Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Dancer/Musician War

I have come across a lot of craziness in the arts but none so much so as the constant misunderstandings and misinterpretations between dancers and musicians. I honestly wanted to structure this like my producer/artist blog, where both are equally responsible for weird pushes and pulls, but with dancers and musicians here in the US, and probably in India for some of it as well, there is a GREAT deal of walking all over a dancer.

Let me outline a few of the massively unprofessional and crazy things I have seen:

1. Claims for random things AFTER a performance with no understanding prior that the dancer who had hired the musicians were apparently responsible for such claims. (Sending invoices for parking receipts, or gas mileage for travel costs).
3. Lateness (coming 2 hours late to rehearsal with not so much as a phone call. No matter what the emergency is, find a way to communicate it).
4. Agreeing to rehearsals and trying to weasel your way out of them.
5. Asking for more money after dancers have given musicians a number.
6. Copping out midway through a set of shows because something better has come your way.
7. Copping out midway and not even finding a replacement.
8. Demanding payment anyway after said cop out.
9. Musicians demanding so much money that most of the time a dancer makes no money - or much less than the musicians, though he/she has hired them and also gotten them the job.
10. Telling us - especially when it comes to technical things such as number of repetitions or mood of a program - that they know better than the choreographer as to how it should go.
11. Not being able to pay dance involved in a show because musicians won't take any less even though we probably put in at least 10 times as many hours for that given show.
12. Telling us you work really hard so we should be paying you more. Seriously??? WE ALL DO. That is the most insulting statement a musician can make. Do you think we're holding back on the amount of money we can give you and sitting high and rich on our laurels????
13. Agree to a number, start rehearsals, and then ask for more money.

Mostly it seems to come from two things: one, that dancers have money spilling out of their ears and two, some kind of notion that because being hired for dance won't help their reputation as musicians that it is okay to treat it like a very idiotic opportunity. Or because normally with music there is less coordination required to complete a piece after it's been composed? (I have no idea if this one is true but am assuming it is because once artists get the gist of a song for dance seem to think they no longer need any rehearsal).

I would like to point out that there is some gross kind of misinterpretation of audience numbers and money given for performances going on. I can't remember the last time I was actually paid as much money as the live musicians were or the composers for my own pieces were. Most of the time after paying everyone else, myself and every other dancer I know are not getting anything at all, and not because I'm not budgeting myself properly, but because the artists will literally refuse to do it for a smaller number and we get stuck with no other creative choices between copyright licenses, lack of resources, and the like.

Which confuses me, because we in fact do give them performances that help provide them with money for their life as artists. If in fact you are doing so well that you find the amount of money we are giving you too little for your work, then say no! Not only will they not refuse and demand more payment, but will do so without providing a number that they would do it for. Essentially, from all the conversations I've garnered, had, and negotiated, they probably will do it for that first number you've given them, but are trying to see how much more they can squeeze out of you. The conversations end up being a sad, manipulative, and unprofessional way of getting more money that results in musicians not having a clue as to what kind of damage they wreak on the people providing them with opportunities.

The sad part of all this is the people that it hurts are the patrons. Dancers cannot afford as many good programs, and frankly, I usually barely break even on the programming I do when musicians are involved even when they bring in the most revenue. Yet, I make the most profit when I work with dancers, who will work with less - and not because I'm taking advantage of that but because there is some kind of understanding that I am giving as much as I possibly can and dancers do not push the fact that they may be the only ones with the skill set necessary for a particular project.

We're all struggling here and it's crazy to me to see this unprofessional behavior.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Producer/Artist Stranglehold

I'm writing this post because I think this doesn't just apply to performing artists and producers who do shows, but any kind of creative service/distributer service industry.

I am both an artist and a producer and I come across, very often, the feelings of frustration of artists who believe they deserve more money than they are getting and the producers who are tired of giving it and not making anything themselves.

Let's be frank: both sides deserve more money, but the fact of the matter is both sides need to make a living wage and can't on what they're making from smaller programming. Both sides cannot survive without the other but there are some basic business practices to follow to make it work that I have learned over the years:


1. Do not come to the producer with claims AFTER the show. The producer has a set budget and if we are not given a choice to exclude something, or to find a way to avoid a fee, it should not be our problem. Artists coming to us with claims for parking fees, travelling fees, etc need to be outlined before hand, not after. I cannot tell you how many times I've had to deal with this -- eg, if I've asked you to come volunteer for something, and then you give me a train ticket the day after for $100 (or even a bus ticket for $20) and then say that I should be reimbursing this stuff because that's how it's done, well, I can't. More likely than not if I know about extra costs before hand I'll figure out a way to avoid it altogether if it means getting someone else to do it or coming up with some other creative solution.

2. Do NOT negotiate up or down if a producer has already given you a number and you've started rehearsals. Work this out prior to doing anything. At the end of the day, if I am able to afford it, I'll give you more, but once we start rehearsals, I have no choice but to follow through with you and your talent and run myself ragged trying to figure out how to give you that extra $200 you are asking for.

3. If the producer hasn't asked for it, don't try to convince us that we need it. Especially not one week before the program. I've had people ask for extra mics which would just cause feedback on stage in such close proximity to one another, extra instruments, or extra artists. Are you kidding? If you're asking me a week before I have no budget for it and these things need to planned for well in advance.

4. Be on time.

5. Do NOT keep asking for complimentary tickets. Definitely don't ask me for complimentary tickets an hour before the show is about to start.

6. Just because it seems like we sold a lot of tickets, or a program was full, or we have the POTENTIAL to make a lot of money doesn't mean we made any money at all. Seriously. Between paying all the artists, the equipment, and the advertisement sometimes we don't see any green at all. Whenever artists actually see my final budget they're always a little bit shocked at how little we've made, or lost, in some cases.


1. Always be frank from the start about what you are able to provide.

2. Get a contract signed. Really. Anytime I have NOT had a contract signed prior to starting anything I've found myself in a deep pile of crap later on. This goes double for people who are friends first that you are working with. It both avoids any misunderstandings and there are a surprising number of people out there who are a little bit unstable and will screw you at the first chance they can, whether intentionally or not.

3. Don't get overly crazy about rules for a space. An air of casual elegance should be maintained at all times but if someone moves a curtain or asks to change a piece after they submit their initial proposal, keep an open mind. Flexibility is key in business and understanding when to fight your battles will keep you sane.

4. If something isn't an additional stress to change, and the artist wants it, there's no problem in making this happen. (Eg if an artist feels their name should be in 14pt vs 12pt font, as long as it all fits on the flyer and doesn't screw up the aesthetic it should be FINE to change).

5. If the artist hasn't asked for it, don't try to convince them that they need it. While on tour for Her Story, one of the producers tried to get us to compose completely new music, scrap half of the show, and put in some other pieces. Erm???

In conclusion, while these rules are good practice, and are generally the same both ways around, they aren't hard and fast. Sometimes you SHOULD listen to a producer who tells you a third person is needed. Sometimes you SHOULD change what the artist asks you to do even though you want it. But they are good rules to start with that save everyone a lot of pain and annoyances.