Angela Myles Beeching, author of the book Beyond Talent – Creating a Successful Career in Music, visited Vienna in September for the Vienna Music Business Research Days 2016. In her conversation with the mdw Magazine, she provides a look into her work as a career adviser and coach for musicians while also talking about the role of the audience and the challenges young artists face today.
The music world has been transformed from the ground up. Do young people today have a harder time achieving success?
Angela Myles Beeching (AMB): First there’s the matter of how each individual person defines “success”. There are artists who want to spend their whole lives onstage, work with the best orchestras, or sing at the most renowned opera houses. And then there are others who want to form their own ensembles. What’s more, many musicians have a desire to teach and pass on their knowledge at some point. So I always recommend investigating what opportunities there are to work consistently towards these various goals. Being perfectly trained in a technical sense is no longer enough. Occupational profiles have been transformed, and the competition is huge. So those who want to be successful need to learn how to take responsibility for themselves. It’s all the more important to precisely define your goals: Who am I? What makes me who I am? What target audience am I addressing? How does my working environment look? How can I get noticed by those people in the music business who are relevant to me? “Career” is such a diverse notion.
How can a musician successfully walk this fine line between art and business? To many people, terms like “self-management” and “business plan” are still quite unfamiliar.
AMB: Well, I think that—by now—young musicians have developed a certain feel for these themes, which take on reality as soon as they get paid for going onstage. Economic aspects undeniably come into play here. It’s at that point, at the latest, that everyone needs to ask themselves: “Am I being paid appropriately?” And: “Can I actually live from this?”
You devote an entire chapter of your book to the audience. Why has dealing with the audience become so important?
AMB: Now more than ever, musicians have a social responsibility to promote a conscious approach to music. Everyone should have the opportunity to make contact with music. Music touches, moves, fascinates, and inspires us. But in order for this to happen, music has to be conveyed right—in a way that’s innovative, creative and courageous, and free of the classic dichotomy between active performer and passive recipient. People are hungry for music! And music’s diversity is so great that there really is something for everyone. I always say: “Find out who your audience is and build up a relationship with them.” In the USA, for example, more and more concert organisers expect the artists to address some introductory words to the audience—even when it’s not a contemporary music programme.
Do you think that the classic concert ritual, as we know it, has a future?
AMB: Parts of it certainly do. But the structures have changed—for the better. Genre distinctions are becoming increasingly blurred: we see contemporary composers working with sound collages, while artists and event organisers are constantly experimenting with new, unaccustomed concert formats. Today’s audience is no longer content to consume music in an exclusively passive context. And on the other hand, young musicians in particular are looking to create concert experiences that leave a lasting impression on their listeners. This gives rise to a very important emotional bond.
What challenges do musicians face today?
AMB: The CD and DVD markets have changed drastically, shifting away from physical distribution of CDs and towards a culture of digitisation and streaming. It used to be that the A&R managers of major record labels bore responsibility for artists’ success. But today, it’s largely the case that musicians need to shape their own futures and develop suitable concepts. The old dream of sending a demo tape to a record company and receiving that long-awaited record contract hardly ever comes true. On the other hand, conditions have never been a better for working according to the do-it-yourself principle. Those who know how the business functions need neither a label nor management to be successful. The countless new distribution channels and social media platforms are the best kinds of promotion that a young, yet-unknown artist can have. So many people prefer to guide their own careers—from communication to concert bookings to producing and distributing CDs. It allows them to be free and independent.
Can anybody approach you about personal coaching?
AMB: Of course! Whoever wants to get in touch can e-mail me, and then we can arrange an initial session via Skype or Facetime in order to get acquainted. If we decide to work together, we’ll meet twice a month for a coaching session. Between these sessions, there will be little homework assignments. Oftentimes, in the course of a conversation, I learn that the person has a secret project slumbering in their head. Some people have always wanted to write a book, form an ensemble, or commission a work for their instrument. Talking about such ideas and fleshing them out can help determine how they develop. I want to eliminate the fear that people have of tackling their projects.
Have you ever advised a musician against pursuing his or her career?
AMB: No. Being a musician is more than just a profession. For many people, it’s a calling. Music has to do with love and passion. But the actual music business is influenced by so many factors that you can’t always steer everything in a successful direction. So often, the people who come to me are at what looks like a dead end. What we do then is try to find new routes to success.
What, generally, would you like to tell young musicians in the midst of their training or at the beginning of their careers?
AMB: Learn the processes and be open to what’s going on around you. Get networked. Know your abilities well, and for those things that you can’t do yourself, bring competent partners on board. That saves you time, which you need for your artistic efforts. Music doesn’t always have to happen hidden away in private.