To my readers, it’s been far too long since I last posted on the Tuxedo Revolt Blog and I apologize to you. But I’ve been watching and thinking, observing and taking notes. I’ve spent the past year being a musical participant, a maker, a creator, performer, teacher—and in many ways a student as well. I’ve been watching our world of classical music. I’ve been doing a lot of introspection into my own music making as well and there is much that I want to share with you.
Since it’s a new year, I thought we should start with a few resolutions. (I say we because I will be joining in these too.) While I’m not usually a big fan of them, I started to think about the meaning of a resolution, about how they demonstrate our “resolve” for change and improvement. A resolution is an opportunity to bring about positive change to our lives—and for musicians, to our art as well. As artists, we strive for excellence at all costs. We constantly seek to improve upon our skill, or repertoire, or musical achievement. This pursuit is part of our identity as musicians. With personal excellence in mind, here are 5 resolutions for classical musicians to consider for 2015:
1. Own your role in supporting the arts.
We are all in this together and as such, we all need to do our part in supporting the arts in as many ways as we can. Be active. Write a letter of support to your local school system or elected official supporting music education. Make a donation to a local arts organization (if you can) or at least make the offer to donate some of your time or talent. Share articles that advocate for the arts on your social media or write an iReport or Letter to the Editor of your local paper. Start a thread on Reddit. Do something to help us all.
2. Help stop the negativity in the classical music world.
“If you have nothing nice to say, then say nothing at all,” my father said many times when I was young. Truthfully, I’ve not always taken his advice, but in the case of classical music, I’m pretty sure compliance is crucial. Let’s make this cut and dry: the general public has a clouded perception of our world and what we do. Many people see classical music as stuffy, outdated and worn-out. As many of us are working to change that perception, we face a further declining public opinion when vitriol over union conflicts, lockouts, and defamatory remarks come from both sides of disputes in our industry. We need a cease fire and moratorium on negativity. Do your part by only putting forth positive messaging about the importance of your art, your passion, and classical music more generally. Be on the side of peaceful progress.
3. Dig deep into your own emotions.
This is one is simple. Challenge yourself to find deeper emotional meaning from every note that you play this year. Take whatever commitment to emotional expressivity you currently have and add 30% to that. See how much more you can express your own range of emotion in the music you make. It might change the world.
4. Share your music with more people.
This year, make the effort to share your music with more people than you did last year. Sharing is easy in the digital age. Post a video on YouTube or Facebook. Upload a clip to SoundCloud. Get more of the music you love out into the world. There are bound to be others out there who will love it too.
5. Talk to your audience.
This is the year to change the way you engage with your audience. You have the power to transform an evening of great music into a memorable experience that lasts a lifetime in the mind of your audience members. You have to communicate with your audience. Do as little or as much as your feel comfortable, but do something. It can be as little as making sure you thank five individual audience members for coming to the concert at each gig you play this year, or as grand as completely revamping your concert presentation format. The approach is up to you, but we need to collectively do more to bond with our audiences. If we all did this, we could go a long way toward changing the public opinion.
So here’s to a great year ahead. Let’s do more this year than we have ever done before. Let’s make waves in the classical music world. Let’s change the state of play.
You are an individual with unique values, goals, passions, and interests. As an artist, you may have broad and often conflicting interests while simultaneously you are deliciously engrossed in the minutia of a singular niche. For the entrepreneur, there are no rules that say you must give up any of your interests or passions for a career. If someone says you can’t make a living pursuing multiple passions, then you need to run the other direction.
2. It’s a dumb idea to say that a music career can be defined by any one kind of job.
Yep, I said it. That’s dumb. The truth is there are as many kinds of music careers as there are genres of music—literally thousands. When you consider the how many possible combinations of music careers there could be, the options are seemingly endless.
3. Creative people need freedom to create—and it’s okay to honor that need.
Musicians can be wonderfully creative, frenetic, sporadic, and illustrious people. When we have our freedom to create and experiment, we can accomplish truly unbelievable feats. But what happens when you clip a bird’s wings? It can’t fly. The same is true for the musician. When our “jobs” take over we can forget or ignore or suppress our spontaneous creative urges. The creative flame grows dull. This feeling does not just express itself in the lives of many musicians who have taken on the thankless “day job”. It can also be expressed in the lives of performing musicians whose orchestra or ensemble has become more a prison than a blank canvas for their art. Music entrepreneurship is built on the idea that the job/income is built around accommodating your individual artist needs.
4. There is a difference between owning your life’s work, and wishing you did.
That’s a bold statement, but it’s true. When you pursue entrepreneurial projects, you undergo a dramatic mental shift. You realize that your success is now in your own hands. This knowledge will give you incredible energy to pursue the path(s) you love. No doubt, you will face struggles and obstacles between you and your goals. However, you will own that struggle and it will only serve to temper your resolve to see your goal to its realization. Entrepreneurs make their own decisions and for better or worse.
5. Entrepreneurs aren’t victims.
No longer are you the victim in a world where (shudder) “the arts are dying.” Rather, you view yourself as part of the solution the arts need. You will view yourself as a positive force that fixes problems or addresses conflict in the arts world. By setting your own course, you are free to be flexible and agile when making career choices. When you experience a setback, you can change directions in a second and minimize or avoid the setback altogether. You have complete control over your entrepreneurial enterprises and can be free to take the action you feel is best for you. In short, you don’t allow yourself to be the victim of someone else’s circumstances.
Though this list is far from comprehensive, I hope that it showcases some of the benefits that an entrepreneurial career has to offer. It takes bravery to be a music entrepreneur as you may find yourself breaking from your comfort zone. Just remember, there is no feeling like owning your own successes, taking charge of your life, and putting your creativity first. There’s nothing like it in the entire world.
Let’s face it, we need new models in the world of arts administration. I had a really great conversation with my wife last night about some of the finer points of not-for-profit organizational management. She always helps me to keep my mind open and avoid shutting out the perspectives I don’t want to or can’t see. Our conversation last night drifted over to the world of orchestra management as I have been following the stories of dire straits, strikes, and financial instability of orchestras across the country. I’ve been mulling the thoughts for this post around for awhile and I have been hesitant to enter the debate surrounding the orchestra world,. But, I cannot deny the fact that this epidemic is related to the mission of Tuxedo Revolt, to make the performing arts relevant to audiences. So, I will begin with my (slightly irreverent) disclaimer:
If you are a musician or arts administrator involved in a dispute with an orchestra or labor union, and you are in no way willing to set aside your views for just a moment in order to entertain a new perspective, then please close this tab on your internet browser. If you cannot set your views and beliefs aside, then you will gain nothing from reading this. I wish you the very best, and I hope your dispute is settled in a timely manner and with little damage to your organization.
Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, and you have decided to lend me your ears for just a little while, I’d like to introduce a different approach to solving the myriad of problems that are cropping up across the classical music world. I want to (attempt) to transcend all the arguments, financial situations, opinions, contracts and emotions that dominate the debates and negotiations these orchestras are experiencing.
Much like in yoga, I would like you to calm yourself and assume the mental position of namaste. First and foremost, we are all people, human beings. We all have concerns for our welfare, for our art form, for our livelihood, for our families, and for our freedoms. In that respect, whether we are performers or administrators, we are all the same. I would like to see everyone in the arts take a moment and identify with this thought. While this may seem a bit altruistic, we all need to fully identify that our orchestras and their administrations are made of real people. Just dwell on that thought for a moment.
Our heads are clear, we are breathing deeply, and we have identified each other as fellow human beings and nothing more. Now we come to our ideas about conflict resolution.
Let us start by realizing that negativity, brings more negativity. Accusations beget accusations, and slander begets slander. Before negotiations begin, we decide that we must assume a position of optimism, creativity, and willingness– on both sides. We must abandon our historical perspectives about “how these things” work. We must think about building stronger connections from musicians to administrators and vice versa. The hierarchy of old is dissolved, it means nothing. Musicians assume equal rank with administrators and administrators work like an orchestra of their own, with different sections (Education, Development, Marketing), principals (the directors of each department), and a conductor (the Executive Officer). We promise that we will avoid the word “no” as often as possible. Only then, can we begin as peers and professionals. This is our first and foremost priority
The next step to productive negotiations involves 100% transparency on all financial data from an organization. It should provided to both parties by an independent auditor. Nothing is kept private, nothing kept from either side of the table, and all members of the organization–absolutely everyone in the organization– is required to sign a legally binding non-disclosure agreement. Both sides are protected from bad press and inaccurate accusations that can harm the integrity of the organization or reveal any sensitive information about donors or philanthropic campaigns.
Ticket sales, endowment earnings, salaries, individual giving, pension plans, corporate support, cash-flow analysis: they all involve the interpretation, reporting, and accounting of money, Alone, they are numbers. Numbers are quantitative by nature. They are neither good nor bad. They are completely neutral. Once there is a crystal clear financial snapshot of the organization laid out for all to see, the numbers will help to paint a picture of the organization’s fiscal health. Based on the same data, both administration and musicians should be able to come up with an official proposal from their constituents. Preliminary proposals should have no limits to the shape they take or how they are structured. It is an opportunity for both sides to express how they can envision the solution working and the organization stabilizing or growing.
Along with these proposals, each side is required to bring to the table five commitments that they are willing to make to help the growth of the organization both fiscally and in the context of the community and audience development. These must be tangible, concrete actions with clearly defined outcomes. I like to call these commitments, auxillary opportunities, as they extend beyond the current scope of work for both parties and would require some creativity to generate. They are outside of the proposal as they intend to improve the organization’s health in the time-span between now and the next negotiation.
This is a break from the current climate of the administration making an offer to the musician’s union, the musicians promptly rejecting it, and rinse and repeat. The more offers rejected, the more quickly tensions escalate. Rifts begin to form, and alliances for power-grabs are eminent. This is not healthy or wholesome for the organization or the people in it. This is about progress, optimism and growth. How wonderful would it be for the bargaining parties to generate ideas to increase income and audience engagement instead of publicly tear each other down?
I do understand that bargaining agreements, unions, finances, and arguments are complicated seven-headed Hydras. But perhaps we make them more complicated than what they really have to be. Do our demands of the other party align with our organization’s mission? Do they align with good moral practice? Are our demands financially feasible– meaning that they are sustainable as defined by an accurate reporting of the organization’s fiscal health? Are we being greedy? Are we putting the mission first?— I’ll ask it again—– Are we putting the mission first? How do our demands help us bring music to more people and in a way that will encourage them to value our art? Are our demands realistic when compared the public’s support of our organization? If not, are both parties working to solve those problems with as much vigor and passion as they do the problems concerning the collective bargaining agreement? These are all very real questions. To get the full picture, we need to entertain them all.
Now you can go back to embracing your beliefs, and I thank you for taking a moment to listen to mine. I hope that you will encounter your conflict resolutions with optimism, and that you will present solutions to many problems, not just those that concern you. I hope that you will join me in believing that if we change the way we do business, we won’t go out of business.