Can musicians just be musicians ?

Today, musicians are musicians-entrepreneurs: they are the unofficial bosses of a very small SME, and must therefore know all the ins and outs of how to carry out their project

Can musicians just be musicians ?

We often imagine the cultural field in France to be an ultra-organised sector: a subsidy system with several ticket offices, a strong institution involved in musicians' careers, a large network of music venues, specifically for our musics. That is to say, non-commercial, adventurous and demanding music that doesn't fill the venues. And which, thanks to the subsidies, do not need to be at capacity in order to have their place in the cultural landscape. A chance for our young musicians!


And yet, contrary to what one might think, the emerging musicians of the French jazz and improvised music scene (by emerging we mean musicians up to 35/40 years old) are no better equipped than their European colleagues for structuring their careers, quite the opposite! 


In some countries where musicians have the status of self-entrepreneurs, for example, students also learn how to organise their life as a musician: communicating, selling themselves, knowing their rights and administrative obligations, etc. This aspect of their future career is integrated into their apprenticeship because it is a necessary step. This is something that musicians in the contemporary music sector have completely integrated!


In France for a long time (this is beginning to change nowadays, but on the fringe) teaching in conservatories and music schools was confined to the practice of music and the instrument, composition technique etc. - and it must be said that the demands of the training are such that the students often do not have the time (nor the maturity, for that matter) to question themselves on the future structure of their career. And after all, why bother with skills that can be delegated to others as soon as they leave school?


Indeed, young musicians still often think that, like their predecessors who experienced the "golden age" of jazz, it is enough to be talented to succeed, that they will quickly find an agent who will do all this administrative work. At a time when many talented musicians are coming onto the market every year, and when there are fewer and fewer venues that can afford to programme this music, it is essential, at least initially, to know how to manage your career alone - if you want to develop your own projects of course! You can, of course, make your career just as a sidewoman or sideman and therefore not need to structure your career.. 


Let's not be naïve: unfortunately, there are very few professional bodies in the improvised music sector, especially for emerging musicians. Selling a young band is not what pays off in the short term, and the agents have to fight to make a living from their job too. It is very rare to sign with a touring agent at the beginning of a career. 

The other solution is to create the position of diffusion/administration/production manager for yourself. When a young company can invest a little money to pay a permanent staff member, the latter is often a beginner who has to be trained, and if s/he manages to hold on, s/he often ends up leaving for a company that will pay him or her better, leaving the musician alone with his/her files and lack of skills. 


Today, musicians are musicians-entrepreneurs: they are the unofficial bosses of a very small SME, and must therefore know all the ins and outs of how to carry out their project: disseminating their project and administering it, respecting the law, managing their team, both the musicians (in a place where the boundary between professional and friendly relations are often blurred) and the permanent staff. They must also have approached funders, promoters...

More and more, they also become programmers, organising concerts, inviting themselves in turns among collectives, sometimes on an international scale (Match and Fuse, Collisions Collectives...).


To clarify, there is no question of musicians becoming super-entrepreneurs who would no longer need a team; learning these skills can only be beneficial to the sector. Indeed, once their project has been developed, and ready to pass into the hands of a professional team (agent, communication officer, administrator, etc.), it is important that the project leader is familiar with the daily life of these professions, in order to work with them more effectively. An agent will more easily take a musician who has a solid catalogue, than a musician who is scattered, who has no tools, who is not trustworthy. 


There are many showcases and springboards that make musicians dream, and to which they rush to apply. Is it really useful to participate if you're not prepared to take advantage of this unique opportunity to perform in front of a professional audience?


This is why, while waiting for conservatories and music schools to address this subject fully, it is necessary that accompanying measures are formed to take up these issues. Whether with groups (Jazz Migration) or with individuals (Take Five), these accompanying programmes can fill a definite gap in the training of musicians. 


The next step would naturally be to develop a system on a European scale, which would enable the selection of musicians or groups with international line-ups from several countries. Musicians today are much more mobile than before, and the composition of groups is changing. 

Moreover, the playing field of diffusion cannot be limited to the borders of a single country, even for a vast country like France. A system on a European scale will make it possible to bring together the various players who accompany these musicians, in order to better meet their needs.


Tiphanie Moreau

Former Jazz Migration projet manager at AJC network