I was at the Chamber Music America conference this weekend, and took a turn around the exhibitor section after one of the sessions. For those of you who have never been to a conference, artist management companies set up booths, lay out artist flyers, and sell their clients to the presenters who walk by. I realize this sounds a bit like some kind of Orientalist Indiana Jones market sequence, and that’s not entirely inaccurate. Watching bookers and managers really sell their artists is a pleasant reminder that, all evidence to the contrary, classical music is a business, and the musician on stage was marketed to the person who books that stage long before that musician was ever marketed to an audience.
A friend of mine from IMG Artists, where I used to be the Publicity Manager, now works at a different management company. I was at her booth flipping through the company’s lovely flyers when I noticed that three of them, all in a row, were 29-32 year old white, male, pianists. With similar photos. And similar chamber music offerings. And similar sales blurbs. If you squinted, they could actually be the same person. Besides fees and availability, I thought, how do these artists’ managers distinguish them from one another? These pianists are represented by the same management company and may even be represented by the same manager, so what does that manager know about them to, for lack of a better phrase, tell them apart?
Similarly, what does a manager have to know about a presenter to get the best possible booking for their clients? Maybe they know that a presenter wants to fit as many artists as possible into their season with the budget they have, so they offer the presenter the pianist with the lowest fee. A decidedly un-special distinction, but again, this is a business and these real-world factors do exist. Maybe a presenter and an artist got along the last time the artist played their series. Perhaps it’s the program, or the recording the manager sent the booker. I’m curious, though, James: to what extent do you feel knowing about your clients’ both musical and non-musical pursuits helps you pitch them to presenters? What prepares you to defend their uniqueness, or sometimes, is uniqueness not what a presenter is looking for?
And Jonathan, I’m curious to know what the dialogue is
with your manager about bookings. Do you think she needs to know about
your life outside of music to accurately represent you? Do you know or
care how you’re being distinguished from the other pianists who, at least outwardly, are very much like you?
Essentially, does an artist’s team (manager, publicist, record label…eventually presenter marketing department, presenter PR department…then ultimately critic) tell an artist what’s special about them, or does an artist tell–or better yet show–his or her team?
Somewhat off-topic but bears mentioning: Those three, white, male, 29-32 year old pianists who looked the same on paper are the ones who’ve “made it.” There are many, many exceptionally talented artists out there who you and I will never hear of. What made those three special enough to even be on brochures at a conference?
Jonathan responds to this post in a comment.
James responds to this post in another post.