It’s too late for year-end lists, so this one is more evergreen. If you feel that this is the year for you to launch your own ensemble, concert series, artistic project, etc., here are some basics to consider.
10) Have a year zero.
Wowed ‘em with a September recital that you want to spin into a series? Start to build your mailing list, talk to potential donors, look into grant deadlines, scout venues, and plan another program – for your fall debut the next calendar year. That’s about how long it will take to raise the revenue and the interest, and the timeline you need for foundation and government grants and some press. Take the time to plan as much as you can upfront, so you can focus on your productions – and on your second season.
9) Find a buddy.
The administrative details quickly add up, and you’ll need at least one business partner to get things done, talk through ideas, and get through setbacks. Want to launch a crowdsource campaign? Well, did you set up a YouTube account, apply for fiscal sponsorship, set up a business bank account, shoot and edit a video, round up perks for your donors….. you get the idea.
8) In fact, find a posse.
If you earn your living as a freelancer, any admin time you spend on a self-produced concert will not be compensated – at least not for a while – and is therefore a loss of income for you. Share leadership broadly, and keep a rotating cast of people cycling through the organization who can get things done as they are able.
7) Think temporary. At least at first.
It used to be that starting a charitable endeavor meant you were planning long-term. No more. With the number of new arts organizations vastly outpacing available dollars, the new drumbeat is to consolidate organizations that duplicate each other’s work and for donors to become more supportive of short-term, project-based initiatives. Make it a pop-up opera or concert series. If you have resounding success, you can go longer term. If you don’t, or get tired of the admin hassle, then it was a line on your resume and that was that.
6) How will this end?
Judy Blume’s relationship advice works for business too. Will this project live longer than you will? How and why? Will it eventually be merged into an organization with a similar mission (or could it now?) Thinking about where you’re going will help you figure out how to get there.
5) Pause before you stage.
Staging an opera (or anything else) requires more of everything – time, artists, space, and, therefore, money. Even if you have these resources lying around, seriously consider no more than one or two productions a year, until you can pay yourself to do it.
4) Solve other people’s problems.
In addition to starting a project that best suits your own strengths, look around your community and think about what is missing. Fractured Atlas took off because it provides a sleek, user-friendly interface for artist-led fundraising. Boston Opera Collaborative offers its paying members good performance opportunities. Groupmuse appears to be the Airbnb of concert series, connecting performers to audience members’ living rooms. What do these ventures have in common? They are products that many people want to buy.
3) Own the room.
If you are the one bringing artists together to perform, do not shy away from your role as a leader. People like leadership. It is reassuring to come to a gig knowing that certain decisions have been made and parameters established. Be the person with the deepest knowledge of the material you are working on, so you can answer questions with an informed opinion.
2) You are not crazy cat lady.
After years of looking to your teachers, conductors, directors, and even your own family to determine career choices, striking out on your own feels uniquely uncomfortable. Inviting an artist you respect to work on your yet-to-be-tested venture can bring out your every insecurity. But artists of all levels still have to fill their calendars, and everyone is their own worst critic. If you have the chutzpah to follow your entrepreneurial spark, allow yourself to bask in the fact that not everyone has that kind of courage.
1) How does it serve art?
Before anything else, have a really good answer to this one. How will Music – capital M – be better because you are doing this work? How will this expand everyone’s thinking about the music you will present? How will it welcome listeners and inspire other artists?