The Musician’s Micro Economy: Part I
In order for musicians to thrive in today’s economy, we have to first understand it. Even a basic understanding is essential if today’s musicians are to cultivate a viable career from their craft. You don’t have to have an advanced degree in economics to comprehend how the new economic landscape is shaping the careers of new generations of musicians.
A dictionary defines micro economy as “The study of how businesses, households, and individuals within an economy allocate limited resources.” I think musicians of all stripes can relate all too well to the bit about limited resources. But in order to make this more real to you—try to consider all the possible meanings of the word resources outside of just money. Practice time, planning time, energy, equipment, favors from friends and colleagues are all forms of resources that musicians commonly use as currency that is either spent or earned. For musicians, it is important to look at the term micro economy in a very broad sense and consider all the different activities we do that contribute to our overall career.
Do you remember those long lists of “music professions” that your well-meaning high school guidance counselor may have shared with you back when you first considered “going into music” (to your parents’ horror) as a profession? It listed jobs like: arranger, sound designer, composer, performer, copyist, music teacher, song writer, recording technician, etc. You remember those, right? You probably remember the sinking feeling you had of “Oh my God, how will I ever pick one of these?!” The good news is that you don’t have to specialize in just one area. Today’s musicians are expected to have basic skills in all these areas and many more. It’s the new Micro Economy that has placed diverse demands on musicians’ careers. The economy is reshaping our profession in ways we never thought possible even four to five years ago.
In this series of blog posts, we’ll explore numerous micro opportunities that musicians can pursue to build a portfolio career. You might already be doing some of them and there will be a few more you haven’t yet heard of. We’ll also discuss the many new markets that have emerged for musicians to either generate income from their music or help connect them to a greater number of potential audience members. It’s a whole new world out there for professional musicians.
Lastly, I’d like to put a disclaimer out there near the conclusion of the first post in this series—No one is telling you to let go of that dream of winning your big orchestra job, launching that solo career, or rocketing to stardom in classical music. In fact, it is my wish that you do make that happen for yourself. This series is for everyone else, for the thousands of other excellent musicians out there (some fresh out of school) who are trying to gain a foothold in “the business” at the onset of their professional career. This series is to help us all better understand our individual Micro Economy and how to best make decisions that will allow us to support the passion for music that we all share.
Zombies are Changing the Performing Arts (sort of)
Whether you support new practices in the performing arts, whether you encourage entrepreneurial practices amongst performing artists—we can all agree that for better or worse, the performing arts world is changing. It’s changing fast.
I think we are all conscious of how the changes in global culture, society, and technology have “some sort of” impact on our art. But part of the problem is that many are unwilling to analyze how change and growth in these areas can directly impact your artistic work. There is a reluctance with many performing artists to study these challenges and find ways to adapt to them.
Think of Brad Pitt’s line in World War Z when he says “Movement is life”. Of course, he’s talking about getting away from millions of newly converted flesh-eating zombies. However, that statement has a powerful corollary to the responsibility musician’s and artists have when trying to keep our art forms alive in the 21st Century. Similar to the world World War Z, our world has changed more in the last 10 years than in the previous twenty, thirty, or 40 years before that. Everyday there is a new app or social platform that can change your life. Moreover, we interact with technology in a deeply more personal and distinct way. Technology has literally become an extension of the human mind. All these changes have come so fast that if you are standing still, you will simply be overcome by the hungry mob.
Evolution, flexibility and adaptation are the factors that will now insulate us against decline. In order not to be fatally bitten by the onslaught of social media, tweets, glutted market of free high-quality media, incredibly low cost of entertainment, etc.— we have to be able to adapt and change to each and every circumstance we encounter while staying true to our artistic mission.
My question to you is this: in what specific ways are you trying to adapt your art to the changes in culture? How are you evolving and changing to stay culturally relevant to your audiences? If you haven’t been asking yourself these kinds of questions, it’s never too late to start.
Change Begins in You.
As I teach my arts administration course this fall at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, you’ll be able to follow the journey along with my students right here on the Tuxedo Revolt Blog. Prior to each class, I hope to write a post that will give insight and depth to the issues we are going to cover. However, before we begin this sojourn of understanding what makes a successful arts organization in the 21st Century, I wanted to first explore the changes that must happen within ourselves before we can begin to change the world around us.
Change begins in you.
That’s the first major realization that is necessary for you to find success in any entrepreneurial venture. It doesn’t matter if you want to start a new chamber ensemble, re-envision an existing orchestra, start a rock band, or even a non-music business– your project will reflect your personal views, both conscious and subconscious. You must truly believe in the change you are willing to implement.
Let’s be honest, it is much, much easier to comply with the status quo than to lead change. It takes far less energy, less critical thinking and less time. But I believe when one identifies both a need for improvement AND a solid plan that would help that improvement’s realization, then we are obligated to bring the issue to the surface and argue for the change. In so many ways, this notion of identifying issues, planning out how to fix them, and taking responsibility for their realization is at the heart of what we call progress.
You have to believe that your plan to bring about change will work. Right now, many artists, musicians, and teachers see “music or arts entrepreneurship” as a buzz word. They often think that if they can find a use for this buzz word then they’ve done their due diligence– one more box can be checked off of the resume or todo list. This isn’t what entrepreneurship is about. The drive to break to go out on a limb, to differ from mainstream opinion, to prove something for yourself has to come from within you. No amount of in-class strategizing or note taking can replace that.
Entrepreneurship is about taking charge of your life, your art, or your organization and going it alone because you know deep down that you can do it better. It’s a deep kind of knowing oneself, knowing that you are capable of making your mark. Like in music performance, it’s very similar to the kind of craftsmanship that goes into crafting a beautiful solo, it becomes distinctly your own creation. Your voice shines through.
As we explore what it takes to create new kinds of programs, organizations, and experiences– we will take some time to get to know ourselves as well. What do you value? What problems have you identified in the arts for which you now have ideas how to fix them? From what kind of artistic work do you derive the greatest satisfaction? How far are you willing to go to see your idea all the way from a fleeting thought in your mind to real people, taking action in real time, doing real work, in the real world.
To see an entrepreneurial project all the way through is a long process. There are very few shortcuts, and I promise that I’ll share with you the ones that I know. But as I write this post, I doubt that the challenge is too much for you. You would never have become a performing artist, or ever worked in the performing arts industry if you didn’t already understand that in our area of expertise, adversity is to be expected.
I’ll also wager that because you’ve made it this far, to my blog, that your are already toying about with the idea of going solo and breaking off from the herd to do things your way. While I’ve previously mentioned that the work involved in entrepreneurship is nothing to take lightly, I am also obligated to say that the freedom to do what you want is incomparable to anything else. For me, that’s where my true creativity lives.
I’ve found that the brightest creative impulses I’ve have had coincide with my personal freedom and my disregard for the confines of the establishment. Over the next few months we will explore how our beliefs manifest themselves in our personal and artistic missions, in the effectiveness of our organization and in our ability to make a positive impact– and you’ll have the freedom to do it your way.
So let’s begin. Listen to yourself. Listen to the silent alarms that go off around you, the ones you sense and feel. Believe, even for an instant, that nothing is set in stone, that the world is play-dough you could mold with your bare hands— for indeed, it can be. Let that thought wash over you for just a moment. Make no mistake. You can change the world with your vision, your art, and yes, even with your bare hands.
Tuxedo Revolt Report Card: A Year of Transformation
I’ve told many of you how the past year has been an experiment and personal challenge for me. On my 26th birthday, I had a major revelation that I felt I had wasted the previous year. I didn’t have much to show for the passing of 12 months and I essentially felt that time had slipped through my fingers. Standing on the corner of 207th Street and Broadway, I made up my mind that every day until my next birthday I would work to make my 26th year the most vibrant and productive year of my life. As my birthday is this weekend, it’s time for me to share with you what the past year has been like.
The first step for me was to determine my goals as clearly defined tasks. So with pen and paper, I set about making a list of all the things I wanted to achieve with Tuxedo Revolt, as a professional musician, and in my personal life. The list was long. Very long. After a few days and sleepless nights, I had my list of well over 200 itemized goals that I wanted to accomplish. Then I began.
Surprisingly, it was that simple. One day last July, I just started. I remember sitting at my desk, opening MS Word, and blurting out the first few sentences of a blog post. I’m not sure whether or not I ever used those first words, but they opened the floodgate and I’ve been putting my thoughts on the arts, classical music, audience building and arts education into the public arena ever since. When the Tuxedo Revolt Blog was featured on WordPress.com’s Freshly Pressed page, I was off to the races.
In order to keep the momentum going, I studied social media, how it can help spread your message, and how it can provide insight into a person’s artistic process. I learned how to connect with people, and this is how I began to see that people are at the heart of all that we do in the arts. That all this is about people to people connections on some level or another. I worked to share new perspectives on arts traditions to you as well as introduce new revolutionaries in the performing arts. Through interviews, to artist profiles, to concert reviews– I have been able to share with you what others are doing to shape the performing arts world.
Tuxedo Revolt consulting grew from my readers’ desire to ask my advice on their own artistic issues. I found that I really liked working with individuals and organizations. Each person I spoke to had unique talents, traits, and advantages that they could use to ignite their artistic work. Click here to see what some of them had to say about the experience. What I discovered though was that I have a passion for helping people this way, to help them achieve their artistic goals. It is incredibly rewarding and I am privileged to be a part of their artistic work.
The momentum from Tuxedo Revolt has fueled wonderful change in my personal life as well. I see the world as a place of opportunity for change and progress, not just in the arts but in all aspects of life. I’m not bothered any longer by doom and gloom forecasts that litter the arts world. In the past year I have taken a proactive stance. I believe that the arts can be as vibrant as ever, can be a fulfilling career, and is worthy of lifelong pursuit if we are willing to change our point of view. It is my (very real) experience that if we dedicate our lives to sharing our art with others–not just making our art alone— then we can live with artistic freedom and passion.
Thank you for being a part of my journey. Great things are coming in the next year.
Scapegoat Symphony: Don’t Lay Blame for Broken Arts
In my previous post, I got you thinking about how you feel about the work your arts organization does, and how effective it is. Since that last post, I think it’s safe to say that the question has been nagging at you and you are eager to investigate it a little bit further—or you wouldn’t be back here today reading this post. You’ve probably been analyzing all the things that you encounter in your day to day activities that you can attribute problems to. When I ask people to tell me what they feel is holding their organization back, clients usually will name a person who they tend to blame for organizational troubles. Then, the next most popular answer is about not having enough money to do the work they want to do.
I told you at the beginning of this series that we were going to “bite our thumbs” at some of the traditions that PLAGUE are in use in arts organization today. We are going to start right now.
1. Don’t use scapegoats to explain your organization’s troubles. Throughout this process, I encourage you to constantly analyze cause and effect, but with a spin. For every cause, I’ll need you to think of at least 3 effects, and for every effect, I’ll need you to think of 3 possible causes. We are going to climb out from behind our desks and up onto a ladder where we can get a bird’s eye view of the entire situation. Nothing is exempt from examination, or inspection.
2. Never, ever, forget that the stakeholders in your organization—your Board, your staff, your interns, your donors, and most of all your audience—they are all people. These are all living breathing human beings with emotions, feelings, goals, and aspirations, and goals of their own. As you look to repair, innovate, and build your organization, you will make human-to-human interaction a primary consideration for the actions you take.
3. Ask why? Ask it often. Ask it again and again. For everything in your organization you will ask why. Why is this necessary? Why do we need to do it this way? Why does this serve our mission? Why do we need to take this action? Why are we doing this kind of work? Why do we think we need this? Why do you think you are right? Why do you have an issue with this? Why do we do things this way? Why does our audience need us? Why do we present performances this way? Why do we interact with our audience this way? I know that is a lot of questions, but each one will help you to define what is necessary and what is working in your organization. When you pose the question, if you get a concise and strong answer, then you will know that cause and effect has been done. You can trust that you are headed in the direction you are intending and not backtracking in anyway.
Are you ready to do these things? Whether you are an Executive Director, and intern, or somewhere in between, you can be a leader for innovation and change in the arts organization you serve. You can set the example—you can be the change you wish to see. In the next post in this series, we are going to look at how asking why? can get help you de-clutter and streamline your work, ditch distraction, and fast-track you to effective change.