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The Need for the Arts Can Save World Music: Wisdom from Booking Agent, Karen Fischer

Q & A with Karen Fischer, President of the Pasifika Artists Network, representing performers with roots in the unique cultures and aesthetics of Hawai‘i, Aotearoa (New Zealand) and other areas of the Pacific region. 

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Karen Fischer

 

During her years of booking artists, Karen often remarked that, with the rich tapestry of performing artists in Hawai’i and the Pacific, the time was right for developing greater touring opportunities for them. Sharing the unique and authentic arts of this region with more audiences is a win-win, gaining wider exposure for the artists and cultural specialists while enlivening audiences with the depth and richness of Pacific cultures and their contemporary arts. And so Pasifika Artists Network was born. 

 1. How do you describe your agency roster to a presenter meeting you for the first time? 

The short answer: leading contemporary performers from Hawai'i and the Pacific.
My artists from the Pacific include New Zealand/Aotearoa, Samoa, Tokelau, and a new project from Australia.  

2. Who is the most recent artist you added to your roster that would be useful for a world music presenter?

All of my roster is a good fit for a world music presenter. I just added two artists: Ledward Kaapana, NEA National Folk Heritage Fellow,legendary slack key guitar player, and vocals ranging from baritone to Hawaiian falsetto tradition; and HAPA, one of the most successful bands in Hawaiian music.

3. What are the biggest trends affecting your business right now? How are they affecting you?

The economy, which leads to presenters favoring pop artists over artists that are less well known, with an eye to a more predictable bottom line. In presenting, there has always been a tension between entertainment vs education, though the two are absolutely not mutually exclusive. But less well-known artists need more audience education to help sell tickets. While all of my artists are famous in Hawai'i or their home countries and many are known on the west coast, and they are tops in their fields in terms of excellence, presenters worry about the risk of bringing them into new markets. And that affects bookings.

4.  What is the most extreme thing you ever did for an artist?

I have been in this business for over 30 years, and believe our mission is to connect great artists with our communities, which means flexibility and generosity are always important. Probably the most extreme, or perhaps highest risk, was producing a couple of shows for an artist to fill in dates on the road. 

5. What trade organizations or conference are most important to your business?

WAA and APAP are primary, with Arts Midwest and Arts Northwest a close second. NAPAMA is also an important resource for me as an agent. 

6. Describe a collaboration with a presenter that you are proud of. 

As a former presenter and now as an agent, I believe that connecting artists to community is one of the most wonderful ways to create genuine attachments between performer and audience, that will also translate into ticket sales, so it's a win-win. So most of the artists on my roster do some kind of residency work or ed service. One of the most multi-layered residencies was Te Vaka's tour to Alaska, particularly the Fairbanks engagement (thanks, Anne!). 
In addition to the public performance, they did:
--Two free performances in high school auditoriums for smaller, more remote communities in the Fairbanks region (each approx. 100 miles from Fairbanks)
--Dance workshop followed by community potluck, with formal welcome by Alaskan Native and Polynesian communities
--One school show in Fairbanks, with 1300 students bussed in to the theater
--Cultural exchange at local army base, with acoustic log drum performance.
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7. Have you booked world music in non-traditional outlets? If so, what types of places have they been? How did it work out?
More clubs are doing world music, in addition to PACs. One of my groups Pacific Curls, will be at the Gathering for Mother Earth at the Pojoaque Pueblo and the County Fair in New Mexico. Some of the non-traditional outlets such as clubs often means shared risk, i.e., door deals where the burden moves to the artist to market the show and ensure the ticket sales on which their fee is based. With good marketing this can be effective, but it is riskier for the artist on the road.
 
8. What do you think will save world music?

People need the arts in their lives and always have, whether it's music, stories, dance, theater, film, etc. So the same thing that saves the performing arts in our lives will save world music. We live both locally and globally, often in very diverse communities. What is called "world music" is simply music that comes from people drawing on their cultural traditions, whether those traditions are from across the globe or in the next neighborhood. And with all the access to cultural exchange whether personal or virtual, "world music" and traditions are continually changing, developing, melding, mixing, the way the arts always have across migrations, trade routes, and cultural mashups. As long as the music is genuine, with an authentic core, it will strike an emotional chord with all kinds of people, sometimes in unexpected and surprising ways. Which is why we will always need, want, and value artistic expression, whatever its source.

9. What is your favorite piece of advice for artists who want to be on your roster?

The first thing to look at is if you are ready for an agent. If you are not known locally, it will be very difficult for an agent to create national or international touring. (I am speaking as an agent, and not as a manager, whose role it can be to create reputations through publicity). Also, as an artist, do you have your own artistic voice? What makes you stand out as a performer, that is different from what others offer? I would suggest performing as much as possible, in as many places as possible, in venues of all sizes; get known, know how to work with an audience, develop a reputation and a following. Release CDs and submit for awards. 

10. If you were an artist without an agent, what would you do?

Primarily, having your own artistic voice is key -- work on your art. Everything flows from that.  Be brutally honest about where your work fits in the performing arts ecosystem -- what makes you stand out. You don't need an agent to create local touring opportunities. Use your network of colleagues and friends to get gigs. Again, perform as much as possible. Local recognition for your work can help prepare you for having an agent. At that point, look at who might be the right agency for you. Who do they rep, where are their artists performing, etc.

 

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Learn more about the Pasifika Artists Network on their website.

 

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