Interview Series – Arts Leaders – Christine Sullivan – Singer

For this new series, Christine Sullivan, accomplished global jazz fusion voice artist, has shared her valuable advice in answering ten questions about the arts and career.  It is an honour to have her as an arts supporter behind the scenes of Words in Winter Central Goldfields, and more will emerge about this soon.  First on the list of many arts leaders giving great advice to those intent on making their mark in the arts, Christine gives a generous and comprehensive content response to ten questions, and we thank her warmly for her time:
1. How important is it to be focused and committed to carving out a career in the arts?
Remembering the importance of the arts for society, and history, will inspire you to keep moving toward your goals. It’s crucial that you understand and value your role as an artist in society. Art can heal, inspire thought, beautify, open discourse, express views, reflect society to itself, play a part in change and growth, of the individual artist, and the observer,or the listener.  The arts are a gift and a part of who we are, and has always been.
2. How do artists cope with criticism and how can they work around it?
Criticism, when constructive, is a necessary part of the artist’s development.  Sometimes the artist agrees, or not, and this experience enhances the growth, and process. There will be times for many reasons the artist’s premise will be challenged, sometimes unkindly. Usually an artist will develop a thick skin, and continue to learn and grow despite setbacks or even obstructive behaviours. Meditation, attending to health, diet, exercise, surrounding oneself with loving supportive people, creative positive people, whose support is unconditional. Staying as positive as you can as a habit works, and getting help if needed, if you don’t feel supported.  Avoid too much isolation. The artistic life can be isolating, and we are not by nature meant to be alone for too long.  Acceptance of the inevitability of life’s struggle, setbacks, and difficulty is wise, and helpful.  All is learning. Avoid buying into social media gossip, and comparing yourself to others, – their success or standards. Forge your own path, and stay as resilient as you can be. If you don’t feel resilient, teach yourself skills, in assertiveness and learn about your human rights.  Stand up for yourself, and your work. You and your work are valuable.
3. It’s so important to be actively looking for opportunities all the time in the arts, what are some of the things artists can do to find them?
Seeing yourself as part of an artistic community helps. You need to be supported and supportive.  There are opportunities and possible collaboration between artists and these contacts can help improve your chances of survival. Join communities, subscribe to music stations, online platforms, safe and positive online support, and promotional avenues. Have a five or ten year plan and stick to it, this way your art/music will be adequately taken care of, and you can avoid being taken advantage of. Artists can’t do it all well alone, – delegate and find trustworthy people to deal with. Trust is important, but you must take risks and prepare to step out of comfort zones and handle the necessity of promotion of your work. If you have another job, this is good, as you can support yourself while also developing a strategy for your artistic life. If you only have artistic skills, and you feel you lack organisational ones, then delegate, – find people who are enthusiastic about your work and offer them a deal benefiting them also. Go to university campuses, technical colleges, arts precincts online and in your area, speak to people, meet them, – if you are shy, find a manager and agency to help you to sell yourself. Shyness is common, many great artists never developed the skill of self promotion, and are timid in business. You can’t be everything, necessarily. Something will suffer and it will probably be your work. Artistic creative work is more demanding than many think. It takes time and requires many hours of solitude, review and rewrite or reworking until final production. So be kind to yourself, accept your differences and weaker areas, and seek help and education through experience or networks.
4.  Do you believe artists should stick to one discipline only or try lots of different ones to grow creatively?
Artists will usually choose their unique path, or be guided into a path of interest by their education and varied circumstances, societies, cultures, or upbringing. Developing as an artist in Australia and smaller populations, allows for a variety of experience, which can help or hinder the artist, depending on the individual view.  Some try many different instruments or mediums, styles as part of the journey. It is an exploratory phase initially, some find a genre will draw them in, or they will be an eclectic artist in their field and take from many disciplines. This seems to be the trend in the arts, seeing folk, classical and jazz music, combinations…fusions…also in the fashion industry. A vocalist and pianist could benefit from knowing each other’s craft and it would show in a more sophisticated performance. Studying music theory practicing an instrument, being open to music in all its forms, can only enhance your contribution. Some may prefer a more purist route and so be it.  All music comes from other music and its history is well worth knowing.  Simply try to be open minded and inquisitive.
5. Can you suggest some advice for artists to create professional routines that help them keep on track between projects, and also during heavy work on busy projects?
There is merit in having a daily routine, a habit of writing daily, even a journal, notebook. Keep a file of your work, past and present.  Consider a daily routine of exercise and meditation.  Be aware of your health, mentally and physically. Diet is important as is good quality sleep. Take breaks between bursts of creativity to recharge, walk in nature, or doing something completely different. Take time to eat slowly and try to be in the moment as much as possible, meditation practice can help with focus, and awareness. Your energy will be better. It would be good to consider a five year plan, like a business plan. Here you could get advice if you feel it’s too much, but a structured plan will see great results and help set up a future and have momentum build for your career. Network, meet people in the industry, talk to people about your dreams and plans. Be open and generous with your knowledge and be a helpful collaborator, and people will be drawn to you and your ideas. Avoid withdrawing between projects for too long, it is good to regroup and refresh yourself with breaks and holidays, but stay connected and proactive, by contacting others and being interested and supportive of other’s work.
There will be times where work is either full on, or non existent. Keep the faith, if you can travel in the down times, even to another city, or take some time bushwalking, or take an interesting train trip, just a different perspective is needed in between projects, or in a down time.  Here in Australia, having management and an agency, hopefully a reputable one, can help the momentum continue, and suggest new avenues to pursue. In places like New York City, you will be wise to seek a good management agency. Representing yourself is not always a good idea, it seems more professional to employers if artists have established representation. Work on your website, profile, and resume in between work, and keep your blogs, etc. updated and appealing.
6.  Is it important to aim high, look beyond local areas, and branch out to other countries in the world with your art?
It is important to find inspiration and be connected to other artists, and their work, this will naturally see a raising of standard, quality, depth. It’s exciting to see other’s work, collaborate and spread your wings. Travel is a great way to reboot, get back your enthusiasm, bring you into contact with other societies, cultures, influencing your work, expanding your view, as well as your own work being exposed to others, and to a wider population. Why not share your ideas, with the wider world? Of course, this is made easier with today’s technology and social sharing. It is also special to develop your own view and inform your work with your local colour, and refine these ideas before sharing with the world. Then the reception will be enthusiastic and supportive, as it is clear you are a serious artist who cares about the environment, history and culture in your local area. This is of great interest overseas and can create project success. Your unique perspective is what will be of interest the most, not just following a fashionable direction or trying to fit in, and only producing mediocre work without the potency of your unique voice. Living and working overseas will raise your standard, open your mind, level your expectations into your reality, and possibility. There is great merit in finding a mentor in your field and studying closely for a period of time, overseas or in your area. Someone whom you admire is best. Also applying for scholarships is a wonderful way to be introduced to a new city, and to meet great colleagues.
7.  Should artists learn from mentors who really support what they are doing?  Should they reach out and contact the artists they admire to get advice?
Mentors can be inspiring, as can colleagues, from different generations. Being aware and interested in the history, those who have paved the way and made it easier for you, all helps to inform your work. If you are able to obtain a scholarship to travel and study with a truly great mentor, it will change your life, open it up to possibilities and introduce you to others who can inspire you. Avoid being mean with your work, stay as open as you can to new people, places to work and live, travel, and sharing. There is no point being protective of your work. We are all informed by those who’ve gone before us. As unique as we can be, our mind like a sponge absorbs the voices and information from our teachers, professors, culture, etc., and we hold much from the past without fully being aware of this. Don’t be afraid of reaching out to those you admire, great people usually enjoy passing on their knowledge to you. Most great artists are generous and want to help raise you up, and nurture the next generations. Stay as fearless as you can, and ask for what you want and need. Become a deep listener and embrace your arts past and your own.
8.  Is there a way artists can work out which projects to commit to, or should they just take every opportunity that comes up?
Usually an artist develops work by being influenced by other artists. At first emulating, studying an artist, or artists they admire. This is the usual process. Over time the artist, will begin to commit to their own projects. It is good to know yourself as an artist, your desires, your personality, your quirks, all sides of your unique, complex, multi- dimensional view. See yourself as clearly as possible, accept constructive criticism, learn from your setbacks. You will in time see what you need and as you change and your circumstances change, so will your projects. You may feel a desire to just work for others, to develope your craft through experience, with other great self-realized artists. You may prefer to work for others, for example become an accomplished backing singer, or teacher of your art, both are enjoyable professions, and offer a good steady living and an interesting life. Or over time you may want to be a solo artist, independent. Experience is important and will be what you remember, cherish and grow from. Seek out experiences, work with others, take what is given with gratitude and try to make the most of your good fortune. Avoid taking opportunities for granted, try to make the most of job offers. Do as much as you can, and say yes often, even do things that stretch your comfort zone. Playing it safe may result in a mediocre life in the arts. Choose work that stretches you and work that excites and inspires you. It’s important to enjoy your work. Have fun as you learn, stay open, be inquisitive, and look out for great opportunities to challenge yourself and your ideas. Choices don’t always have to be about success or money, just enjoyment, that in itself is success and true wealth. A life enjoyed in the arts will give valuable gifts to others, – wonderful performance and work of quality.
9.  Do you have any advice for the business side of an artist’s life?  Good accountant, arts law resources online, etc.  What are some handy resources artists can turn to?

This is an important question. These choices of management, agents, website marketing, etc., are up to the individual. Online resources can be overwhelming, and it’s best to choose from word of mouth and/or reputable companies. It won’t make a huge difference if you go with CD Baby or Vevo, or Spotify or independent labels, there are still costs to consider, affordability. It is difficult doing all of this yourself so delegating and paying a good supporting company is helpful. Your job is to work on your art and be creative, surround yourself with creative business minded people, particularly if you are not inclined to think in a business like manner. If you have a team of support this is ideal. A lot of time is spent marketing music and it can be really expensive, exhausting, and time consuming. Training yourself to be more aware of business plans and goals is a good thing, though it can be tedious to an artistic person. It is still worth participating and knowing how it works and to keep an eye on your business life. Many artists have paid a price too high for ignoring this side of things. Finding an empathetic accountant is possible, and learning about budgets, is a must. Lawyers for musicians/artists are available and these can be sourced through word of mouth and internet. Again, take your time in choosing and committing. Read contracts and go through them carefully. Make sure your rights are acknowledged and it is, as they say a “win-win” situation. People must be paid, and sometimes if you can afford an excellent lawyer it will be worthwhile. Mainly for contracts, and in situations where an issue between parties becomes untenable. It is a sad fact that when money is involved, people behave in unpredictable ways, and as the project becomes more and more important and sought after by the public, things complicate quickly.  Ideally, your team/band are on the same page and the best advice for this is communication, airing grievances, and getting on top of festering issues. Have an open transparent dialogue with all parties and regularly meet to address issues. Weekly rehearsal, made to be pleasant with delicious nourishing food, can help members bond and help members feel they want to commit, to something that feels inclusive and friendly and fun. A wise thing to do as a leader, is make sure each member has there own projects, and show interest in their individual work. This means they will be less likely to be soley dependent on your project for an income, unless for example the musician is a co-founder and/or just wants to support someone elses work as a living. A band or project needs a leader, but it can run in a democratic fashion. Ultimately your project and ideas are your intellectual property, and input from others is also theirs, and these complexities need to be looked into with clear guidelines as to the rights of all involved. Here a contract, or lawyer can be helpful, and/or you can make what is called a “gentlemen’s agreement” between parties, to share royalties.  APRA/AMCOS site for Australians has all the information about copyright, and the nuanced complexity of this. This can be done online and or on paper. Guidelines can vary from country to country and this is worth noting. The internet is a new frontier in this regard and artists have lost money, but there are efforts being made to remunerate, regulate, and monetize.  So many sites share free music and/or trolling of artists’ work, etc. It seems once again the independent and smaller artists just starting out are being swamped in a sea of uncertainty, and not necessarily benefiting from the worldwide web in the way they could. It is possible, of course, for the computer savvy and those interested in the internet and the online form of marketing, to try to achieve a large global audience, and this is being done well and successfully by some, but on the whole it is lot to achieve as a solo artist. A professional team is paramount, it means you are a serious player and your art means something to you and you want to share it with as many as possible, while you have the energy health and creative bursts. As with all professions there are no guarantees, you will be noticed or picked up, or even valued. For popular work there is global competition, and for independent, interesting, thoughtful, complex artistic work sometimes much less interest. So there is no easy straight forward answer to this. But it is worthwhile trying. Sometimes having a back up plan, and/or a job you can do that brings income and stability is a wise thing until, and if success or recognition arrives, or never arrives, you have your art and your work, and you have lived a passionate life that sustained you.

10.  How important is education in the arts?  Some artists are naturally talented, is too much education detrimental to natural creative flow?
It is wonderful if you are able to study for a degree, be granted a scholarship to study overseas, for example in New York, Boston, or Nashville, or in the Berklee Music College in the USA. For classical or jazz pianists for example, studying with a master in Europe is great, Italy and Germany for Opera and classical music, – visual artists can study in Italy Germany and France, and the USA. Source online possibilities, contact teachers directly if possible, or through a college. For jazz musicians, studying in South America with great masters of Cuban music is ideal. Check out, attend and if possible, apply to perform at festivals. This may require management to help you do this. Remember there are many artists who represent themselves, of course the internet is a great source of information, about artists, festivals, and courses you are interested in. Once again, a great and supportive mentor in your field can advise you. The Berklee online courses, and APRA/AMCOS sources will guide you to the right degrees for you. Studying online and/or attending the campus would be ideal. You can attend Summer School in the USA and meet and be exposed to professionals of the highest calibre from many countries. Scholarships and fee assistance is available. Get some advice and second opinions, and make sure you are confident to pursue this route, as debt can be a difficult burden and you must prepare for the future. Don’t inhibit yourself in small dreams. Be fearless in your choices. Dare to have big dreams. Expand your horizon. Many great artists are waiting to be asked to guide you and raise you up to your full potential. Know what you want and be clear, and focused, have a plan, a business plan, and back up plans, know what you can realistically do, and try new things to see if this could be a path for you. It is important to develop your natural talents and inclinations, study the past successors, educate yourself, improve your skills, strengthen your weaknesses for the long term. As a musician, you can become familiar with a useful instrument like piano or guitar. Reading music is useful and helpful in group situations. If you become a good reader, you have work in orchestras worldwide. These skills can help you take part in popular music video, and on popular or contemporary or avant guard music. In visual arts your skills will be useful in advertising, and web design or as part of film production. Limitless opportunities can arise. Music education when started as a young child is the most beneficial, but it is not too late to study. Music can be difficult if you start later, but it can and has been achieved by many.  There is no easy journey, – all journeys of any value have challenges, as they make you grow. It is all learning. No talent can be neglected. Respect your gifts and your passions and support them. Be kind and loving to yourself and know that you are privileged to be a passionate person. Many struggle in life to just survive, and you may too, but at least you will be working toward a life that will feel worthwhile, and can be rewarding. We are all capable of finding our own creative spirit, and it is a noble pursuit. Don’t take any possibility for granted. Don’t take your talent for granted. You are not able to have everything you desire in life, this is a given, but you can choose to enjoy your work, by making choices that work for you and giving the world the gift of the deep love for your work and its quality. People deserve to be offered a great gift. Your life’s gift. What a thing to be grateful for! Aim as high as you can, prepare for some sacrifice. Stay as healthy as you can, look after your body/mind and spirit. Enjoy breaks and avoid working too much to the detriment of a balanced life and relationships. Keep journals and write out your worries and regrets, and let go and move on and upward.
It is after all the doing, the journey that you will remember, not necessarily the awards, – just ask the truly successful artists!
Check out new website for Christine Sullivan
Find latest music from Christine Sullivan at New Website and hear sample tracks.
Listen to Christine Sullivan interviewed on 94.1 FM Gold Coast Jazz and Swing Radio
copyright 2017 words Q. Monika Roleff and A. Christine Sullivan, and images, respective holders/creators, all rights reserved.