Crossing Over to the Other Side

By Edna Landau

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

Dear Edna:

I read your blog regularly and am happy that you welcome questions from people of all ages and all corners of the arts world. I have worked in the orchestra sector, in the area of arts administration, for the past seven years. I enjoy the work that I do in securing guest artists for our orchestra, working closely with our music director, and planning their visits. However, I have recently begun to think that I might be happier working more closely with the artists themselves as an artist manager. Can you please tell me whether it would be logical for me to move to the artist management side and what sort of preparation I might need. Thank you very much. —a curious arts administrator

Dear curious arts administrator:

Your contemplated move from arts administrator to artist manager is certainly not illogical. Others have made that move, although not frequently. The biggest challenge in making such a move is going from a buying mentality to a selling mentality. In your current position, your goal is to secure guest artists for your orchestra at the most reasonable price possible. As an artist manager, you will need to fight for the fee that you know your artist is expecting and there may not be any flexibility in the negotiation. In your current position, you need to perform various tasks which are pretty straightforward: engage a certain artist on dates that work for the orchestra, with a conductor or music director who wants to work with them, in repertoire that will work in the particular season, at a fee that falls within the orchestra’s budget. As a manager, you will be taking direction from the artist, who may or may not be flexible about all of these things. The confidence and apparent power you may have displayed in making an offer to an artist, knowing that others could just as well fit the bill, will not sit well with an artist client who wants the engagement but relies on you to negotiate slightly different terms than those on offer. This could range from a higher fee to different repertoire, to a modified rehearsal schedule or media clause. An artist manager actually finds himself or herself trying to please two clients – the artist and the presenter, with whom they hope to book many artists in the future. Ultimately, it is the artist who must remain your top priority. The agility that is required in this balancing act is best learned by observing how the finest managers work and asking for their counsel.

In thinking further about this possible career move, ask yourself whether you are a good listener, consider yourself to be very flexible, have the patience to tackle each challenge that could come with getting all the conditions right, and the humility to accept a non-compromising established artist’s point of view.  Do you have the sense of protectiveness, perseverance and long-term vision that are required to build an emerging artist’s career? Can you derive the same satisfaction from turning down an engagement that you and your artist thought was unwise at a given time as going to contract for a date that seemed just right? If you are not sure, try to speak in confidence to a few managers whom you might meet at conferences or who accompany their artists to engagements with your orchestra. Ask them to describe their day to day responsibilities – both the joys and the challenges. This is really the best preparation you can do. The technical things should already be familiar to you, such as contracts, tech riders and broadcast riders. You might also sound out some of the artists who visit your orchestra as to the nature of their relationship with their manager and what aspects of it are most important to them.

As you have seen me write before, the rewards of a career in artist management are immense and are newly experienced each time one’s artist walks out on stage and delivers a captivating performance. Helping to arrange an artist’s debut in a major city or working with an artist to commission a new piece of music generates a great deal of satisfaction for a manager who can justifiably feel that they are a part of the artist’s ongoing successful career. It is this type of satisfaction that fuels the energy that is needed to develop and help maintain an artist’s career at the highest level. There is also a special joy that comes from working closely with an artist over an extended period of time and becoming part of their lives. This is very different from the brief time you get to spend with artists in your current position. Since there is a real need for new talent on the artist management side, I personally hope that you will decide to cross over the divide. I am happy to answer any future questions you may have!

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

© Edna Landau 2011

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