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.

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