Creativity Tip: 5 Tips to Becoming a Producing Artist

Hello and thank you for visiting my blog space! It’s been a busy Spring season and I’m thankfully anticipating all of the goodness Summer has to offer while I attempt to stick a summer vacation somewhere into the mix. I appreciate each and every one of you that supported the Spring season run of my play “Running: AMOK” which ran from May 15-May 21, and I’m currently developing a plan to bring the play back in the Fall with the incredible cast that I worked with this past Spring season. As I sat last night putting together my production plan with the hopes of implementing it this Fall or Winter, I began to think of today’s blog topic that I think would be a perfect bit of inspiration for those of you considering moving from your role as simply an artist to the multi-faceted role of the producing artist.

What is a Producing Artist?

Of course, I’m pretty sure you’re probably wondering what is a producing artist. I mean, if you’re a singer, you’re producing music, particularly if you’re writing your music and working on it in a studio, right? If you’re a visual artist, you’re producing every time you create a mural, painting or take a photo, wouldn’t you think? Well, while it’s true you are producing when you have a by-product, in the context I’m speaking of, it’s a bit different.

My question to you would first be, “Are you creating the events that showcases your art work?” If the answer is “No” or “Not yet”, then you aren’t a producing artist quite yet. While there is much to be said about the diligence, persistence and determination that it takes to be an artist who submits their work to be included in festivals, concerts, galleries, anthologies, etc., it should be recognized that there is a totally different mentality that emerges when you make the decision as an artist that you will not only submit your work for consideration, you will take the lead in creating your own space in which to share your work without waiting for someone to give you permission to do so.

Producing artists are usually in the forefront of the planning and implementing of events they are part of. While they may still be part of curated events where they are hired, chosen or requested to be a part of after the event was planned by someone else, producing artists typically think of ways to get their art in front of people and create the opportunity to do that by producing events regularly where their art is the focus or a part of the focal feature of the event. I created the online space in 2008 with the intent of linking artists with each other to create dialogue with each other and share opportunities to perform, submit work to or collaborate. I was thrilled to acknowledge the producing artists in my midst. Singer Mahoganee joined the space in 2008 and immediately began connecting with other performers on the site to select them for events she co-produced for the nonprofit she served that worked with young girls. Rapper Enoch 7th Prophet joined the site in 2009 but before then and since, he has created his own space for his music and the music of others as he produces many events, most notable his recent Pro-Seeds series that raises funds for Prostrate cancer research.

Producing an event is not easy in any way, shape or form, but it is always worth it if you are a new or established artist who wants to have greater control over the way your art is shared. Becoming a producing artist also helps you build your business acumen and get a firmer grip on the business side of being an artist, a much needed and very valuable skill to have when working to monetize your art.

Scenes from my play "Running: AMOK" that I wrote & produced this past Spring

Here are some ways to get started with becoming a Producing Artist:

(1) Conceive It

Come up with your bright idea on what kind of event your want to have and start fleshing it out. Think of what part of your work you will be showcasing and what type of theme will best support it. Is this something that will be a regularly recurring event (weekly, annually, monthly, etc.) or a one hit slam? Pennsylvania-based visual artist Nataki McNeal Bhatti takes the idea of conceptualizing an idea and spins it on its head. This talented artist has created events that not only showcase her incredible artwork but merges art disciplines in ways that you wouldn’t normally conceptualize.

(2) Build a Team

Once you have fleshed it out, bring on board some folks who you may need to make it happen. You may not be able to pay them upfront, but consider what things you may be able to barter or offer. I have produced many events as an artist which required a team– whether they are cast members for my plays, musicians for performances or tech crew. I’ve bartered with folks– offering everything from writing services, social media training, photography services, etc.–to pull together great people. Becoming a producing artist often relies on having a great team to help you pull it off.

(3) Find Your Location

As a producing artist, arranging the logistics, such as location and where your event will be held may be one of the more challenging events of producing. While as an artist, you just show up and things are typically already set up for you, when you are producing your event, you have to choose the location and often tend to the details of getting it ready before showtime. When you’re choosing your location, it’s imperative you choose somewhere that you have considered the set-up and break-down needs and have on hand a team that can help you get your location event-ready.

(4) Share the Stage

If you’re producing the event, it is always a good idea to share the stage with others as a way of “paying it forward” and setting an example for other artists.

In the Washington DC area where I’m from, there are some wonderful examples of producing artists that have mastered the art of creating events for audiences that allow space for them to showcase their own talents while also creating community among their audience members and space for other artists to be showcased. One of my favorite examples is the hip-hop group Gods’illa which hosts the weekly Up & Up open mic night at Liv Nightclub on the historic U Street corridor in DC. Gods’illa is a group of twenty-somethings who are brothers and community activists who began putting together arts showcases in Baltimore, MD when they attended Morgan State University. They formed the business Up and Up which showcased their clothing brand and music and created events that both allowed them to build community among their fans while also creating an audience for their art.

(5) Spread the Word

So, of course, you want folks to come out to your event. As a producing artist, you don’t have the luxury of having the folks who hired you to promote your event, because you are now the producer behind the scenes. So, this is where it comes to getting your team and the other artists you have on board to help you with spreading the word. Consider using social media, old school street team tactics such as passing out postcards and busking as ways to get the word out. But, above all, let people know how much fun they will have at your event.

This list is by all mean simplified and does not speak to the other dynamics you have to consider, such as budget & funding and current trends, but it is meant to give you an overview in a bite-sized portion that allows you see that it is possible to start from somewhere.

If you are a playwright like me and would like to learn more on how to bring your script from “Page to Stage” on a meager budget, come and learn some of my own personal tricks at a free workshop with @knowledgecommonsdc on Wed, June 23 @ 7:00pm at Southwest Neighborhood Library in Washington DC.

But, first, you can also join me on Saturday, June 18 at noon for a workshop with the DC Black Theatre Festival on using music as a theatre device. Click HERE for more information.