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"Positioning yourself as a professional means you have something to offer"
Career development coach and coordinator of the musician professionalization programme at the Paris Cité de la musique, Christiane Louis regularly works with the Académie du Festival d’Aix, where she helps participants both define their career plan and explore issues regarding communication and dissemination.
> How long have you been with the Académie du Festival d’Aix and what do your coaching sessions involve?
This is my third consecutive year with the Académie. I work regularly with quartets and trios as a part of chamber music residencies, but this year I also coordinated sessions with singers and pianists from the “Art of the Recital” residency. Plus, every year I follow the Medinea network’s intercultural session.
My sessions focus on professionalization, in particular, aspects of communication and promotion. Knowing how to speak about yourself and your project very specifically and convincingly is a very important skill. It’s a rather secondary concern for young artists who are primarily concentrated on their musical performance, which is completely natural.
> What are the basics of career management for young artists that are becoming professionals?
It is not easy to go back and forth between being a training student and positioning yourself as a young professional. Positioning yourself as a professional means you have something to offer. Certainly, artistic learning is a life-long endeavour, but at a certain point you have to know how to position your project. This means offering something that is unique and personal, asking about your target audience, potential employer, and where you will be able to produce. Above all, you have to know how to express what you want to do, for whom and why. Without this, it is simply impossible to communicate and thus promote your work to the professional world. Speaking about yourself and your work is obviously very difficult and sometimes unattractive. My role, in all modesty, is to help them positively reflect on their path and their experiences and consider the different ways to promote them, describe them, and defend them.
> What changes have you seen in the artist profession and the development of careers? Is it harder today than 20 years ago?
It is clear that we live in an economy of competition and the economy of the artistic world is based on an offer that exceeds the demand. In this competitive environment, communication, interpersonal relationships, your network, word-of-mouth and reputation are extremely important. Artists need to understand how this works and not see their career as a simple succession of concerts. Today, an artist must integrate a number of other elements, which are, in fact, largely taken into account in the programme of the Academy. Here, I am talking about everything that has to do with audience development: addressing distant audiences, working creatively for developing art education projects... Today, all the cultural venues and artistic institutions are developing major educational, mediation and awareness-raising programs. You have to be able to set yourself apart using a creative angle, increasingly integrating a participatory dimension or specific contact with the public. I pay special attention to this point with young professionals.
> And to finish on an encouraging note for these young professionals...
I think I’m very encouraging! There are some expectations for the young generation of artists that are both talented and motivated. I have regularly seen over the years many artists and ensembles happily integrating into the professional world, and I follow their careers. There is much to be gained from the conviction associated to talent tied with career plan that’s well-positioned in the contemporary cultural world.
I place great emphasis on the artistic work as a central pillar. No amount of communication will make up for the quality and uniqueness of the offer. But it is about, on one hand, showcasing it, and on the other, knowing the professional environment: aid, support devices, and networks that are useful for development.
For this purpose, the Académie du Festival d’Aix plays a particularly meaningful role. The artists invited for residencies already have great potential. Here, they can work the subtle intersection between training with top-ranking professionals and engaging their career through direct contact with the public and professionals. Having gone through Aix is great for a musician’s reputation and extremely valuable in one’s artistic path.