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The Business Side Of Making An Artist

A Delusion of Student Life.
ONE of the cruelest experiences that confronts the student with ambitions to become a great interpretative artist is the disillusionment which he must suffer at the end of the period allotted to preparation for his public work. In the greater number of cases the young artist has been divorced from the world and its ways during his entire career as a student. He sees nothing of the methods employed by men who buy and sell things for which there may be a public demand. His artistic training, environment, and temperament have taught him to neglect, if not to eschew, matters of business. If he is an enthusiast, he has probably condemned commercialism as ruinous to the artistic and spiritual side of his work. In a sense he is right, and the student who mixes his ideals with dollars is very often the student who is obliged to wonder why success is so tardy in coming.
 
schumann-heink.jpgIt would be pitiful, indeed, if students were to be robbed of that confidence of certain success which in many cases pilots the young artist over much of the drudgery and difficulty of his academic work. It is extremely unfortunate for the student to have concealed from him the stern principles of human realism which must govern his life precisely the same as they govern the lives of all living men. The life of the musician is far from being a dream. He must look to provide for himself and his as becomes his station and desires. Good fortune and prosperity never injured the work of Brahms, Beethoven and Wagner, nor can we estimate the extent to which the genius and talent of Schubert, Raff and Mozart might have reached had they been more largely blessed with this world’s goods. It is wrong, then, for the student to ignore completely the business side of his work and to deceive himself by the erection of tenantless castles in the air which the first bombardment of public experience must shatter to ruins.
 
 
Music and Economics.
Students are apt to imagine that as soon as a certain degree of excellence is attained their talents will become marketable. It is only after much bitter disappointment that they find that even proficiency is but one of the many, many factors in success as a public artist. As far as the present writer’s experience has extended, he has observed that the young students who desire to become professional musicians almost invariably have a career as a solo artist in view. Teaching is rarely considered, and yet in the majority of cases teaching must be resorted to as a means of livelihood.
 
If young people starting to study music could have the facts of the situation pointed out to them very clearly and receive advice from experienced musicians, in no way biased by opportunity for gain, much misery and ruin might be averted. It is really a very important matter and it is most deplorable to see many young people drifting into music and pursuing methods which can only place them in very undesirable positions. Again, many very talented and really worthy students are deprived of the proper support and music loses a vast number of faithful servants and earnest disciples in this manner.
 
Recently there has been some note in the “German papers of a letter sent to a prominent Leipzig journal by a musician who had passed all of the State Conservatory examinations with high honors, had lived an apparently exemplary life, and was at the same time unable to find an open position as a conductor, instructor in a conservatory, or as a solo artist. The positions were all filled and failure was inevitably his. The musician’s misfortune could very probably be traced to the time-old economic law of supply and demand. German students trained rigidly in certain prescribed lines and legally obliged to take the same prescribed examinations are often turned out so much alike that individualism is overwhelmed. There is always room for the individual, but little room for the duplicate product of a music factory. The student must keep before him that there is always a demand for the individual far greater than the demand for the conventional, and that if he will succeed it will be by the development of his own ideas, his own point of view, rather than the acceptance of all traditions and conventions as immutable.
 
Artist and Manager.
After the completion of a long period of preparation, the student is brought to the realization that not until his talents have been legitimately advertised can he hope to realize upon the investment of time and money he has already made. The young artist plays before a few friends, who are accordingly delighted and kindly arrange to take him before more influential friends, who in turn admire his work and tell him how successful he will be. The success, however, is not forthcoming. If he is impractical, he commences a long series of cynical reflections upon the lack of appreciation of high artistic efforts in America or the futility of an American artist’s attempting to compete with a foreign artist, or perhaps the melancholy career of the artist himself. If he is practical he goes at once to a manager and places his talents in his hands for sale. He is then brought to realize, very probably for the first time, that to sell his talents against competition on all sides he must first make a reputation, and furthermore a reputation right here in America. He also learns that so long as he desires to merchandise his attainments this very reputation must be nurtured and sustained as carefully as a child. The making of this reputation is, in a sense, the making of the business of the artist and the regulation of his public work. It frequently depends as much upon the judgment, tact and shrewdness of the manager as upon the artist, although a manager is entirely unable to make a salable reputation for an artist who is unable to substantiate the manager’s claims.
 
 The importance of the manager or impresario is, and always has been, so great that if the history of music were to be completely told, the position of these people, working behind the scenes, would form a very conspicuous part of the narrative. They determine the best methods of reaching public attention and retaining public interest. They even go so far at times as to influence the artist as to what compositions to perform. How astute, how politic, how tactful, how genial, how insistent, how patient, how energetic, how honest a really successful manager must be, the public will rarely realize. His position is not unlike that of the musical publisher who determines the worth of this or that musical composition and thus influences the musical growth of the country.
 
Probably it would be difficult to imagine a more sensitive class of persons to deal with than artists. Anyone who has weathered over a quarter of a century of their disputes and idiosyncrasies, and still enjoys the patronage and confidence of public artists is certainly above the ordinary mortal. Such a man was the late Major James Pond. Another such man in the musical field is Mr. Henry Wolfsohn who has been brought into personal business relationship with more of the great visiting artists than any living man in America. He has managed no less artists than Wilhelmj, Joseffy, Lehmann, Alvary, Emil Fischer, Emma Juch, Minnie Hauk, Anton Schott, Mathilde Materna, de Pachmann, Pugno, Bloomfield-Zeisler, Rosenthal, Ondricek, César Thomson, Thibaut, Kreissler, Van Rooy, Burgstaller, Suzanne Adams, Campanari, Mr. and Mrs. Henschel, Schumann-Heink, Gerardy, H. Becker, Dr. Richard Strauss, and very many others. Mr. Wolfsohn has been a manager for over a quarter of a century, and during this time artists under his direction have earned a sum of money now considerably up in the millions. His opinions as to the best method for the young musician to pursue are therefore extremely valuable.
 
In the recent conference with the writer upon the subject of this article, Mr. Wolfsohn said:
 
“It is often my unfortunate task to disillusionize many young musicians, and make plain to them that success as an artist is, in some particular case, so doubtful that I cannot deem it expedient to invest my time and energy in assisting to sell their talent and attainment. I wish that many of those who have come to me could have been rightly directed at the start and thus have spared the years of toil and thousands of dollars spent in the pursuit of the impossible.
 
“In the first place, I do not consider a European training or a European reputation as absolutely essential for an American success, as was the case some years ago. In Europe, while the teachers are not all unscrupulous by any means, a greater majority of them seem to have no hesitancy in taking American dollars and assuring the pupil that all kinds of success must ensue. Every winter I see cases of deliberate swindles of this kind, and in many instances it would seem that the common sense of the victim should have made the assurances of the teacher highly ridiculous. Girls with ludicrously bad voices have been made to believe that some magic of method could turn them into great artists in a few years. Failure after such promises is bitter indeed, but instances of such failures are pathetically frequent. To make plain to an aspiring artist that the chances of success in most all cases are exceedingly low is often more disagreeable than one might imagine. This is not a pessimistic outlook, but the conviction evolved from years of experience.
 
“The young musician with high artistic motives should eagerly seek the advice of experienced managers before it is too late, to direct his talents into some direction likely to be more profitable to him and to the world at large. The best managers do not charge for consultation or advice, as they desire to be entirely and absolutely independent and unbiased in their judgment. Beware of the man who solicits a fee for giving you his opinion. I do not consider myself ultra conservative, but unless I am very thoroughly convinced that success is likely, I make it a point to advise the young artist to settle in some smaller city and devote his time to teaching, directing and composing, as the case may be. Few take my advice, but prefer to risk the chance of a success, and seem willing to endure the agony and humiliation of a half success. In several cases, however, I have had very gratifying reports from young musicians who have earned fine livings and creditable positions in small centres. Keep away from the great cities unless you are big enough to be at the top of the heap. The large cities are crowded with teachers, and competition is most severe, while the smaller cities need thoroughly competent men and women to promote the interests of the ‘divine art.’ The chances of success as a great public artist are about one in one hundred; of success as a fine artist, but of lesser station than the very great artist, are about five in one hundred. By this I mean that my experience has taught me that only about five per cent, of those who struggle and aspire can have their ambitions gratified. It gives me great pleasure to make this statement as I feel a sort of duty to the student body to make this condition very clear. It will not in any way dull the zest of the student with a mission, but will spur him on to greater heights.”
 
The failure of a musician is not always due to lack of talent or even proficiency. Poor business management is often responsible. The young artist should therefore realize how extremely important it is that the greatest discretion, energy and intelligence should be exercised in presenting his talents to the public. The prizes are great at the top, and those near the top are alluring, but the chances of reaching these are so hazardous that unless great precautions are taken the artist’s investment of time and money will become a speculation as insecure as a play at Monte Carlo.

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