Three Attributes to Look For In A Performing Arts Company

Over my lifetime obsession with Artist Management and Arts Administrative jobs I have read hundreds of articles, dozens of books, and looked into the lives of successful artist management teams with a microscope. Trying to learn the ins and outs of what makes these people successful is mind boggling sometimes. In LA everyone likes to put on a front. It is hard to decipher who is truly competent and who has a team of people that truly makes them and their company’s successful. During the last 10 years in the work force I have learned that there are three things I need in an art management job to be happy – teamwork among co-workers, well developed organizational structure, and great leadership.

Having co-workers you can depend on in the work place is vital to events going off without a hitch. If there is distrust in the workplace you have a tendency to try and do everything yourself which in most cases is not humanly possible without working seven days a week. So how do you trust the people you work with quickly when just stepping into a job? Get to know them outside of work and get personal. Don’t just talk about work. If meeting up outside of work gives you hives try connecting with individuals in the office one on one. You would be surprised how many people will open up when you include them in a project you are working on or asking for their advice.

Jonathan Dickins (Adele’s Manager) said, “If you have a short term focus, you are going to get short term results.” Having a lack of organizational structure is detrimental. I have worked in both structured and unstructured companies. Many that are unstructured manage all events, tours, and marketing within the event year, while structured companies manage all event aspects in a three to five year timeframe. Having that time allows for branding development, strategic marketing, and event expansion. How can a company grow if all you are ever worried about is getting through that year? The answer is it is impossible.

Finally, and the most important, strong leadership. Jimmy Iovine is one of the biggest names in the music business side of the industry. In a past Billboard magazine Iovine said, “Be careful not to breathe your own exhaust.” I think this statement encompasses why great leaders are great. Be careful not to look at everything you say as gospel. Know that you can be wrong. And understand that to bring the company up, you have to bring your team up first. The importance of how you approach your employees can be what makes you stand out as a great leader or horrible boss. If you are supportive and encouraging with a mix of level-headed toughness it is going to make everyone work just as hard as you do because there is a line of respect. In Aretha Franklin’s words, “All I’m asking is for a little respect, just a little bit.”

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Artists – The Debacle of Respect

Apple is one of the most innovative companies in the world.  Constantly creating the next new thing that everyone has to have.  So, when the announcement of Apple Music was to be launched I was a little surprised that they were so late in the game of streaming, which has undoubtedly continued to grow.  The thought of paying $10 a month to a streaming service and having unlimited access to thousands of songs is appealing, but in my opinion streaming is more of a discovery service than an actual income stream for artists.  The more I look at streaming, I use it to listen to new music to see if I like it.  If I like, I buy it.  So, should music artist really look at it as a revenue stream, or an audience building tool?

An article by Billboard Magazine discussed how in the first three months of its free streaming trial it would not pay artists for their music that was streamed (this is no longer the case).  The business aspect of this was ‘I’m not making money so why should I give you money?’  Needless to say, it created a big upheaval in the music world and Taylor Swift took it upon herself to be the voice of the artists.  She made a statement on her Tumblr – “This is not about me.  This about the new artist or band that has just released their first single and will not be paid for their success.  This is about the young songwriter who just got his or her first cut and thought royalties would get them out of debt.  This is about the producer who works tirelessly to innovate and create, but will not get paid for a quarter of a years worth of plays on his or her songs.”  Do you think this was all unselfish?  I think everyone, including the superstars in the industry had a right to be mad, but I still stand by my point that it shouldn’t be apart of the revenue budget, more like bonus income.  My question is was this whole thing a publicity stunt by Apple?  A company that is worth billions of dollars worried about paying artists for three months without a source of income from ONE revenue stream when they have numerous other ways to bring in money?

We all look at artists and think that it is a glamour field of money, fortune, and fame, but in reality it is a life struggle that these people had the courage to pursue a career that they loved rather than a career that makes bank.  Artists like Justin Timberlake and Taylor Swift are a small percentage that hit it big in the industry.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that in 2014 musicians/ singers made a median range of $23.50 per hour.  Now add in the cost of studio rentals, producers, songwriters, record labels, executives, managers, manufacturing, equipment, and touring and that is not a whole lot of money.  Every revenue stream counts for any artists.

The one thing that frustrates me about this whole debacle and pretty much any artist issue is that musicians are not the only artists out their trying to survive.  Dancers are in just as much struggle as the musician.  They have similar expenses such as studio rentals, tour costs, costumes, shoes, music licensing, management and development teams.  Also, there is only a select group in the public that has a passion for dance, and there isn’t as many revenue streams that can be tapped like the music industry.  Unlike the music industry where there is streaming, buying albums and individual songs.  Many dancers have to rely on a company for income (salary/ stipend for rehearsals and performances), or an agent getting them a temporary job on film, TV, a music tour, or Broadway.  There is also a ticking time bomb when you can no longer perform because your body just can’t.  Many dancers are involved in other revenue avenues like company contract work, select seasons on Broadway, sponsorship opportunities, teaching, and book writing on their endeavors in the industry.  Just like the music industry, there are dancers that are superstars and have made millions of dollars like Derek Hough or Mikhail Baryshnikov, but it took them years to get there.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the median salary a dancer makes is $13.41/ hour or if you are a choreographer $21.28/ hour.   That is less than a musician/ singer.  Many dancers and choreographers are not on an annual salary because they work based on a contract and are only paid for certain aspects of their job such as rehearsals or performances.   Granted, many orchestra musicians are in the same predicament.  The amount of free projects that dancers get involved in is based on trying to network and meet new artists that could potentially hirer them. Isn’t that the same in the music industry?  You send out samples of your music to try and draw an audience, gather a fan base, and gain feedback from people you respect and admire.  I have personally lost count on how many free projects I have done like choreographing a piece for a fundraising event or driving three hours for a rehearsal for weeks on end and then performing it once or twice at a few festivals.  None of these opportunities I got paid.  Some were friends of mine, while others were endeavors that I fully supported like at risk youth and the arts.  Granted I had other sources of income like teaching ballet and working on the administrative side of the arts industry.

I think we all have to ask ourselves some hard questions – why are we creating art?  Why are we creating music?  Why do you dance or choreograph?  Would I feel this way if this was a hobby and not my livelihood?  I think that the general public looks at art as it is owed to them.  I see it constantly working on the administrative side of the business.  Your taxes dollars do not pay the nonprofit employee’s salary, nor does your tax dollars pay to take care of the art work or support the programming that happens in a dance company or art institution.  People have this thought process that the arts are a right not a privilege.  We are privileged that artists feel strongly about their work that they want to share it with us.  I look at artists as superheroes.  They are brave.  Laying everything they have out in the open for the public to be loved and criticized at the same time.  Apple took a risk.  Was it wrong – yes.  Should we respect artists for their work – absolutely.  The next time you hear someone on the subway stop and listen.  If you enjoy it use your Tumblr or Twitter and promote it.  Don’t steal work that belongs to others.  I think if artists want the industry to respect the art and the artist, it needs to start with the public respecting the art first.

“All I’m askin is for just a little respect…”