Brewing Up a New Music Concert: the finances, the timelines, the troubles

One of my life goals is to encourage transparency around making a living as an artist–how much we make, how we do it, and all of the gritty details that are rarely-of-ever discussed in the real-world, home, or academia. So in this low key rando blog post, I will discuss in depth, the collaboration, finances, curve-balls, and details behind ÆPEX presents: Pantomime, a concert of new music by diverse, living composers, hosted in a brewery in Kalamazoo, MI.

Collaboration is key

Making cool things in this world is even better with collaboration. I am fortunate to have friends and colleagues in the organization ÆPEX Contemporary Performance out of Ann Arbor, MI. By aligning our goals, it was easy to join forces to present an evening of new music. However, collaboration is not always easy. The more partners you bring together, the more resources, but you also create more potential for conflicts. Before we get to that, let’s look at how this project came together.

Money is essential, most of the time

This project started in the Fall of 2017, when we applied for a KADI (Kalamazoo Artistic Development Initiative) grant through the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo, to simply present a concert of diverse, living composer. Full transparency: this grant is for individuals, so I applied for it as an artist (not an org) in collaboration with ÆPEX, which required me to have some skin in the game (a composition on the program, and acting as a fiduciary). We asked for $4,500 but received partial funding, amounting to $2,916. I received 90% of that in May 2018 and have been sitting on it until now, November 2018. ÆPEX has agreed to cover any remaining costs, which we are currently whittling down.

So where does this money go? Mostly to paying musicians (from Ann Arbor and beyond) to rehearse and perform the works we have programmed. Here is the program:

  1. “Displaced” by Christopher Biggs
  2. “Sure baby, mañana” by Sarah Gibson
  3. “Piano trio No. 1” by me
  4. and a new piano trio titled “Glitch” commissioned for this concert, by Nina Shekhar

Musician fees, which are modest (even for Michigan) amount to over $2,400 [at the time of writing, we are still working on the budget after the re-programming of Unsuk Chin’s cosmigimmicks, with Sarah’s piece]. This falls in line with my philosophy of investing in people first. Pay your players decently- they have to practice what is usually very challenging music, then perform it for an expecting audience.

Other expenses fall into targeted Facebook advertisement [$45], piano moving and tuning [$595], live streaming software subscriptions (Switcher Studio) [$39], and the commissioning fee [$400]. For other potential costs like the venue, chairs, stands, stand lights, equipment to stream, personnel time-we relied heavily on in-kind donations. In-Kind donations are services provided at no cost, by invested partners. For this concert, this includes:

  1. Kevin’s time (conductor)
  2. Garrett’s time (admin)
  3. Adam’s time (operations, organizing, promoting, etc)
  4. The venue (thank you Boatyard Brewing Company!)
  5. iPads borrowed from work for live streaming
  6. Chairs and stands and lights I have yet to procure
  7. Printing posters from various places of work
  8. Using the sound system, students and, faculty from Western Michigan University (for Biggs’ piece)
  9. leaning into friends to help the day of, and with promotions
  10. A radio interview and website post at WMUK 102.1
  11. …probably more stuff I forgot about

In-kind, aside from financial savings, builds relationships in meaningful ways. It’s also not usually a burden for the giving organization or business-at most, it is some extra time schlepping stuff for you and your org.

For the numbers-minded: without In-Kind support, we could be looking at an additional $3,500+ in expenses.

Venue, Ticketing, and Marketing

Procuring the venue was not an easy task. We started from a simple goal: get outside of academia. There were easy connections with Kalamazoo College and Western Michigan University, but to a certain extent, we felt limited by the perception of a concert in a standard recital hall.

I had a simpler goal: I wanted craft beer and new music. This was not the easiest task. Many local breweries just didn’t have the right space, or space rental was a little beyond our financial capabilities. After exploring some great rooms and writing a lot of emails, I ended up with a giant list of options, met many awesome people, and found a few more leads, which led me to Boatyard Brewing Company, where the concert is taking place.

Timeline

Believe it or not, we started conceiving this concert project in the spring of 2017, a year and a half before the actual event takes place. The first grant submission on May 15, 2017, did not fund the proposal. Instead, they invited me to re-apply for December 15, 2017. With more clarity in our writing surrounding the nature of the collaboration between ÆPEX and myself, I re-applied in December and received partial funding. From there we could start to make arrangements. Here is a rough estimate of the timeline:

May 2017: apply for grant, get denied

December 2017: re-apply for grant, get partial funding

February 2018: collaborate on another concert at Kalamazoo College in the meantime

May 2018: identify composer to commission and select date range for concert

June 2018: create commissioning agreement with Nina Shekhar

August 2018: identify venue and lock in dates

September 2018: start to coordinate marketing and performers

October 2018: We can’t perform the Unsuk Chin so we regroup! Although it was a piece we were hoping to present, we saved some money and we programmed an awesome piece by Sarah Gibson. Secure sound system and staffing for Biggs’ work.

November 2018: Marketing on Facebook, making images, posters, rehearsal schedules, WMUK 102.1 interview, all operations leading up to the event

These processes are messy, fluid, and unpredictable, especially since ÆPEX is a young organization and I am moonlighting as a composer/presenter, so time and resources are scarce.

Return On Investment / Impact

What do we get from spending a year and a half on a relatively small new-music concert with very-little-to-no built in audience, no series, no guarantees?

This is always a tricky one for me to settle with. At the end of the day, as the point person for all operations, marketing, and fundraising, I work really really hard to not make any money. At least I zero out on actual cash. So what do I get? What does ÆPEX get?

Here’s what we get: experience, record of a successful event, establishment of a brand [ÆPEX and/or myself] in the Kalamazoo scene, emails of enthusiastic new music lovers, social media presence, radio interviews, good karma from the community and other composer, and a performance and recording of the (hopefully) successful event.

We are playing the long game. I am convinced at least half of the successful composers in the world made it through perseverance. You can argue with me on that one on Twitter.

Hopefully the transparency of this article was helpful to my colleagues, fellow composers and musicians, artists, and students. If you would like to learn more about the event, you can find it on Facebook here:

ÆPEX presents: Pantomime

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