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Public Spaces: Fiona Black Combines Passion with Practicality

Fiona Black, director of programming at Capilano University's Centre for the Performing Arts, is unfailing in her commitment to hosting great performances, sometimes putting in years to schedule a performer.  She shares her experiences with musicians who want to be able to perform in the BlueShore Financial Centre for the Performing Arts, as well as a sharp perception to the ever changing music culture.

Fiona Black speaking to attendees.
Photo by Paul Winstanley

RPS: When you get a solicitation email from an artist or artist rep, what elements make you want to become more involved?

Fiona: Familiarity with artist or agent.  By familiarity with the artist, I mean that I’ve seen the artist perform or have been hearing feedback from colleagues that I trust.  If I’m familiar with the agent and have respect for their roster and tastes, then I’ll be more apt to check out an unknown artist.  If I get a cold pitch meaning no familiarity with artist/agent, then it would need to be a rare or specific style of music that I’d want to check out.  If it’s a cold pitch, but the agent/artist has done their homework and know the kind of acts that I book then I appreciate that effort and will be more likely to give the act some attention.

RPS: When you are watching an artist live, what elements do you look for that could make you consider booking them?

Fiona: Exceptional artistry, authenticity, a natural rapport with the audience, a feeling that the artist is in total command and you’re in good hands.  There is an element that I call “specialness” for lack of anything better to call it.  I always ask is this act special enough?  I often see short showcases of 30 minutes or less so try to imagine if they can sustain an audience for a full show.  Some artists make time stand still, those are the extra special ones.  Then there are those that make me feel that the show will never end!  One thing that is a turn-off for me is when artists try too hard at the beginning of the show to ingratiate themselves to the audience.  I’ve seen acts try to get audience participation in the first tune.  That’s ok if you have a devoted fan base who know your work but I’ve seen new artists do this, probably out of nerves and fear.  The act needs to win the audience over, first and foremost, and only then test those boundaries.  

RPS: What are three artists that are new discoveries to you that you are particularly excited about from any genre?

Fiona: 

Derek Gripper - World

Dan Tepfer - Jazz

Martin Harley - Roots

RPS: What are 2 to 3 major shifts in the live music world that you think are important for artists to consider?

Fiona: 

Post 9/11, touring internationally has only gotten more challenging with regard to visas and tax issues, especially it seems for foreign artists touring North America.  The artist fees have not kept pace with the rising costs of travel and all the expenses of bringing artists here.  I see many international artists taking a loss for North American tours or at best breaking even.

I have witnessed vast changes with merch sales for artists from quite robust to steadily dwindling sales to the point that many artists do not bother taking CD’s/vinyl on tours anymore.  For the larger acts, soft merchandize seems to be a big seller still.

RPS: What's changed in the last 10 years in the world music scene in your experience?

Fiona: The music has evolved into more global music, a mix of different influences, genres and cultures.  It’s rare for world music bands to be homogeneous.  World music is influencing pop/rock as much as pop/rock is influencing world music.  The musical boundaries are more than blurred, they are disappearing.

RPS: What is one piece of advice would you give to all artists or artist reps?

Fiona: Be realistic.  It can take years to break through and make any kind of living in music.  Be respectful.  There are so many deserving artists and only so many opportunities.  It can be frustrating but don’t take it out on those who can help you.  

 

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