Allison Bent: Advice for Young MusiciansInterview
1. Great technique, being a good colleague, and networking are all valuable elements to a professional singer; how does that translate for professional instrumentalists?
Obviously, as an instrumentalist you want your playing to be at an extremely high level, so I won’t say much about that, BUT it is absolutely not the only piece of the puzzle. I would say “being a good colleague” trumps them all. There are a lot of amazing musicians everywhere, but being easy to work with will get you hired over other people every time. Whether it’s for chamber performances, solo recitals, or orchestras, I’ve seen personality hired over ability (when difference in ability is minimal) on many occasions. On the subject of networking, I agree. Networking is a necessary part of this industry, but needs to be to be handled in a tactful way. Networking works best when it comes from a genuine interest in getting to know people without coming across as expecting anything in return. Fostering genuine and long lasting relationships is extremely important in this industry which goes back to the part about being a good colleague. It’s a very small world and you never know who you might work with down the line.
2. What are some of your own tips for young musicians in the professional circuit?
A tip I’ve been thinking about a lot over the past couple of years is that young musicians need to take time in the day to focus on the business aspect of their music career. Whether that is updating their resume, getting new headshots, putting a press kit together, having coffee with a mentor, or thinking about programming possibilities, all of these aspects are necessary on a regular basis for succeeding as a musician in addition to practicing. Many young musicians are caught when they need these items and they are not ready, and then lose opportunities as a result. Innovative and interesting programming ideas are very important when trying to get booked for a solo or chamber recital by a presenter. Presenters of concerts are eager to find musicians who come to them with fully formed programs so that they can judge whether you might be a good fit for their series’ audience and also so that they can market the concert properly. Lots of young musicians want to be engaged by presenters, and the more prepared you are, the more likely you’ll be chosen to play on their series. If all goes well, then you will probably be reengaged in future seasons.
3. What are some surprises that young artists encounter about the industry once they leave school?
There are lots of tough parts about finding your way as a professional musician after school. The parts that were hardest for me for not necessarily surprises, but they were issues that I hadn’t totally prepared myself for. Having time and a place to practice was an issue that came up right away. I began to rent a studio that I paid for monthly, which was a new cost for me. I ended up having to work more at my part-time jobs in order to afford the extra cost of the studio, but that also meant less time to practice as a result. I had to work more to practice less, which meant my practicing had to be that much more efficient.
I think a lot of young musicians are unsure how to get work when they leave school. Some will be fortunate enough to win a position with an orchestra, but others will be freelancers, soloists, and chamber musicians who will have to actively seek out work. From my personal experience and from managing other artists, it’s best to be versatile. The talented and smart young musicians who are succeeding in Canada are artists who really “get ” the current environment and diversify by going to conferences across the country and showcasing themselves as classical soloists or chamber groups to presenters in addition to subbing in orchestras or accompanying other musicians. This combination of work can be very artistically satisfying and financially successful. A surprising number of young musicians are not aware of the showcase circuit and the amount of work you can get from it. Canada has some amazing touring organizations like Prairie Debut, Debut Atlantic, and Jeunesses Musicales, that can really help launch the careers of young Canadian musicians. In order to apply for most of these organizations you need to have press kit and programming material ready, which goes back to my advice in number 2 about having that always up to date.
Overall, Canada’s classical music job market is not all doom and gloom. There are a lot of opportunities out there for professional level work, it’s just a matter of being aware of how to access them. Those who are open to change and are willing to put the work into building relationships and using the resources that are available to them will have the best chance at succeeding in the current climate of non-popular music in Canada.