Unbeknownst to many of us who make our way through music school, becoming a classical musician in America means signing up to be the Chief Executive Officer of a very specialized, niche company whose sole product, work force and administration is a party of one. In addition to all the many, many important artistic skills one must acquire to even start this “company,” the positions of marketing and publicity manager, head of human resources, head of finances, research librarian, director of communications, website developer, digital content manager, and IT guy, not to mention travel agent, administrative assistant, and barista are all going to be filled (at least in the early days) by one person… you, the artist. Oh, and also, you’ll need to make incredible music with a unique flair that sets you apart from your competitors.
It is a lot. It really is.
For a working artist in America, the idea of toiling away alone in a room (or maybe a ruggedly fashionable loft) wearing all black and eschewing the norms of regular society is just a fantasy that has very little to do with the nuts and bolts making a living in the arts. Reconciling the fantasy (whatever yours may be) and the reality does not have to be painful, and it starts with baby steps. How do you write a symphony? One note at a time.
What does not work? Doing nothing. Learning nothing. Pretending that if you close your eyes long enough, these challenges will go away. The fact is, choosing to do nothing is still a choice, and I have seen too many young artists give up on their musical dreams because they did not take the steps to make sure their physical/tangible/practical needs were addressed, either on a business OR personal level.
I think the important thing is to start where you are, and, much like making exciting music, be willing to make a few (well-informed) mistakes at the beginning. You don’t need to have a forty-year plan for achieving financial independence laid out this afternoon, but maybe you could sketch out a realistic monthly budget. Maybe you could find a well-written financial education blog and commit to reading one post a week, on any topic that catches your eye. Open an online savings account and put a dollar in it every week. One day you will be able to increase that deposit, but for now you are working that savings muscle.
You don’t have to roll out an award-winning website tomorrow, but maybe you could start a professional page on Facebook or Instagram, or poll your friends about the best microphones to make excellent at-home recordings. You don’t have to apply to every summer program in the country this fall, but maybe you could make a list of young artist programs, what they are doing this summer, and what their application deadline and requirements are. Set a reminder on your calendar to make a firm decision about which five programs seem the most in line with your current skills and needs, and then set a reminder to make those applications.
You don’t have to be a superhero, but surround yourself with people who are interested in greatness, not just in the performance hall, but in life. You want to know people who are determined to get things done and who have skills you do not have yet. Make friends who inspire you.
Mostly, don’t let your beautiful work go to waste. Yes, the practical challenges to working as an artist in America are great, but if you have something special to share with the world, don’t let these things stand in your way. You are perfectly poised to develop the skills needed to become the CEO of your company of one. It is a responsibility, but it is also a privilege, and taking control of all elements of your career now means becoming a better artist, a better person, and literally making the world a better place.
About the Author
Director Tara Faircloth’s work has been seen widely across the nation. In recent seasons, she created new productions of The Little Prince (Utah Opera), Ariadne auf Naxos (Wolf Trap Opera), Il re pastore (Merola Opera), Agrippina (Ars Lyrica Houston), and L’incoronazione di Poppea (Boston Baroque). With a thriving career in regional houses, Faircloth also has a passion for financial education and offers a popular workshop entitled “Freelance Budget 101: What They Didn’t Teach You in Music School.” She is a drama instructor for the Houston Grand Opera Studio, and regularly coaches at Rice University.
To hear more from Tara, join us for her presentation, “Personal Finance for Artists” on May 28th, 2020 from 5:00-6:00PM EDT! The session will take place via Zoom. Click here to join!
Virtual Visionaries is a 10-week series in partnership with several of our peer programs at institutions across the country. Starting the week of May 25 through early August, this series brings together professionals across the performing arts for weekly virtual discussions on Zoom. We’ve selected a diverse group of leaders at various stages of their careers to engage in open conversations about topics ranging from personal finance issues, to developing identity-driven work, along with a variety of entrepreneurial approaches relevant to young arts professionals. Each week our guest speakers will also author a blog post, providing a sneak peek of the virtual sessions and providing a basis for our virtual discussion.