Let’s talk small. In my last post on the musician’s micro economy, I described how we should consider resources available to us as different forms of currency that can be used to improve our careers and more generally, our lives as artists. I also introduced the concept of the portfolio career, which is essentially a vibrant career that is the sum of many small projects, talents and skills—including performance—that all contribute to financial stability for the 21st century musician.
Now let’s explore what makes up a micro economy. Follow my logic; if businesses make up the economy (in the traditional sense) then micro businesses make up the micro economy. So now, let’s talk small. I mean, really small. Marcel-the-Shell-with-Shoes-On small. Let’s talk about how you can make your claim in the music micro economy by being excellent, by being focused and by starting out very, very small.
For many musicians, the word business makes us anxious, second only to the word taxes. It makes us want to run back to our practice room and play scales until we are calm again. Don’t laugh; you know I’m talking to you. Yet income, finances, taxes, and dare I say it—money—are essential to our everyday lives. So whether we want to think about it or not, money rears its green, ugly head in all parts of our career. The concept of the micro economy is applicable to all kinds of artists, but for musicians of the 21st century, it’s actually a way of life. Have you ever given thought to all the ways money influences your career? Whether it’s trying to purchase that new instrument, cashing a paycheck from a gig, travel costs for a gig, paying other colleagues fairly to perform with or for us, the list goes on and on forever. We need to make money and we need to spend it. That earning and spending is the most basic essence of what an economy is. Therefore, it’s not too far of a stretch to then think of individual artists as little businesses—micro businesses who specialize in creativity and art. We are micro-businesses in a creative economy.
I realize that I may have just lost some of you. I compared you to a business and you were like #bye. Just hang in there for a moment. The good news is that there has never been a better time in the history of the world to be a micro business in a creative economy. As you might have read on this blog, I’m fascinated with the millennial culture. After all, I am one myself. I’m constantly marveling out our rebellious nature, our determination to see ideas come to life, and the effect our sheer will has on society. Artists have always been a rebellious lot but millennial artists, those young people of the millennial generation from all artistic disciplines who identify as professionals in their respective art forms, are undeniably impacting the global society and economy in ways we never before thought possible. In the coming Tuxedo Revolt blog posts, we’ll explore how you can embrace the idea of being a micro business and also explore new platforms and marketplaces allowing the modern performing artist to grow their micro business. We’ll look at how small and excellent is the new model for the emerging artist professional.
Marcel-the-Shell said, “Some people say my head is too big for my body—I say, COMPARED TO WHAT?!” Marcel had the right idea. Another way of saying it might be though our size as a micro business is small (obviously), we can still have (and do have) an enormous impact on the world’s creative economy.
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.
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.
It’s good to be back at the keyboard today and writing. Though the blog was a bit quiet this month, I’ve been working night and day prepping content and organizing projects for the coming year. I saw this quote on #pinterest a few days ago and was amazed by the simplicity and truth in it. It seemed applicable to my life right now, this week, this month, this summer. Action does in fact express our priorities, or as my wife always puts it– “Actions speak louder than words.”
It made me start thinking about what it is that I am doing each day to meet my goals. Do you think about that? Try it. Take a second to get out of your head as best you can and watch your actions as if you were another person. Notice the real actions you make each day toward achieving your goals. This can be both for yourself and/or for your organization. Don’t be shocked by what you might discover about yourself. If you are like me, you might find that you spend a lot of time thinking– but less time doing than you had imagined.
After just celebrating Tuxedo Revolt’s 1-year anniversary back in June, I spent some time figuring out what my priorities would be for this blog, my business, my performance goals, and my life in general. I think it is easy for us to get very idealistic and heady about what we want to achieve over a given time. For me, I was laying plans for the coming year, or more specifically, from now until June 16th, 2014. But the planning period is over; it’s time to start making progress towards my goals. I’m now at the place where actions should do all the talking.
I can make lists all day long– and if you know me, then you know how utterly maniacal I am about list making. (Try the free app called Catch if you are serial list maker like me!) However, even after coming off of last year’s successes, I almost made the same mistake I made in 2011-12, of planning without doing. It’s very easy to get into this kind of cycle and much harder to get out it. It takes not self-discipline, but rather, self-responsibility to identify with your goals and acknowledge that is you who must do the work necessary to achieve them. It’s the asking yourself at the beginning of each day “What am I actually going to do today?” and then at night, “What did I actually do today?” that spins the straw of planning into the gold of reality.
This month, I’m back in the saddle and the afterglow of Tuxedo Revolt’s one year anniversary is behind me. I’m working on a lot of great interviews to feature this year. I’m also resurrecting the Tuxedo Revolt Podcast Project (after losing all my previously recorded podcast material on a fatal hard drive crash). One new addition to the blog this year will be much more strategy content for both arts administrators and music entrepreneurs. I’ll be helping you to outline real nuts and bolts strategies you can use in your own projects— in other words helping you think of actions to express your priorities.
Thanks for stopping by the blog and stay tuned; there is a lot of great content coming your way.
- Tuxedo Revolt Report Card: A Year of Transformation (tuxedorevoltblog.wordpress.com)
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.