October 23, 2013 by Amy Ryall
Max Templer is a student on the MA in Public Humanities at the University of Sheffield. He is also a music promoter and works with venues to put on events. Based on this experience, he blogs here on the contrasts between working with people and working with institutions
During this week’s seminar we discussed some of the issues which arise when working with external partners. This led me to reflect on my experience of working as an external music promoter for a local bar and the differences between working with individual people (and their visions of what collaboration means) and working with an institution (and its expectations of collaboration). It also led me to thinking about the role of individuals within institutions and their transience in comparison to the permanence of the institution itself.
My work as an external promoter arose from a series of one-off events I arranged with a venue. Both the bar manager and I had felt these had been successful for several reasons; I was trusted to book the kind of night that I wanted to and the staff were enthusiastic about the event. We both felt we had a similar vision for what we wanted the nights to be and the drive to achieve that vision. We agreed a number of key criteria for the night and when the bar manager took this proposal to the higher level management they were happy to sign-off on the night. After the events, the management were pleased with how I had brought in a new crowd to the venue, the amount of people I had brought in and the amount those people had spent at the bar.
Whilst the night itself was successful there were unfortunately some problems surrounding it. The sound-system the venue had in place was broken and despite repeated requests from the bar manager the higher level management were unwilling to replace it, which left both of us frustrated. In addition to this, more general disagreements about the running and future of the bar led to the bar manager I had been working with quitting and to me liaising directly with a high level of management whose vision for the night was significantly narrower than mine. They focused directly on increasing bar-takings and decreasing the amount of money the bar was giving me to put on the nights, without replacing the sound-system. After a couple of months I decided I could no longer carry on putting the night on there and we ended our collaboration.
This experience to me reveals three key facets of working with external partners. Firstly the importance of developing personal relationships. Whilst arranging those one-off events for the bar I had built up a strong relationship with the manager which enabled me to attempt a larger project. Secondly it is important to recognise the aims of the larger organisation that you are working with. Whilst I had built up a good personal relationship with the bar manager my relationship with and knowledge of the larger organisation he was working for was negligible. This meant that when I was working directly for them we often had very different ideas about what we wanted to achieve. Finally, and perhaps slightly depressingly, it is important to recognise the impermanence of individuals within these larger organisations. Projects you conceive of with one person might not be completed with them on board and it is therefore important to prepare for that possibility.