In recent years, there’s been a paradigm shift in what the career of the modern performing artist looks like. It is a difficult reality for many, as it was for me, that technical skills + talent are no longer enough to build a career in the performing arts. Make no mistake, these are still the perquisites if you want to (pardon the pun) play in the big leagues. But now we are asked to do much more than would have ever been dreamed of just a few years ago.
Sure– teaching, being a good orchestral musician as well as being knowledgeable of the standard solo repertoire, knowing how to lead a master class or give a pre-concert lecture– these have always been multi-faceted and reasonable expectations for a performing musician. But could you start an El Sistema nucleo or teach a room full of 9 year olds if asked to do so? What do you know about attracting and engaging audiences, marketing, and networking through social media? I mean more than just Facebook and Twitter; what about other popular platforms like Pinterest, YouTube, Vimeo, Digg, Tumblr, Instagram and Reddit? How’s your
ability to run a rehearsal, or apply for grants, or make a budget, or itemize a strategic plan for any ensemble or group with which you might be performing?
Can you easily translate what you do when speaking to others? Or better yet, can you translate what you do when writing to others– and by others I mean potential funders? Can you make a clear
and simple argument about your passion for the art you practice? Do you want to play in an orchestra? That’s great– but how will you be able to contribute to the sustainability of your group? Are you familiar with good fiscal management? Do you have an arsenal of audience engagement ideas that you can offer to the Artistic Director?
And what about money? Do you have a plan in place to pay off those loans? Are you putting away money for a rainy day when work slows down? What are you doing to get more paid performance opportunities? Do you have a strategy to sustain your career over the long-term?
STOP. ENOUGH QUESTIONS ALREADY.
Okay— now breathe. I’ll agree that was a little rough. It’s okay if you don’t have answers to all of these questions (yet). I didn’t a few years ago. That’s when I confronted the reality that if I wanted to be a musician of the 21st century, I had to do more. The truth is, at first I didn’t like all the extra stuff. There once was a time when I thought that I would jump through the hoops of higher education, get my degree and win my orchestra job. Or at the very least, I would gig enough to make ends meet until I could win that big job. I wanted the simplicity of practice, perform, repeat.
But what I learned in my struggle to grapple with the enormity of all these new necessary qualifications was that I loved music more than I didn’t like all the other stuff.
I wanted a life filled with music, to perform, to champion music of others. I wanted to be on the scene, I wanted to be connected, I wanted to live the life of a performing musician. That’s when I realized that all the other stuff was present in the lives of nearly all the professional musicians I knew. This wasn’t knowledge I had to learn as a penalty for failing at a performance career as I had imagined and chided myself so many times. This was the real education. This stuff was what made the life I wanted possible.
I urge you to think big and embrace an optimistic attitude towards all that you do in music. When learning a new piece of music you might run across something that you can’t already perform. You know you will slowly learn how to bring it to life. It’s the same idea with these entrepreneurial-administrative-organizational-whatever-you-want-to-call-it skills (all the other stuff). If you don’t know how, just invest some time to learn. It’s an experience of growth, humility, and learning–ironically, it’slike learning to play a new instrument.
Why Should They Show Up?
That’s the question I was asked a week ago at a pre-conference panel discussion for the 2014 Chamber Music America 2014 conference in New York City. It was a great conference and I was thrilled to be able to take part in this discussion about how to engage audiences in the 21st century. But back to the original question– why should they (our audiences) show up?
That’s the short answer. If you want to build audiences, the first step is to consider what incentives your performance offers that would attract new audience members. You might find yourself asking, “But isn’t my excellent technique and virtuosic ability on my instrument enough?!” Perhaps it is, if so, then you are one of the lucky few. You must first understand that this doesn’t mean that you have necessarily failed in anyway. In my journey as a performing musician it was a difficult reality for me to accept that it wasn’t the quality of the music I was making that failed to draw audiences. As professional musicians, we are trained to accept full responsibility for our performances. We are taught from a young age that working harder will fix our flaws and that our success will trickle down from our work ethic. But what if that wasn’t so?
Let’s think about this in terms of today’s culture. I live in a city where my groceries are delivered, my dinners can be delivered, my bills can all be paid online, my dog’s food and toys are delivered, and if I wanted, I could keep up with all my friends from the isolation of my living room via Facebook or FaceTime. What do I do when I’m bored? I can binge watch every episode of The Walking Dead at once, download any and every piece of music I want and listen to it on my awesome Bose speakers, play Scrabble with my friends (on my phone), read every book of the Hunger Games on my Kindle Paperwhite without ever touching real paper books, or I could just sleep. The best part, is that I can do all of this in sweatpants.
When we talk about engaging audiences of 18-35 year olds, the Holy Grail of audience engagement, it might seem that there are none left on Earth. Arts organizations and performers everywhere are searching high and low for these folks to bring them to the concert hall. The reality is that we are all at home on our couches in sweatpants, we never left— and don’t really want to.
So, where does that leave us in the performing arts? As I see it, if we want to draw these folks to our performances then we are going to have to offer some pretty good incentives for them to make an effort to leave all that comfort and convenience. When you look at the situation through this lens, I hope that you’ll stop beating yourself up and you’ll start focusing your skills and ingenuity toward creating incentives to bring new people to your performances.
Call for 2014 Tuxedo Revolt Blog Profiles! Do you know an innovative artist/musician/composer/dancer/actor that is engaging audiences? Let me know and they might be a featured artist on the blog! You can send your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org
At the close of 2013, I want to say thank you for your support, your business and your encouragement over the past year. It’s been very busy with many exciting changes, but I’m happy to report that Tuxedo Revolt continues to grow in new directions.
This year’s artistic ventures included recording projects with jazz singer Chris McNulty and singer song-writer Gabriel Rios, a second collaborative recital with the Harlem Sound Project on the music of Paul Hindemith, and the completion of my first solo CD.
By far, the greatest change this year was my joining the faculty at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. It was a big decision for me, but the opportunity to help emerging artists and young professionals find sure footing for their careers is more rewarding than I could have ever imagined. From coaching my “Music + Multimedia” mixed chamber ensembles, to presenting community engagement concerts at the Huntington’s Disease ward at a nearby long-term care facility– I never cease to be amazed at the bridges music can build or the new perspectives it can introduce. I’m amazed at the ideas and level of perception students in my Arts Admin/Entrepreneurship class demonstrated as well. I’ve learned from my students that innovation is more than possible and that great ideas, well, are the stuff of magic. They really can transform our cultural perceptions.
Throughout this fall, I’ve been gathering material to post on the Tuxedo Revolt blog after the new year. In addition to new writing, stay tuned for several Tuxedo Revolt speaking engagements that might be happening near you this winter. In January, I’ll be a guest on a panel discussion about “Audience Engagement Strategies for the 21st Century” at the 2014 Chamber Music America Conference. Then in March, I’m presenting a workshop on engaging communities through social media at the 2014 American String Teacher’s Association National Conference. 2014 will be about Tuxedo Revolt attempting to reach more people than ever before.
When the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, for me, it will be off to the races. But for now, I’d like to pause to say thank you once more. I couldn’t do all this without your interest, your readership, and most importantly– the actions you personally take to keep the performing arts relevant and accessible.
Wishing you the happiest of holidays,
Today’s post is a guest submission by my good friend and colleague Ar Adler. She’s been a huge supporter of Tuxedo Revolt over the years and now I’m thrilled to share her work with you. Ar’s bio can be found at the bottom of this post:
By Ar Adler:
I‘ve worked in academia for 2 decades and colleges are still scrambling to address a chronic problem: students leave not knowing how to earn a living with what they’ve learned. It’s particularly true of the performing arts. By the time the typical conservatory student has earned an undergraduate degree, she/he has spent approximately 15 years studying an instrument or discipline. This laser-like focus on theory and technical proficiency produces some incredibly talented musicians. But, having focused so narrowly on these essential elements; they may be entirely clueless as to what other skills and experience they will need to turn that into a gainful pursuit.
It has of late become common knowledge that being a professional musician is largely an entrepreneurial pursuit and teaching “entrepreneurship” has been peddled as the one word remedy for the disconnect between student’s training and successful careers. In giving the remedy a convenient label, institutions risk making the mistake of believing there is a systemic solution that will magically instill in students the complex mix of interpersonal, technical and logistical skills and knowledge necessary for success in the real world.
The reality is this–the concepts can be taught, but the learning is experiential. You Gotta Do It! Running your own career is one of life’s experiences that you must engage in while you still don’t feel quite ready and by doing so, you become ready. Because of that, it is essential that students simultaneously learn on two related tracks while they are in school – one academic and technical as it relates to their area of discipline; and the other – experiential.
So what is answer?
In order to make money making music, you need a professional training ground to pursue opportunities to do just that. Here are 4 essential areas of experiential learning that institutions can provide to bridge the student/professional gap:
- Students need access to clients that seek musical services such as paid performance opportunities and private lessons while they are in school; as well as access to supportive guidance throughout the process.
- They need to not just learn about, but develop the hands-on skills that ready them for today’s teaching market: arts-in-education and community engagement training, and teaching artist opportunities.
- They need to understand and cultivate administrative skills that they may be exposed to and bring to bear in an arts-related internship.
- Most of all, students need opportunities to cultivate the interpersonal and communication skills necessary to effectively engage audiences, promote themselves and network with others in the profession, potential clients, employers and prospective funders.
Presenting a series of experts and panel discussions with successful musicians who have done interesting things may be enlightening and provide an anecdotal backdrop for career possibilities addressing at least one component of the disconnect; however, students need a platform within which to cultivate and practice these concepts for themselves. ALL of these activities, concurrent with their studies equals the best potential for a gainful music career.
Music is an applied art. You can’t learn how to do it by absorbing concepts, reading about it or listening to someone else play. Running your own career is no different. Expecting students to graduate and spontaneously respond to the unfamiliar terrain of the professional arena is unrealistic. Unfortunately, for many music school graduates, this is where they find themselves.
Ar Adler is a vocalist, guitarist, songwriter, recording artist, studio teacher and performance coach. She has opened for Count Basie and his Orchestra, was the featured vocalist at legendary Broadway producer George Abbott’s 100th birthday party, has played live on WBAI radio and at many NYC venues including Kenny’s Castaways, Dangerfield’s, the Marriott Marque, The National Arts Club, Queens Theatre, Tavern on the Green and the Waldorf Astoria, among others. She has produced 2 internationally distributed CDs: Hurry Up & Change and Coney Island Rhapsody, and her music was featured in Red Wall Productions indi short film BFF which premiered at Lincoln Center, was shown at over 50 film festivals and appeared on TVs BET Lens on Talent. She is a BMI member and a contributor to the JinglePunks licensing catalogue. Ms. Adler a graduate of New York University’s Steinhardt School, Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions; served as Associate Director of Career Development at Manhattan School of Music and is currently a career counselor at The New School serving Mannes, the Jazz and Contemporary Music division, Eugene Lang, The New School for Public Engagement and Parsons.