Marketing Opera…A singer’s perspective.

I have two (and a half) degrees in music.  I’ve studied with some fabulously talented people who have helped me hone my craft.  I’ve had the opportunity to sing with many great opera companies all over the country, and to meet some incredible personalities.  In that time, I’ve had to learn how to market myself as a commodity.  I continually borrowed marketing tactics from my successful real estate business, and was always able to approach singing with a business mind.  This all made sense to me.  Now that I am no longer pursuing a performance career to the extent that I was before (I’m a family man, not cut out for being on the road!) I have a new perspective on the opera world.  I am still singing at a pretty high level, when I want to, and when I can.  Those opportunities are becoming tougher and tougher to come by in this rough economic climate,  but they thankfully remain a part of my life..

I settled in Baltimore after attending graduate school because there were ample opportunities for someone like myself.  Before the collapse of the Baltimore Opera, I was lucky enough to sing very regularly with them, in the chorus, and in dozens of supporting roles.  It was the best of both worlds…I could do what I loved, and be with those I love.  I am forever grateful to that Baltimore Opera Company, and to the many fine experiences that it gave me…I miss it dearly.  I miss it most of all, because its collapse did not need to happen.  Baltimore Opera did not collapse because one person failed.  Baltimore Opera collapsed, because we ALL failed.  More on that later.

As we end our first complete season at Baltimore Concert Opera, I find myself incredibly energized and excited for the future, even while staring at the mountain of work that is before us.  I’m so grateful for the tireless work of our board, our volunteers, and for the enormous amount of good-will that has surrounded this project.  Through the experience of getting this company on its feet, I feel as though certain secrets have been revealed to me, that have been eluding me thus far in my career.  Since it’s my name on the door, I have had to accept responsibility for the artistic product, and for the management of the company.  I have made some mistakes, no doubt…but not one that I haven’t learned from.  Honestly, the failures hurt more than they ever did while I was singing, but the rewards for me personally are far greater.  I’ve been able to get outside of myself in a way that I was never able to before, to see where I fit in, and what my role is in the future of opera.  Yes, I still have to promote Brendan, the singer (singing at some level is always going to remain important).  I still have to market houses for sale (diapers are not cheap!). I have to (with the help of my extraordinary board) market and promote Baltimore Concert Opera’s season. Now, for the “Ah-HAH” moment:  I have to market OPERA.  All of it.  All the time. And so do you.

Remember when I said that we are ALL to blame for the collapse of the Baltimore Opera?  Many people were devastated by the loss of the BOC.  Many more people, myself included, took it for granted, which made its demise even tougher to take.  You see, for the singer who is working very hard  to make ends meet, to get the next gig, to learn music, it’s very difficult to see the forest for the trees.  Did I ever stop to think that I myself should be promoting opera?  Of course not, there was someone in an office doing that…getting paid a good salary.  It was taken care of….right?

In hindsight, what better person to be telling their friends, and helping break down some of the awful operatic stereotypes than someone who KNOWS opera…who LOVES opera, and who LIVES opera (but also likes drinking beer on Sunday afternoon while watching the Ravens)?  Marketing something that you are passionate about..imagine that! It may be a little too late for Baltimore Opera (although I am confident that we’ll have grand opera in Baltimore again soon) but my mission is now crystal clear.  Not only do I need to be an ambassador to the world of opera, I need to encourage other people to do the same.  To be fair, most of the wonderful singers that have passed through the Baltimore Concert Opera’s doors this year taught me this lesson.  They  already “get it” or they wouldn’t have signed on for this project, no need to “preach to this choir.”  Across the board, these fabulous artists worked for far less that they are accustomed to, much far less than what they are worth…why?

  • Some owed me a favor
  • Some owed a friend a favor
  • Some are now owed a favor
  • All are passionate about what they do
  • All believe in what we are doing.
  • All have the capacity to be extraordinary ambassadors to the world of opera

Take for example, my new friend Michael Mayes. Michael had worked with my dear friend Jason Hardy several times, and when we had last minute need for a Don Giovanni, Jason suggested that we give Michael a call.  Here’s a guy who has never met me, who agreed to come sing for “magic beans” as he likes to refer to a miniscule stipend, all because he loves what he does, and is an ambassador for opera.  Follow Michael’s videos on, and you’ll know exactly what I mean.  Here is a regular guy…a nice guy…likes to barbeque, likes beer, good jokes, and oh yeah…he sings like a demon.  This, my faithful readers, is the future of marketing in opera.  Regular folks, that do extraordinary things on stage.  Michael, through his work for documents the fact that he is doing his part…what are YOU doing?

If you are a singer…you are going to need to have a place to sing.  If you are a fan, and you want to continue to enjoy live opera, what are you doing to help spread the word?

Please, consider being an ambassador of opera.  Get someone to attend for the first time.  We’ll keep ’em coming back.  It is far easier for one thousand people to commit to each finding two new audience members, that it is for one person sitting in an office to find two thousand people.  The time is now for you to get involved.  Share your time, talent, treasure and love of opera.  Or, just complain when it’s gone…up to you.

Here are a couple of examples of things that I am doing to promote opera:

Recently, I had a proposal accepted to speak at IGNITE BALTIMORE #5, my presentation Saving Opera, One Voice at a Time is found below.  The IGNITE format is quite compelling (and stressful).  Presenters get five minutes, and twenty powerpoint slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds, in order to make their point.  I’ve never been more nervous prior to taking the stage…but it was quite an experience.

A transcript of this presentation, with all of the “um’s and you know’s” removed (Thanks Christy Thomas!) is available here. Brendan Cooke, Ignite Baltimore

Finally, here are a couple of promotional videos that I have done for BCO.  All footage was taken from our “So You Think You Can Sing Opera” auditions last year…thanks to some wonderfully talented singers with great attitudes, we have the following propaganda:

First, my good friend Matthew Curran shows that Opera and beer can indeed mix…beautifully:

Finally, a little promo for our recent Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci that shows in a few short moments, what we are all about:

In summary, if you love opera…don’t love it privately.  Don’t let what happened here in Baltimore happen in your town.  Get involved.  Now.


2 responses to “Marketing Opera…A singer’s perspective.

  1. Grace M. Tanaka

    I love the Opera and support the MET as I am based in NY. Actually wet to the BOC and was very sad to learn of its demise. I wasn’t surprised, though, given how hard the MET is trying to increase attendance etc. (I am actually a very active donor). Anyway, as I was saying, I wasn’t surprised because I could not convince my Baltimore-based fiends to go w/ me to the BOC so I attended alone. Took the train from NY, stayed at a hotel, went to the performance, saw my friends, and back on the train to NY! With kids, baseball, mortgages, tuition, BBQs…who has the time or the money!? they asked. You’re single so you can be decadent and spend on your hobbies but we hve to spend our money on what’s important…and Opera is not one of them. The conversation was not contentious by any means but I really couldn’t talk about the Opera after that…”they” say it’s a rich person’s hobby! I don’t know how to respond to that…

    • Grace, you bring up some good points. We have to work very hard to overcome objections, in order to get someone “in the door” the first time. There are so many reasons NOT to go out anymore…especially with kids (I am the father of a two year old). As far as the “money” complaint, remind these friends how much they pay for Ravens tickets! Opera can be quite affordable. It is perceived as a “rich person’s hobby” as you point out, because we’ve let it become that…we’ve got to work hard to get people to at least give it a try. I think it’s sad that you came all the way down here, and went to the opera by yourself…but thank you for doing it!

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