If you’re a new artist in London, these three words will shine in your mind as you see them for the first time:
Yes, if you’re new in this big city, you feel an immediate desire to PEE, and you’ll accept every opportunity you can get to PEE. You need a platform, a space where you can perform and show your work to the world. You also need to experience all sorts of challenges and get your own history in the arts business. Finally, you need to expose yourself and make sure that you’re seen by those who will make you build your career.
Be sure not to fall into the over-pee trap though, or you’ll end up with a crazy timetable of volunteer work that gets you nowhere.
THE OVER-PEE TRAP
During my first year in London, I was determined to take advantage of every opportunity that would come to me. One day I got in my college email the following message:
“I’m part of a nonprofit organization and they’re going to need a pianist for their launch event.There will be media coverage, wine, food and a whole load of high-profile guests (such as the dragon’s den investors, ambassadors of various countries, entertainment industry people etc.)
They’d need to play from about 6:30 for a few hours on and off — nice, relaxing, evening music.
Know anyone who might be interested? Be great if you can spread this around!’
Please let me know if anyone is interested! It is a good performance opportunity plus you’ll be seen by high-profile guests who might want to book you for their event!
The big trap of being a performing artist in London with a desire to PEE is that people start undervaluing the work of performers (specially student-performers). They don’t need to pay for our work, as there is always one person in this huge city who is willing (and desperate) to get the gig for free.
The graphic shows what I observed during the evening I took part in that event. It was a non-profit organisation, so they were selling expensive wine and doing all sorts of auctions. However, they did spend a lot of money in making the whole event very elegant, with great food and wine, wonderful marketing appearance and professional staff. I got to understand that the money raised in the event went to:
- the organisers, who needed money for future market advertisements and (obviously) for their salary;
- a considerable part for charity work, although far from the total of the amount;
- all the high-standard marketing presentation of the organisation, with logos, promo videos, merchandising;
- the stewards and catering staff, who assumed they weren’t there doing volunteering work.
And then there’s the background music provided by the volunteer entertainer. I played for 4 hours (!) with only one break for speeches. I spent money on travelling to the venue and time preparing repertoire.
Here’s the picture of me playing at that event. I didn’t get to talk with many people, as they were almost all gone by the time I finished playing. The famous network environment wasn’t very profitable for me, as I wasn’t presented to anybody. By the time I came off of the piano, nobody was interested in meeting anyone.
The worst thing was when I went to have the dinner that I was promised to, and the organisers told me that the food was all gone hours ago.
credit: MaryLu Tyndall
As I walk past from that very posh event I was involved in, I felt like I just had had the lowest point in my music career. It was a breaking point for me and my London adventure. From this night on, I started to appreciate the true value of my work. We shouldn’t give away our daily hours and hours of sweat, motivation and dedication for people who show no recognition or gratitude whatsoever.
My general advice to anyone that is starting an independent life in London – and this is the motto that has been driving me through this journey – is to have two simple sentences in one’s mind:
London is big. I am bigger.
London might give us everything we want (and by everything I mean everything). But we cannot give it all away and allow it to swallow us.
Be open, but be also very selective.