

Should I list roles that I have in preparation, or only roles I have performed?

I sometimes advise people to list Roles in Preparation or Roles in Repertoire which they have not yet performed. It depends on the circumstances. No one is going to look at these and think of it as a credit, but it can show what you are working on and can be useful for reflecting a Fach change or a return to singing after time off. The rule of thumb is don’t list them if you don’t have to (you can always have a repertoire list on your website with ALL the roles you feel qualified to sing, whether you’ve had the pleasure or not). Also, if you’re going to list Roles in Preparation, list no more than three. I don’t believe you’re actively working in more than 3 roles at a time, learning all the recitatives and ensembles. Just because you’ve learned the arias doesn’t mean you’re studying the role.

Should I list the teachers I have studied with?

Yes, but you only need to list the most influential and then only if they would say nice things about you if someone were to call them and ask.

 

Should I list the dates of my performances? 

I am squarely in the “list dates” camp. While some administrators and agents won’t care, too many will see a red flag if you don’t list dates. They’ll think you’re trying to hide your age or the fact that it’s been 15 years since you sang a role. It’s better to deal with any issues up front.

While we’re talking about dates – please DON’T list “May 2013” or “Fall 2011”. The year is plenty of information; the rest is just clutter.

What if I don’t have much performance experience yet?

Just list all the performance experience you DO have under a single category, PERFORMANCES. Don’t worry about a thin résumé – just make sure you apply for opportunities that are appropriate for your level of experience and you’ll be fine. 

What if there is a gap in my performance history?

Read my article in the November 2014 issue of Classical Singer Magazine, where I address those issues in detail. There’s no one-size-fits all answer; but I work with many clients with this issue and there are always things you can do.

Biography

Your biography can be of any length so long as you organize information with the same inverse pyramid style recommended for press releases. Front-load all of the most important details you want the reader to know about you in the first few sentences, then flesh out those details in subsequent paragraphs beginning with the ones most relevant to the organization receiving your bio and ending with the most incidental. 

Your résumé must stick to the facts, but your biography tells your story in narrative form. It is up to you whether you would like to present a crisp, factual approach or use more poetic language to describe your voice, artistry and accomplishments. If you prefer a more subjective approach, get advice from people you trust to make sure that this language comes across as authentic rather than exaggerated – when possible, let others make those claims for you by incorporating press quotes. 

Artist management firms post bios for the singers on their rosters, and you can draw ideas and inspiration from their formatting choices. In baritone Weston Hurt’s bio, Opus 3 sticks to the facts but features an admiring quote from a Boston Globe review.

Download Weston Hurt's bio

Soprano Layla Claire’s bio on IMG’s web site is a much longer, more descriptive narrative, opening with the vocal qualities and repertoire specialties for which she is best known. 

Download Layla Claire's bio

In crafting your bio, be specific and sparing with superlatives. Layla’s bio can accurately include the claim that she “has been celebrated as a unique artist with a voice of special color and expressivity” because it is supported by the quote from Musical Toronto stating that “Her ample, clear, flexible soprano has power as well as grace, with a tone coated in addictive, sweet carmel.” Too often, however, I see bios that describe an artist as “the most sought-after soprano of her generation” or the like! Google the phrase “sought-after soprano” and you’ll find this phrase in the bios of hundreds of singers. Who is seeking after all these sopranos, and who is keeping tabs so that we can calculate who is the most sought-after one? Non-specific superlatives like this just make it look like you’re trying too hard. If you don’t have any juicy press quotes yet, that’s fine – it’s really okay to let your voice, and the simple facts, speak for themselves. 

Repertoire List

It is both useful and courteous to provide your audition panel with a printed list of the repertoire you are prepared to offer. Even though they will hear at most only two or three of your aria selections, the list provides them with an informative snapshot of what you sing best right now. It relieves you of the responsibility to recite a list of arias and the operas from which they are excerpted in several different languages, and it absolves the panel from having to remember what you said. 

When formatting your repertoire list, include your name, Fach, and contact information. List not only your arias but also the operas they are from and the composer’s name. Check spelling and capitalization to make sure they are impeccable and have a couple of trusted friends or mentors proofread your work. Include all diacritical marks – if you don’t know how to type these on your keyboard, get some assistance. Learn and apply the capitalization rules for titles of operas in all languages represented:

  • In Italian and French, only the first letter of the title and proper names should be capitalized;
  • In German, only the first word and all nouns should be capitalized;
  • In English, the first word and then all words except articles, conjugations and prepositions are capitalized.

While you’re at it, make sure that you have been meticulous with your spelling, diacritical marks and capitalization in your résumé and bio as well! 

As an Artist Manager with IMG Artists, Sam Snook frequently reviews print materials submitted by singers; he also works with the singers on his roster to make their materials as clear, effective and attractive as possible. Here is his advice for creating and formatting professional quality résumés, bios, and repertoire lists. 

Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to field many résumés, biographies and repertoire lists from singers. As an artist manager, I also have the responsibility of writing and updating biographies for my artists, helping tweak résumés, and advising on audition repertoire. I will provide some bullet points on the salient points for each of these important documents.

Résumé

  • A résumé should be one page. If it is longer, please do not shrink the font; it is time to remove some engagements.  
  • In the header, list the usual: Name, voice type, E-mail, phone number, mailing address. I appreciate when singers list their height.  
  • Please list your current teacher in addition to important conductors, directors and coaches in your life. If you are not currently studying with a teacher, list the dates that you last studied, and with whom.
  • If you have a special skill, please think about what is useful to opera. “8 years of hip-hop dance” is not relevant to your singing career.
  • Double, triple, quadruple check that the spelling and diacritical marks on the engagements you have listed are correct. I will spend your audition correcting your résumé otherwise.  
  • If you are managed, please make that clear. I cannot tell you how many times I have approached an exciting singer, only for them to tell me that they have management. Wear it as a badge of honor; you’ve earned it!
  • As you endeavor upon your professional career and have several seasons worth of professional engagements, your biography can play double duty, and you may phase out your résumé. 

Biography

  • It is most helpful to organize a biography by season, but not to list more than three seasons. Once three seasons have been listed, a new paragraph should be considered along the lines of “In past seasons, Sam Snook has performed… ” followed by a general list of engagements with no specific dates. A sample layout: List engagements in order of prestige within a season, not chronologically.
    • Introductory paragraph
    • 2014/15 Season paragraph
    • 2013/14 Season paragraph
    • 2012/13 Season paragraph
    • Past work paragraph; opera (non-date specific)
    • Past work paragraph; orchestral/recital (non-date specific)
    • Awards and other professional details  
  • List important directors, conductors, productions and colleagues, “In the 2014/15 season, Sam Snook will debut at the Metropolitan Opera as Pollione in Norma, opposite Monserrat Caballé, in Franco Zeffirelli’s timeless production, conducted by Arturo Toscanini.”
  • Pepper your biography with critical acclaim. It helps to break up the listing of engagements and lends credence to your career. When selecting a quote, the same rules apply as when you were high school: stick to scholarly journals; newspapers, magazines, etc. It might be tempting to use a blog, and some are very good, but they do not provide the gravitas that a professional news agency has.
  • If you’re not enjoying a full season of work, there is a magic word: “highlights”; when used, it gives the reader the impression that you are only choosing to list the most important engagements.
  • Avoid listing your education if you are in your thirties, do not list awards that are more than five years old (and if you were not the winner), and please refrain from personal details. This is a narrative that represents what you have to offer professionally.

Repertoire List

  • List the aria you will start with first.
  • Center justify all of your arias and please list them: “Tarquinius’ Ride” from The Rape of Lucretia by Britten
  • Make the repertoire list header the same as your résumé; it looks good and shows consistency.
  • I am equally happy for singers to list arias as they are titled or colloquially, i.e. “Où va la jeune Hindoue?” or “Bell Song.”
  • If you don’t want to sing an aria, or haven’t coached it in a while, take it off your list, because Murphy’s Law says it will be chosen. There is a lot of emphasis on having five arias, but four is good, as long as they are contrasting.
  • Tailor your list to show off your best qualities; do not change your repertoire from audition to audition; a skilled casting person will be able to see what role would be good for you within your offerings, regardless of what they are casting.

 


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Hi all,

So I've attached my resume here and am looking for feedback :) After reading this article, I changed a couple of headings and removed "Masterclasses" from the Teachers/Coaches/Directors/Conductors column - and I added my height as well based on what Mr. Snook had to say. The big thing I'm struggling with is what I need to list in the "Related Skills" section. I have been told to list everything that is presently there, but I'm sure some of it is more important to have listed, and it looks very cluttered! Of course, any other feedback is welcomed as well.

And to contextualize where I'm at for this stage of my career...finishing my MMus at Eastman. So far, I'm auditioning for Santa Fe Opera and Opera on the Avalon. I've applied to a couple of YAPs and some other summer programs as well.

Thanks :)

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Hi Joel! Your résumé is in pretty good shape! Here is some feedback for you:

  1. Get rid of the opera composers - we know who wrote Rigoletto. We may not know who wrote El Canguro, so after the title you can just put (von der Nahmer) to clarify (see DSF's résumé - he has a number of contemporary or lesser-known works listed like this). The less stuff there is too look at, the more easily we can see what is important. Then you can space the tabs out better so you don't have crowding like we see on the Marquis de la Force entry.
  2. Check your date tabs - they're off in a couple of places.
  3. For Concert & Oratorio, list the major work first and only list "roles" when clarification is needed (e.g. Pilatus). We will assume your role is "baritone soloist", and there should not be a role listed for works like the Peter Maxwell Davies (I do not know the Brottmann but I'm assuming the same is true for that). 
  4. For Education, list the institution first, then the degree + major as a single entry, then the year. 
  5. This may be just my opinion, but with the exception of your BM major I would remove all references to your work in composition and conducting. It is not relevant to your work as an opera singer. Well, obviously it is relevant to you! but everyone else just needs to evaluate you based on your singing. 
  6. Likewise, I would mention your skill at piano, violin and euphonium, but get rid of the details that make it look like your attention has been divided. Let us think that singing is your singular passion, even if it isn't. Once we get to know you better we'll find out about these other mad skills of yours. I myself have an MM in clarinet but I didn't mention that on my vocal performance résumé. 
  7. Do mention that you speak French well. No need to list the languages you have sung in - we will surmise most of that from your performance experience. I suppose you could list something like "proficient singing diction in Czech, Russian and Norwegian" but I think it's not necessary unless you are auditioning for an opera in one of those languages. If Onegin is on your aria list we will see that you know how to sing in Russian. 

So those are my suggestions. However, everything is laid out very clearly here - this is already a very well-designed résumé! 

Thanks Claudia - all of those suggestions were extremely helpful! I think my resume looks less cluttered now...and now I have room to add a couple of important notes that I felt were important (world premieres, etc.) - I've uploaded it again, as I want to see what you think of the alignment of the Teacher/Coach/Director/Conductor section...and of course anything else you may notice.

also, another question. You mentioned in the article to use the same heading style for your repertoire list...on my resume, I have a thumbnail of my headshot. Would I omit that on my repertoire list?

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Wow, Joel! This is fantastic. Everything is so clear. Your résumé now does exactly what you need it to - present a clear picture of your performance experience and training at a glance. Great job! 

The only further suggestions I have would be 1. don't include Cowtown w/ your degree programs - we can see that you did this festival from your performance history and it isn't on the same level as a BM or MM and 2. Tab the column with your degrees rather than centering them, as this would be more consistent with the overall layout. 

Hi Claudia, 

Thank you for offering to proof read and edit our resumes! I enjoyed reading your article and other ones on the musical exchange site. There's so many great resources available now! 

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Hi Courtney – looks pretty sharp! 

  • Switch to a serif font
  • You do not need to state which events are upcoming, even if the dates do not make that immediately clear. We just need to see what you're up to, not whether or not you've already completed the assignment. So I'd get rid of those asterisks. 
  • Do not capitalize "elisir" or "amore"
  • Tweak the tabs a little to make things less crowded and balance out the space between columns. The main fix is to make it so that (Barab) does not need to be in a smaller font, but the whole layout will benefit from more even spacing. 
  • Put the name of the competition first and your place in the next column. Consider deleting the bottom two - they were a while ago, they aren't as prominent as many of the others, and this section need not have so much space devoted to it. 
  • For training and education, find a way to make your BM stand out. Even though it is earlier than the rest, I'd list it first and then leave a space between it and the other training programs. Name your major (was it voice performance?)
  • Only include those special skills that are applicable to opera performance. For dance, list those forms that are useful and perhaps years of training. Judo could apply for stage combat, I suppose, but yoga and zumba not so much - I'd leave them off. List your instruments. We don't need to know you've recently taken up running, so delete that part. 

Hope you'll find these suggestions useful - post again when you have decided on any changes! 

Claudia! Thank you for compiling this article. It's hugely helpful. And SAM! Thanks for pitching in! (Go Shockers!) I just wanted to chime in and say that your resume/bio (as well as head shot) is your very first line of attack in securing an audition. Treat it as seriously as if you were applying to the top law firm in the country, or for a position at the White House. It will speak volumes about your professionalism and your dedication. There are a LOT of wonderfully talented singers out there, and if it comes down to a small thing giving you the edge, let it be this - something you have full control over!

Also - my humble $.02? Don't lie. Don't exaggerate. You will be found out, and people will see through it. Tell the truth, and then let your singing do the convincing!!!

Wishing you guys all the best!

Thank you so much for weighing in, Joyce!

Now that we are reviewing applications for your master classes, I can enthusiastically confirm that the content and layout of a singer's résumé is indeed of great importance. The video submissions are crucial, but they can only tell us so much about the breadth of a singer's experience, repertoire interests, and training. The fiercer the competition, the more important these details become. 

And yes: never lie or exaggerate on your résumé. Our world is so small that you will be found out. I was once on an evaluation panel and received the résumé of a singer who claimed to have been in the cast of the workshop/première of a contemporary opera that a student of mine had participated in, so I knew she hadn't been involved! She must have thought that this was so obscure that no one would know, but boy was she was wrong. We really were only evaluating the strength of the applicants' demos, too, so it didn't matter whether or not she had tons of performance experience, but the fact that she lied took her out of the running immediately. 

Hi Claudia,

Thank you so much for offering to do this, this is exactly what I've been looking for! I am at a much earlier stage in my career than some of the other singers. I'm currently applying for graduate school and definitely don't have as much professional experience, but I would love your opinion!

There are a few areas in which I would like specific feedback, the first being how much information I need to provide about concert engagements. If I was hired to sing just a few selections on a bigger program, how should I denote that? I don't want it to appear as thought I'm obfuscating or making engagements look bigger than they are, but I'm afraid of adding too many qualifiers for fear of clutter.

Secondly, I have an eyebrow ring, and I have heard various opinions about whether or not  I should wear it for head shots and auditions. Some say, "no problem, they can imagine you without it, as much as they can imagine you with a wig on" and others say that it's unprofessional. What do you think?

Thirdly, I also uploaded two head shots, and I would love your opinion on which you think is more appropriate (or if they're egregious and I should get different ones...)!

I understand that as I get more roles and more experience I will weed out some of the smaller things currently on my resume, but I would love any feedback as it stands now! 

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Okay Emma! I will help you organize your résumé, but I need you to do some homework for me first. To the best of your ability, bring the format into alignment with the guidelines we have presented here:

  • Keep it to one page.
  • Use a serif font.
  • Get the tabs aligned properly - there are dates and other info scattered all over the page, and they need to appear in neat columns. 

Post it again, and then we'll go into further detail. And don't worry - it looks like the basic content is all very appropriate. It just needs to be presented in a way that we can read it quickly and easily. 

I'm also happy to vote on your head shot, but I request that you repost your options to the head shot discussion so that out other members can read our interaction in context and benefit from it. 

As regards your eyebrow ring: The general rule for audition presentation and attire is to make yourself look as flexible as possible so that it is easy for panelists to envision you as a variety of characters in productions they are casting (and you may not even know what those are). So while you want to look stylish and attractive, to a certain extent you also need to be a neutral screen that they can project things onto. This is helpful for you also, because you may have to embody two or three very different characters in the course of your audition, and you want to be able to easily slip in and out of them - while one of those characters might rock an eyebrow ring, probably all of them don't. So do not wear it in auditions. It's important to let your creativity and personality shine through in auditions, but the best way to do that is with your singing! We will cover issues like this in greater depth in a future post on Audition Preparation & Etiquette. 

Hey Claudia,

I have done some rearranging! Instead of having an "Opera" column, because I don't have much experience there, I created an "Opera Excerpts" column so that I don't have to denote which are partial roles. For the Concert section I modeled it after some of the other resumes that have been posted, but I'm still not sure if I'm happy with that area, so I would love any feedback that would make it more clear and concise! I specialize in art song, and many of the programs I do are quite varied, so it's not as clear cut as just listing an oratorio and the composer. How do you suggest I present that information?

Thank you so much for your help and advice!

Hey Claudia,

I have done some rearranging! Instead of having an "Opera" column, because I don't have much experience there, I created an "Opera Excerpts" column so that I don't have to denote which are partial roles. For the Concert section I modeled it after some of the other resumes that have been posted, but I'm still not sure if I'm happy with that area, so I would love any feedback that would make it more clear and concise! I specialize in art song, and many of the programs I do are quite varied, so it's not as clear cut as just listing an oratorio and the composer. How do you suggest I present that information?

Thank you so much for your help and advice!

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