Artist Profiling & Entrepreneurship
Frequently asked questions that arise early in a career for conductors concern the importance of specialising in a specific genre of music, and how one profiles oneself in order to succeed. Should you say yes to everything, show versatility and invest broadly to gain as much experience as possible, or should you specialise early in just a few genres and market yourself accordingly?
As mentioned, agencies and managers are an important part of the path to a career in the music industry. These companies specialise in marketing and profiling artists. But leaving your entire career in the hands of an agency is most likely a bad idea. You will probably not be signed anyway if you greet a manager with the attitude of “here I am, now it’s up to you to shape me and make me successful!”. On the contrary, you have everything to gain from shaping your own artistic profile at an early stage and making yourself look interesting on paper before meeting with agencies and orchestra managers.
Entrepreneurial skills may open up many doors. Being an entrepreneur means starting and building your own successful business. This involves monetising an idea: to be able to make your creative visions become reality. As a conductor, you are actually working as an entrepreneur all the time. Your business is yourself and so is the product you have to sell. Actively engaging in organising and promoting your own practice is not a new thing in the 21st century. Composers and conductors like Mozart and Brahms also had to promote their own concerts and run and develop their own business.
In practical terms, being an entrepreneur means having knowledge about the industry and relevant workplaces and how to book jobs. You need to be able to use specific channels and strategies for marketing your own projects. Being able to initiate, develop, implement and lead artistic projects may work in your favour if noticed by the right people. For example, using your student days to actively engage in interdisciplinary projects may very much enrich your professional breadth and depth. And by the way, to have your project “noticed by the right people” does also not happen on its own. You may have to actively present it to the right people.
It is hard to carve a career as a conductor, especially in today’s highly competitive world. With increasing job insecurity and short-term, project-based contracts, thick skin and persistence are highly recommended. It is easy to think that “as long as I am great on the podium, people will notice, and I will be able to work professionally”. This is only a part of the truth. To get where you want, you will have to compete against many people quite similar to yourself; conductors with a solid background in music, competition winners with a wide network of contacts and conductors with similar interpretation or artistic principles as yourself. So how do you stand out?
Step one is to gain awareness of your own artistic identity and practice. What is really your style, and what do you want to say with your music? How do you want to be perceived? Conducting students all over the world learn similar things and get similar information from their teachers. Your ability to connect your personal history, experience and interests to what you learn may guide you in finding your artistic identity.
For some, leaning towards a specific musical genre or time era may be advantageous, but this depends on both your background and where your passion lies. While some conductors have obvious genre-specific talent and/or interest, others are all-rounders who prefer not to choose anything specific. Many established conductors and teachers may advise you to accept all kinds of gigs and try everything to gain as much experience as possible while others will recommend that you say no to projects that may jeopardise your reputation or do not fit with the profile you are trying to advertise. It will be up to you to decide which advice to listen to. What works for one person never works for absolutely everyone.
Profiling through specialising is normal, but it is not the only way to stand out in the crowd of conductors. You may have other things going for you, such as interesting musical collaborations with specific ensembles or soloists, or a unique visual appearance that may catch the eye of the media? Noticing the musical trends and styles of your time and place and adjusting accordingly may seem like a cynical approach to getting noticed, but as we live in a highly image-driven world where social media presence is used as an effective marketing platform, it is at least recommended that you do not underestimate the power of tactical skills when it comes to marketing your brand – yourself.
According to General Manager at Nordic Music Management, Jakob Soelberg, the “trend” for conductors in the early 2020s in the Nordic countries is simply to be a woman. He even claims that if you are a young white male, you may want to leave the business and look for a different job! This is probably (hopefully!) put somewhat extremely, but he has a point. The market will always be evolving and paying close attention to ongoing changes and trends might be useful if you want to be well-prepared when facing your potential working environment.