Category Archives: Performing Arts Advice

These posts talk about various challenges performing artists face, and how to navigate them

Taking the Stress out of Social Media

Image description: An image of a laptop keyboard is shown against a black background. Logos for various social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and youtube are situated on top of the keyboard.

I’ve always been an introvert. I enjoy my time to myself, and I use alone time to recharge. As I came into myself as an artist I realized some “extroverting” was required. Some recent examples were when I gathered up the 60 seconds of confidence required to talk to a clinician in a master class, or randomly approached an instrumentalist I didn’t know to play one of my pieces. Those moments of putting myself out there took effort – lots of it – which means that posting videos of myself on Tiktok dancing or playing music, curating the perfect caption for Instagram posts, or creating content to advertise my performances is overwhelming.

This month at the EXCEL Log, I’m hoping to overcome these fears and learn more about how to navigate social media. To help with this I reached out to EXCEL Program Assistants KJ Ludwig and Lesley Sung. KJ is a singer with Anytime Band and an Instagram wizard. Lesley is a 3rd year piano performance student, helps manage EXCEL social media and graphic design, and just so happens to be a TikTok icon.

I think what makes me so nervous about social media is not that I don’t know what to post, but that I don’t know HOW to post. I feel like sometimes when I share links to my recordings, or when I want to encourage people to attend a performance, I just don’t know how to convey that information in a digestible way. I end up with awkward long captions, weird pictures at odd angles, or random videos that don’t get any views. I asked KJ and Lesley for their top tips on how to navigate these areas, and this is what they recommend:

  • Create posts before, during, and after a performance

One key tip that KJ recommended was to keep your audience engaged throughout the performance process. She says: 

“It’s your job as the digital marketer to hold guests’ hands through the experience. Before the event, post a story of where to park with an image of the parking lot. For dinner or drinks before or after, feature local restaurants. Before the event, take a picture behind the curtain. Your audience will appreciate feeling a part of the journey” 

Keeping your audience engaged throughout a performance day can make them feel like they’re a part of the whole experience. This often leads them to engage more with your content because they get a more personal connection to you and your work.

  • It’s important to follow social media trends

This tip is especially important for TikTok. Lesley says that keeping up with social media trends allows you to get multiple views on your videos and posts. Now if you’re like me, you are probably wondering: “How do I even know what a social media trend is?” 

Trend is a very broad word that generally means “a prevailing tendency or inclination” or “general movement” but TikTok uses it to “describe the creative formats, ideas, and behaviors that get a lot of attention and in turn influence what people do on the platform.” When you open the TikTok app, you’re able to see numerous examples of what is currently trending. You can also explore various trends on TikTok’s creative center which allows you to get a detailed view of trending hashtags, creators, and songs. You can even browse what is trending in different countries, figure out what age range content is trending, see for how long a topic may be trending, and more. Lesley shared with me an example of one of her videos that blew up in 2021 she said: 

 “Back in 2021, there was a massive trend that was going around where people would utilize the Siri voice effect to make funny videos. I decided to hop on this trend using my actual personal experience to engage with my audience” 

@lesley_sung

✨My thoughts on stage when I’m about to perform✨ #fyp #foryoupage #pianist #performance #umich

♬ original sound – Lesley Sung
Image description: An embedded video from Lesley’s Tiktok. She is seen walking toward a piano and the caption “My thoughts on stage when I’m about to perform” is written under the image.

Social media trends aren’t only found on TikTok, though they tend to hit TikTok first and then migrate to other platforms. However, if you don’t have TikTok, you can still follow other creators in your niche, see what’s trending on Twitter, Youtube, Instagram or google, or join Facebook groups that reflect your audience to keep up with current trends.

  • Pay attention to how you frame your caption

Captions are a small detail that I never thought mattered, but it turns out the perfect caption can go a long way. KJ and Lesley say to try to keep your captions concise and to try to use captions that engage your audience. Social Media Today says to use captions that encourage conversations. This can be done by posting open-ended questions, so your audience is invited to share their opinions and connect with you. You can also use social media captions to add value to your audience’s day. Perhaps you can include a funny/satisfying pun, or share some inspirational advice, “giving a little something can encourage your audience to give a little back. They may thank you, or share their own take on your post.” 

Here’s an example of a great caption from KJ (notice the wonderful Mr. Roger’s neighborhood pun): 

Image description: an Instagram screenshot of KJ’s post. A crowd stands at the diag watching KJ perform with her band “Anytime band” A caption is written under the image that says “It’s a neighborly day in this beauty wood

And if all else fails and you can’t think of one, you can always look up engaging captions online.

  • Utilize Planning and Graphic Design Software

KJ and Lesley both agree that posting frequently will help you build your social media presence. However, you also need to be careful about posting too much, as that would overwhelm your audience and cause them to unfollow you. Christine Galbatto, a travel influencer and business educator for creatives, says that Instagram recommends posting “A reel 4 to 7 times per week, an in-feed photo 3 to 5 times per week, a set of stories 8 to 10 times per week, an IGTV and go live at least once per week.” However, if you don’t have the time for this kind of schedule that’s ok. Ultimately you need to set your post schedule and be consistent with it. Social media planning software allows you to set up your posts in advance. You can schedule when each post goes live to strike a balance between posting too little and posting too much, and be consistent with your posting schedule. KJ recommended a variety of resources for setting a posting schedule in the EXCEL Creative Marketing 101 Toolbox. 

In addition to knowing when to post, you should also make sure what you’re posting looks great. This is where graphic design software comes in handy. There are plenty of resources like Canva, Adobe Creative Cloud, Adobe Express, and Google Doc templates that can make your posts more engaging to viewers. It’s important to pay attention to the appearance of your posts because “94% of first impressions of a brand or company are design-related and 75% of people judge how credible a brand is based on its website.” This probably means that people will do the same thing for your posts on Instagram, or your videos on TikTok which definitely makes me nervous. However, I think using the software above could ease some of that stress. 

  • Post Consistently

This is probably the hardest and most important thing about social media. The key to building social media presence is consistency. This is especially difficult for me because as I said above, I’m an introvert, so posting on social media always takes a lot of energy. I am also always running around, and never have the energy to try to take the perfect video of my composing process, or pose for a photo before a concert.

As mentioned above,  KJ and Lesley both agree that posting regularly is key for building your social media presence. “If you go weeks between posts, it’s unlikely that your audience is seeing your message frequently enough for it to be memorable and make an impact.”  However, thankfully KJ says “If you don’t have the capacity to use all social media platforms, using one platform pretty consistently is a good thing.”

My to-do list for my social media future

After talking to KJ and Lesley, I’m still freaking out about social media (and how much work is involved), but I feel better because I have a clearer idea of how to approach it. I’m going to use this post for some personal accountability and set a few goals for social media this month. I’m going to:

  • Download a TikTok (nervous laughter) and plan my first video 
  • Schedule out posts on Instagram and Facebook using some of the social media planning software recommended above
  • Be more consistent about posting and set a dedicated time each week to schedule my social media posts. 

Thanks for tuning into the EXCEL Log. I hope by reading this you feel a little better about social media and think of ways to use it that work for you. Visit the EXCEL Log next month to find out if I stuck with my social media goals, and hear about more topics regarding life in the performing arts, arts entrepreneurship, and more. 

Resources 

For keeping up with trends: 

8 Tips for Finding New and Emerging Trends on Social Media

For creating a social media marketing plan

The Beginner’s Guide to Creating a Social Media Marketing Plan From Scratch

Scheduling software and calendar templates 

Buffer.com

Hootsuite Post Schedule App

For graphic design/content creation

How to Canva tutorial by Lesley

Creating YouTube videos

Learn more about KJ 

KJ stands on a bridge with trees in the background. Her hands are raised and she is smiling. She is wearing a blue jacket, a bright orange shirt and some jeans.

Karen Jane “KJ” Ludwig, [she/her] a curious Yooper, born and raised in Marquette, MI, is actively questioning the world-at-large, through a lens of painted color and song. KJ is dreaming BIG as she enters her Senior year at the University of Michigan, where she studies voice performance with Professor Stanford Olsen. KJ is working toward a multidisciplinary degree within the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, which allows the freedom to concentrate in music composition and performing arts technology, as well as minors in arts administration and entrepreneurship. There’s a world of pure imagination in KJ’s brain, and while creating, KJ feels the most at peace and present with the world at large. Learn more about KJ here: karenjaneludwig.com

Learn more and Lesley

Lesley Sung is currently a junior studying Piano Performance and Film, Television, and Media studies at the University of Michigan. Although her passion for music plays a huge role in her career path, her passion for creating content has grown in recent years due to the influence of Tiktok trends and viral videos. She has been managing multiple social media platforms such as those for clubs, Sigma Alpha Iota International Music Fraternity, and her parents’ donut shop Instagram/Facebook accounts. With these experiences, she was recently recruited to work with EXCEL as a Program Assistant that solely focuses on social media. Her role in EXCEL consists of creating graphic designs for newsletters, planning content for Facebook and Instagram, organizing events, and attending weekly meetings to discuss and plan for future projects.

The Legal Side of the Performing Arts: Trick…or Treat?

Image Description: A banner with white string and orange flags spells out the words “Happy Halloween” in black font. Jack-o-lanterns are also hanging from the banner, which is pictured in front of a black background.

I’m walking into a dark room, unable to see or hear anything around me. My stomach curls inward, trembling with fear as I open my laptop, and take in the details of…ENTERTAINMENT LAW. *DUN DUN DAAAA* 

Happy Spooky Season! This month at the EXCEL Log, we’re taking a look at entertainment law which I think is one of the scariest things about being a performing artist. What is it? How does it work? What’s an LLC? What are contracts? Copyright?? AHhhh. 

To help defeat the entertainment law demons, I talked to Schuyler Donahoe. He’s a 4th-year student in percussion performance with a minor in performing arts management. He also works as a program assistant for EXCEL, and we spoke about his career journey, and his decision to work specifically within the legal side of the performing arts.

After the isolation and canceled concerts due to the pandemic, Schuyler – like many of us may have – says he “lost his drive for performing a little bit.” It led him to wonder, “What else is there?” 

In his sophomore year, Schuyler got an internship with Just a Theory Press, a music publishing company that works to publish music in a fair and equitable manner. Working with Josh Devries, an EXCEL prize winner, at Just a Theory Press ignited the “legal spark” within him. 

“I was just doing a bunch of random stuff for him where he needed extra help: emails, taking notes, phone calls, those kinds of areas, but then he asked me to help with contracts,” says Schuyler. He thought he was going to hate it at first. But then, “​​I got more into it, and I was like oh, I really like this.” Soon, Schuyler realized that he wanted to help musicians with legal issues and started to actively pursue entertainment law by looking into law schools and talking to people who went to law school but had a music background.

Entertainment law is basically “a broad legal area that encompasses a wide variety of issues, (including intellectual property protection, endorsements, licensing and personal service agreements)” that performing artists may encounter. It involves business structures of organizations (e.g.: starting a non-profit music organization or arts collective), copyright (e.g.: obtaining rights to music compositions or sound recordings), or contract and labor laws (e.g.: a contract between two collaborators or labor unions respectively). 

Schuyler took classes in arts administration and the business side of the performing arts and did his own research to learn more about these issues and other legal situations artists were facing. Soon he came to EXCEL with his thoughts, he said, “ ‘Hey, I saw you have Grant writing modules. What do you think about having something like this for entertainment law? Is that something you’re interested in? Do you want some legal stuff?’ And EXCEL being EXCEL was like ‘yes, absolutely.’” 

EXCEL is always looking for new ideas and does everything possible to help bring student initiatives to life. The EXCEL Lab works to “explore students’ individual visions and goals, and then connect them with the resources they need to thrive.” Schuyler’s initial meeting with EXCEL served as a catalyst for the development of a much-needed resource for performing artists. 

He started off working as a contractor for EXCEL, slowly developing a document to present entertainment law to the SMTD community. Pretty soon, he was working for EXCEL in a program assistant capacity and developed “The EXCEL Lab Legal Resource, Module 1: Business Structures and Incorporation” the first in what will become a series of modules that demystify the “legal jargon” of entertainment law.

Many student artists within SMTD (myself included) want to express their discipline in innovative ways but have a hard time jumping through the many legal hoops involved. For example, I’m hoping to register my music as a composer, but I’m not sure of the steps I need to take. My friend is starting a non-profit to diversify flute performance repertoire but is overwhelmed by the process of establishing an LLC.

Schuyler said, “[I] thought of what people in the school were having issues with, and sort of narrowed it down to 3 different categories. The first module talks about how to start a non-profit, or how to start an LLC. for an organization. What do all these different business structures mean? What do I even do to start these?” This module is already available online. After reading it myself, I can say that it delivers on its promise of being accessible to the public. It explains different types of business structures, the definition of some of the common legal terms associated with them, and provides resources for further reading. 

The second module will be all about copyright, exploring topics like how to avoid copyright infringement, and what to do if someone infringes on your copyright. I can’t wait for this one to come out. As an oboist and composer, I’m often confused about the process of performing arrangements of other’s songs or how to protect my work from theft. Module 2 will be available later this semester. 

“The third module, which is a work in progress, is going to be all about contracts. It will answer questions like: What should I be looking for in a contract? What if I’m writing one, what do I need to make sure is in there? The modules just have a lot of different things that will make sure that musicians are well protected” explained Schuyler. 

The modules provide an accessible starting point for musicians to tackle the mysteries of entertainment law in an understandable and efficient way. Schuyler says that: “One motivation for this project comes from the fact that musicians don’t have time to do anything. Time is a valuable resource that we have.” 

As a performer-composer getting 2 degrees, working 3 jobs, and gigging I completely agreed with this sentiment. Every minute is valuable. I appreciate how Schuyler uses his music background to inform how he approaches entertainment law. There are many resources on legal issues out there, but I feel like this one is special because it really approaches entertainment law from the lens of a performing artist. Schuyler pointed out that: “If someone said: ‘Here are some of the things that you need to know in one document.’ That would save you from a lot of random Google searching.” The modules aren’t exhaustive, but Schuyler hopes that they can give musicians a starting point so that when they go to a colleague, to EXCEL, or to an attorney for help they have a “grounded foundation” to build upon. 

After learning about Schuyler’s journey and the canvas modules, I asked him to offer up his top three tips for navigating the legal side of the performing arts: 

1.) Know the basics of copyright and be careful of copyright infringement. 

Schuyler points out that “there are three aspects of copyright that I wish everyone was aware of: The first is Protection is present at the creation of the work.” 

Schuyler says that this means “If you make something it is automatically protected under copyright.” If you write a song and it’s on some staff paper in your house, it’s protected. Did you write a script in a notebook and throw it under your bed? That’s protected too. The second thing Schuyler wants everyone to know about copyright is that “If someone steals your work that’s illegal. However, you do have to register your work with the copyright office to enforce the copyright.” 

Registering your work with the copyright office involves going to copyright.gov and following the procedures listed for your respective discipline. For the performing arts, this involves filling out a form, and submitting the work that you wish to be registered in a certain medium- either printed or electronic- depending on the circumstances. You will then have to pay a registration fee. Click here for more information

Schuyler says, “The 3rd thing to be careful about is sampling or using other people’s work, even if it falls under fair use. If someone says, ‘you stole my thing!’ they can sue you and dealing with lawsuits can be very expensive” Just as copyright can be beneficial to creatives, it also can get uncomfortable and spooky if you use someone’s work without their permission, so be careful everyone! 

2.) Don’t be afraid of uncomfortable conversations during collaboration.

It’s important to discuss ownership in formal collaboration at the beginning to avoid personal and legal consequences. 

An example Schuyler shared is, “let’s say two people are in a duo, and one person composes a piece for their instruments. Person A could be under the impression that [the two musicians] would share the copyright and Person B could think that they would own the copyright for the whole thing. If this project starts to make money, it can get dicey if these parameters weren’t discussed beforehand.” 

Schuyler and I agreed that performers and creatives are very particular about their work, and the credit that is due when it is created. Artists put a lot of time and effort into their craft, and everyone wants proper recognition for that work. You don’t want to lose important relationships with colleagues over disagreements in ownership or end up dealing with an expensive lawsuit due to a miscommunication between two parties. 

3.) Take your time. 

This one is simple. Schuyler says “The legal stuff is really complicated. There are so many moving parts, and it’s okay to ask for help, it’s ok to google stuff, ask colleagues, or set up a meeting with EXCEL. Don’t fall into this ‘musician trap’ where you need to like, know everything. Take the time to get the legal stuff right the first time.”

After talking to Schuyler, the legal side of the performing arts seems less scary. This conversation was just a starting point, and I’m sure I have plenty to learn when it comes to entertainment law, but I feel like I learned some of the basics. To the artists in the SMTD community: I hope this article made legal stuff less spooky, but if you’re still scared, check out the EXCEL Legal resource. I promise it will be a treat, not a trick ;). 

Thanks for tuning into the Excel Log! Check below for some more resources and to learn more about Schuyler, and I hope hearing about our conversation allows you to think of new ways to enhance your artistic career! 

Sources/Additional Resources: 

Entertainment Law Overview – an overview of the basics of Entertainment law

All You Need to Know About the Music Business by Donald S. Passman – Schuyler calls this the music industry bible

All You Need to Know About the Music Business  -A link to check out “All You Need to Know About the Music Business” from the UM library 

Student Legal Services– A legal resource for University of Michigan Students

Featured image source

Schuyler Donahoe is pictured smiling. He is wearing glasses and a blue shirt and are standing in front of a brown and white background.
Image Description: Schuyler Donahoe is pictured smiling. He is wearing glasses and a blue shirt and is standing in front of a brown and white background.

Schuyler Donahoe (he/him) is a senior majoring in Percussion Performance and minoring in Performing Arts Management and Entrepreneurship. In the EXCEL Lab, his primary work is to expand SMTD legal resources by creating a series of modules called the “EXCEL Legal Resource” as well as curate events around legal topics.

How to Have More Than 10 People at Your Performance*

Hello, my pretties!!! It’s January 17, 2022, aka MLK day, aka day 2 of Mary Sue Coleman’s presidency, aka day 362 of waiting for my student loans to be forgiven, aka day 58,052 of waiting for my 40 acres and a mule. But who’s counting?

Speaking of counting, or pretending not to… Let’s have some real talk about student turnout during recital season. There’s nothing worse than stressing about your performance for months, pulling all-nighters, driving yourself to the brink of insanity in the name of art, getting to the opening night and there are 10 people there, 8 of which are from your studio and are required to be there.

Let’s leave poorly attended performances in 2021. Here is the student guide on how to have more than 10 people at your performance/recital/play/musical/installation/weird performance art thing that even you can’t explain.  

1. Give The People What They Want

I know, I know darling, you’re an artist. Your genius is constantly misunderstood, and you’re trying to give the masses culture, BUT sometimes your audience is asking for hot dogs, and you’re trying to sell caviar. It is important to make sure that the content of your performance is something that your audience is interested in. 

2. Screw Convention and Focus on Innovation

Break out of the mold! Don’t be afraid to push the expectations of your art form as far as you can get away with. Who says classical recitals have to be traditional and high brow? Sarah Best, a Michigan DMA student, just gave an INCREDIBLE recital that was less a recital and more a one-woman cooking show from the fifties. She had commercials, she had costume changes, she had fights with the pianist on stage, she baked a hilariously terrible chocolate cake right in front of our eyes, and her singing was impeccable. An icon. Let’s all be like Sarah! 

3. Talk to Your Audience

Do you really need program notes? What would it look like if you didn’t, and instead you talked to your audience in between pieces? It’s a great way to increase audience engagement and add your own personal touch.

If you HAVE to have a program, get creative with it. I mean, If we’re going to kill a tree, let’s make it worth it, am I right? Make it interactive, add QR codes. Instead of performer bios, try two truths and a lie. Pressed for space? Cut performer bios and link to their social media handles.

Whatever you decide, think about the program from your audience’s perspective rather than your own. Use that space to tell us why the piece matters to you, not just when the composer lived and died (short of your teacher, no one cares). We aren’t coming for a music history lesson; we’re coming to be entertained.

4. Market to Your Desired Audience

Posters are nice… but I’ll be honest, I don’t know that I’ve ever decided to go to something because I saw a poster for it. If you’re a crusty millennial like myself, talk to one of the youths, TikTok is where it’s at. If you need inspiration, check out UM Social, particularly @cdiamzon, for some quality TikTok ads.

5. Plan Ahead (I Know It Sounds Crazy)

Do not schedule your recital in the last possible weeks. I repeat, DO NOT schedule your recital in the last possible weeks. Perform at the beginning of the semester. You will be exhausted; your friends will be exhausted; your collaborators will be exhausted. Don’t do it to yourself. Schedule your performance at the beginning of the semester when everyone’s well-rested from break and before they’ve had time to realize that they overcommitted yet again.

6. Have Multiple Performances

Your degree may only require one performance, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop there. Find a second location and offer two days for your performance. Scheduling is a nightmare, and more options makes it more likely that people will be available to come (plus, all your opening night nerves will be gone). Performances should be like pringles — you can’t have just one.

7. And if All Else Fails….

Bribe them. Just kidding, just kidding…….

9 Ways to Deal with the Existential Dread of Returning “Back to Normal”

Hello friends! I’ve missed you, well I haven’t met many of you, but that still counts. Welcome back! In the midst of the utter despair, loss, and fear of the past year we’ve survived (go us!), and some of us have even thrived! We have taken naps during the day, we’ve stopped buying $6 Grande MochaChocolatta ya ya’s from Starbucks, we’ve finally united as a country around the shared belief that yoga pants are high fashion, and we’ve learned that some meetings really could have been emails. And now, after a year of pandemic, masks, uncertainty, and social distancing, we’re finally back to normal another year of pandemic, masks, uncertainty, and social distancing. As my inbox begins to flood with virtual orientations and class permission codes, I know I’m not the only one fighting off the Sunday Scaries about the first day of school and the “Return Back to Normal” that seems anything but normal. Luckily for you, the EXCEL team is here to offer you 9 Ways to Deal with the Existential Dread of “Returning Back to Normal.”

  1. First and foremost watch season 13 of Rupaul’s Drag Race (if you haven’t already watched this you are in for a treat!) and then schedule an appointment to discuss with Caitlin, EXCEL’s illustrious Career Services Coordinator, here.(Not gonna lie; this may be the single thing that got me through the pandemic). Or of course if you want to schedule an appointment with Caitlin to talk about any and all things related to arts entrepreneurship or fundraising she’s happy to talk about that as well!
  2. Begin a daily meditation practice! Follow Music & Mindset, a podcast series to get weekly tips on how to incorporate more mindfulness into your life made by Gala Flagello, AMAZING composer extraordinaire and EXCEL’s Program Assistant.
  3. If you have all the feels and just need to make some art to process this past year…get some coins to fund your vision!! Apply to the EXCEL enterprise fund, the EXCEL Prize, or if your project has a mental health focus apply for a Mental Health Awareness Microgrant. There are SOO many resources at your disposal. 
  4. Enroll in Marc Arthur’s Art Activism course and prepare to take over the world but for good!
  5. Enjoy live performances again, and some healthy escapism, with Musket’s upcoming performance of “Funny Girl.” AND if you’re interested in producing, see if you can liaise with EXCEL’s Dean’s Liaison, Kaitlyn Tom, the producer of Funny Girl. Shoot her a message over insta!
  6. Depressed about losing agency over your day to day routine with this return to in person semester? Enroll in Professor Dworkin’s Arts Entrepreneurship class and learn how to take back some level of control over your life and career as an Arts Entrepreneur (It doesn’t have to end just because the world is opening back up).
  7. Do not walk– RUN– to Handshake to schedule a coaching session with Jonathan Kuuskoski. This miracle worker may not be able to turn water into wine, but he’s the next best thing. Truly, no exaggeration, if you have thoughts, questions, hopes about what you’re trying to do with your life and career; if you aren’t sure how to spell entrepreneurship; if you are about to graduate and are staring into the abyss; or if sending emails gives you anxiety, schedule an appointment here. Worth your time or your money back guarantee!*
  8. Rock out to let off all that extra anxiety with @anytime.the.band and hear Karen, EXCEL’s intrepid Social Media Intern and Program Assistant, belt for her life.
  9. MOST importantly. If you’re a dweeb and do nothing else on this list— Subscribe and follow the EXCEL Log for objectively amazing content, which 9/10 dentists agree will keep existential dread at bay.

*Please note that all career service coachings are free of charge but I’m happy to discuss a return of your $0 payment in the inconceivable event of your dissatisfaction.

**Yes, here at the EXCEL Lab we have been known to participate in shameless plugs from time to time. But we’re pretty awesome so it’s totally worth it! Really really come check us out!