IAMA shake it off for 2016 conference

IAMA has taken inspiration from Taylor Swift for its 2016 conference and selected the theme Shake It Off. Picked by conference chairman Peter Tra, programmer for host venue TivoliVredenburg in Utrecht, the idea is to embrace a spirit of change in the world of classical music and artist management. To find out what that means IAM spoke to IAMA chief executive Atholl Swainston-Harrison.

Why the theme Shake It Off?
Peter was listening to Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off and thought it appropriate. It also fits with his venue, TivoliVerdenburg, which is probably the most unique in the world in what it tries to achieve. Opened in July 2014, it combines the nightclub of Tivoli with the much-loved older concert hall Vredenburg, where symphony concerts are held (and where even the Beatles once played). It is a bold experiment in artistic confluences and getting multiple audiences under one roof.

What trends are you seeing in this area and do you think orchestras are struggling to break new ground?
Orchestras may see classical contemporary as shaking off programming that has become too narrow. However, audiences are often reluctant to try new things, which makes it a challenge.

Contemporary music attracts copyright costs and does not always ensure increased box office sales. The definite plus is that creating an online identity is cost-effective and possible for most. The question still needs to be asked in all new developments: why and how does it play into an overall strategic vision for artistic identity?

Some classically trained musicians may not want to start performing at concerts that are all bells, whistles and light installations. How can this issue be addressed?
The orchestra needs to be inspired to change their commitment to new things. Dressing concerts up, though, will not necessarily mean “shaking it off”. There is also the audience to consider, who have generated their own set of expectations.

What is your take on the trend for orchestras to experiment with new and unusual venues?
Acoustic or electronically delivered music will have their issues with imperfect venues. The musicians and audience should not be let down. However, as Samuel Steinemann – one of our IAMA 2016 panellists – says, sometimes the crazier the better; even Pedalo symphonies in the middle of Swiss lakes!

As the younger generation ages their tastes may change and then they too could prefer classical music to clubbing. Does this mean you need to give the audience time and space to find you, rather than chasing them?
In his keynote address conductor Markus Stenz will make the case that one should never underestimate the audience. Give them excellent performances and the audience will find you – whatever the piece. TivoliVredenburg is a very informal and relaxed place that invites the public in in many ways. The problem is if you had an older venue that was built in a certain way and designed only for concerts, it is a hard issue to “shake off” those constraints.

How would you describe the role of an artist manager today compared to 10 years ago, and where do you see it going in the future?
I think it’s still very difficult out there. There are so many artists wanting representation but the work involved now is more than 10 years ago. Email, taxes, airlines and technology all bring issues. The EU is supposed to make things simpler but in fact it’s the opposite; even the social security certificates that are supposed to be recognised by promoters in the EU are not.

For the majority of artists, fees have not gone up in the last eight years but expenses have. Contracts change regularly now – in particular, with respect to media rights or even in indemnity matters. Artists are now sometimes expected to take out liability insurance because the management want to ensure their risk is minimalised, and promoters oblige artists to use their social media contacts to publicise engagements.

More work is involved now than ever before and it usually lands back in the hands of the manager. In the end, it’s such a labour intensive job because it revolves around so many people.

IAMA’s 2016 conference runs from 7–9 April at TivoliVredenburg in Utrecht.