SEVEN KEYS TO EMPOWERMENT AND PRODUCTIVITY
Artistic ability, business acumen, proper spirit, and a non
profit entity to handle all the details can provide the ideal
foundation for successful business. But just as a basketball team composed of
extraordinary players will not
necessarily produce a championship, these elements alone will not result in success without some governing concepts
to tie it all together and develop it properly.
So in this chapter we’re going to delve into seven key eleme
nts that are fundamental to career development and
especially for those to whom artistic integrity and personal dignity are of major importance.
These keys are:
Almost everything works by plan. Plans are essential for everything from constructing a building to waging a war to
playing a game of ball. Without proper planning, airplanes would be colliding, all roads would
gridlocked, and we’d still be living in caves or trees. On a much simpler scale, we couldn’t get from one side of the
city to another in time for an appointment without a reasonable assessment of the various elements involved in getting
Imagine trying to play music with no compositions, unspecified instrumentation and no specific time or place to get
together and do it. Ludicrous, right? But that’s precisely how too many musicians pursue their careers. As stated
earlier, my exper
ience indicates that most musicians employ one of two “plans”: get a record deal so you can get
gigs; or get gigs so you can get a record deal. These aren’t plans, they’re wishes.
(p 45), I outlined a plan that we utilized in the devel
opment of the World Saxophone Quartet. A
little later in
9), you’ll find another plan that we’ve utilized in all of our artist development activity to
both secure and get the most mileage out of live engagements. Later in this section, I’
ll also illustrate how an
unanticipated negative development forced us to reassess a situation, and
a new plan based on what we
learned from the problems we encountered. But these are just
of planning. All successful activity i
almost every category of life requires a plan of one sort or another. Totally “free” improvisation may be fun, exciting,
exhilarating and adventurous, but it is certainly not the pathway to a successful career.
The process of successfully learning, impr
oving and maintaining musical skills requires a plan. What do I practice
and how do I coordinate it with gigs and rehearsals, a teaching schedule, a straight job, or the various aspects of daily
life? It takes a lot of discipline, but all that discipline
is worthless without a plan that will allow you to actually
something. Successful business requires even more of a plan, and almost as much discipline. And that’s
the fact whether you handle all the business on your own, through a non
or even if you entrust it entirely to
If you’re going the straight
ticket manager/agent/record label route, you still need a plan. Which manager? Which
agent? Can they work together? And can the label guy work with both, or either?
What’s the methodology?
Opening for bigger names? Working up from a local power base? Developing a regional
presence? Clubs or concerts? Performing arts facilities, colleges, alternative hipster joints or jazz clubs?
And the label?
time or small
term contract or one
off deal? Jazz or multi
you look for a label where you’ll be the biggest name on the roster; or try to hook up with a label with bigger names
that will increase your stature?
In my experience with mu
sicians, all of these questions are too often answered with a single depressing response:
“whatever I can get.” Now I’m not saying that this is a loser mentality, but it’s awfully hard to win with it unless you
are blessed with incredibly good luck, are
extraordinarily well connected, or are exceptionally treacherous and
and you’ll probably need all three of those elements.
Even if an artist or management team have considered these questions, and formulated a plan of pursuit on those
another set of questions arise. Work the door or only for guaranteed fees? Fixed ensemble of unknowns or
up groups of bigger names? Make a CD and try to sell it to a label, or pursue a deal to make a CD?
Management by contract for a specific period
of time or by handshake for as long as everybody’s comfortable? Or
something in the middle on all of the above.
These, and countless additional questions and options should be considered in your business decisions. Every
occurrence alters the pattern, a
nd new options may present themselves or old ones may need to be reconsidered.
Even the various elements involved in touring and performing require a good plan for the proper coordination that is
needed to make them be as successful as possible. Proper pl
anning is necessary to get the least expensive travel rates,
the most convenient hotels and the best circumstances for performance. The same goes for recording sessions, side
personnel, comfort factors and every other element of the professional life.
instability and exploitative nature of the jazz business demands the ability to capitalize on opportunity when it
manifests itself. It’s much easier to recognize and move on those opportunities when you can exert some level of
control over them.
only possible with a plan. It’s a lot like playing music. You don’t want to make it so tight
that there’s no room for spontaneity and magic. But there’s an element of order that’s always essential
composition, a set of chord changes, a series of mod
es, a rhythmic pulse or some other more mysterious level of
understanding and agreement between those who are playing it. Fundamentally, it’s a
Music doesn’t just happen. It’s the result of years of disciplined work and planning by individuals wh
o come together
with a mutual plan to create something special. To think great music happens by serendipity, or through plugging
into some cosmic energy, or by some intangible convergence of individual talents doesn’t do proper justice to those
it. To think that you could accomplish it purely through such dubious means is a virtual guarantee that
Just like playing on changes, business decisions have to be made quickly and accurately. A slip
up can be rectified
fairly quickly with a
few good decisions, and sometimes may even open up some new and exciting areas to explore.
But everybody has to be on the same page so the individual decisions won’t throw off the balance and synergy needed
to keep things cooking at full throttle.
As an e
xample, let’s look at a circumstance that occurred in our early management days involving the Art Ensemble
of Chicago. When we first hooked up with them, the AEC was a major group in Europe and had five or six cities in
America where they could always per
form and draw well. One of those was New York City, where crowds of 800
1200 would usually attend their weeklong engagements.
When we organized their first full
fledged American tour in 1979 (20 cities over 40 days), we decided to self
ing concert in New York City, expecting an audience of 600
700 fans. We drew under 400.
With a little research we realized that those 800
1200 fans who’d attended their previous club gigs included
repeat customers, and the audience we drew for the co
ncert was a more accurate representation of the
size of their
audience. We also found out that there was a nucleus of 150
200 who would attend three or four times during an
So we booked the next gig at the Public Theater for four
shows over two nights in a 300 seat hall, knowing that as
many as 800 tickets would be sold to 200 people. With a new album coming out on ECM, we timed the gig with the
new release. All four shows sold out a week in advance with about 100 people milling
about the lobby each night in
hopes of getting in. We booked a return engagement in the same facility six months later, again doing publicity at
throttle. The four shows sold out
in advance and the lobby was a mob scene of people trying t
other people’s tickets or finagle their way in one way or another.
Eight months later we sold out Town Hall, a 1500 seat venue.
Part of the success was due to the general management strategy, the group’s increased visibility from touring and a
ecord company. But a
factor was our (somewhat cynical) recognition that people are intrigued by that
which is unavailable to them. We capitalized on that as a direct result of the
experience we had from that
promoted concert. The
new plan of action was a necessary improvisation on an initially flawed strategy.
Even more importantly, this example shows that a pro
active stance is always essential. You can’t just sit back and
wait for a plan to take off and deliver the desired res
Pursuing a career by trying to position yourself so somebody will notice and make you a star (or maybe just take care
of your various needs); or just doing your best and staying positive that something good will happen, are pretty much
ss approaches to success.
There are as many possible plans as there are individual artists. It’s the
of planning that needs to be
employed, not some cookie
cutter pattern that you can follow like learning to dance from footprints painted on the
oor. The plans referred to earlier in this
are here partially to provide some specific ideas that can
be applied directly. But even more importantly, I’m hoping to illustrate a
of thinking that, combined with the
in this book, will allow you to design an ideal plan for a successful, artistically rewarding and
Realistically, a musician cannot be expected to bring the same level of knowledge and talent to the business as to the
music. That’s why I
emphasize the team approach, even if it’s only a small team. But at the very least, the artist
needs to be aware of the plan, if only to handle his or her end of it and to make sure that it’s taking them where they
want to go