S = (R + T) x LF

Yes, it’s the equation. Again. A recycled post from 2005, but still one of the organizing features of my approach to the audition season.

My son is the mathematician in the family. But even though my fling with math is decades in the past, I can still appreciate the eloquence of a beautiful formula. Yes, it’s dangerous to reduce difficult and messy things to a simple equation. But the clarity it brings is worth the risk.


S [Success] = (R [Raw Materials] + T [Tools]) x LF [Life Force]

Success. I’m not happy with the product side of this formula, but “Success” is the best I can do for now. Use whatever word works for you. Or define success wisely.

Raw Materials. The stuff you were born with. That gift from God. Good pipes, strong constitution, a body that is tooled for singing.

Tools. The things you learn. Your craft. Vocal technique, language mastery, musical acumen, dramatic chops.

Life Force. [With apologies to Martha Graham] That essential energy without which the first two factors are brought to their knees. Soul. Guts. Sheer force of personality. Determination. Desire. Notice that the effect of this element is exponential, not additive.


Every artist exhibits his/her own variation on this equation. And for each person, the strength of each element is different. Some singers with breathtaking raw talent somehow manage to skate by with basic tools. Others whose natural gift is more modest make fabulous careers by fanatically developing their ‘tool kits’, becoming consummate linguists, compelling actors, and innovative musicians. It’s wise to know how these two elements balance out in your own professional life, but not useful to obsess about it.

What’s critical is that the sum of these first two – raw talent and refinement of craft – are dangerously susceptible to the strength of the third. The “Life Force” either brilliantly magnifies everything else, or brings it all to a halt. Worse, it registers on the negative side of the ledger. And it doesn’t take higher calculus to figure out what that does to the equation.

Can a singer have a superhuman degree of this life force/dedication/enthusiasm/magnetism and overcome a lack of raw material or tools? Highly unlikely. And we see quite a few aspiring singers who fall in this category. It’s heartbreaking, actually. Desire is critical, but it’s not capable of standing alone.

Conversely, can a successful performer have excellent raw materials and a high level of craftsmanship yet lack drive? Just as unlikely. This scenario will get you through school… maybe… if you’re coddled…. But it won’t sustain a career.


Tomorrow, the first Expert Friday, when my colleagues in other YAPs weigh in with their advice!

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Back to Blog