He Who Pays The Piper Calls The Tune

us 1 dollar

Michael Edwards

Release Date

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


He who pays the piper, calls the tune.

So goes the old adage, and when applied to the world of creative and artistic endeavours, contains a great measure of truth. From almost the very beginnings of civilization (and for you uninitiated, that's in Africa), those in positions of power and privilege have used the resources at their disposal to further creative innovations and ventures. Whether driven by the desire to preserve their own likenesses and achievements for prosperity (as in the case of the Pyramids of Egypt), or merely out of recognition of the intellectual or other stimulation derived from these creations, their place in the overall scheme is beyond debate.

Coming forward from ancient Egypt to the present, we see that while form may have changed, as in the exact form of the creative or entertainment product (and the identities of the players), the basic principle has not. Those with resources chiefly, but not exclusively money seek to expand and/or extend their reach by commissioning and supporting works of art and entertainment ventures. Not that I couldn't speak competently to the workings of patronage in the visual arts world, but for this discourse, we'll be largely confined to entertainment ventures, that is events.

In today's entertainment eco-system, it's the companies that are principally the tune-callers so to speak. Their dollars fund the considerable costs of mounting concerts, thus enabling promoters the pipers to continue offering such products to the public who, despite the many twists and turns over the years, continue to display an appetite for these diversions.


With that question, we can make the jump from the preceding generalizations into some specifics. I could pick just about any event, but I'll focus on which has garnered praise and controversy in almost equal measure. The event now known as the Jamaica Jazz & Blues Festival had its beginnings as a potential provider of diverse and mostly higher-end visitors to Jamaica during a traditional slow period the months (October and November) just prior to the annual winter tourist season's opening in December. Then known as the Air Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival, it was chiefly underwritten and organized by then national carrier Air Jamaica in conjunction with the US cable network BET and other players.
While artistically the event was a mixed bag, it did not for several reasons - manifest the desired returns in either visitor numbers or revenues in those early years.

A little further than halfway through its tenure, control of the event was acquired by a different group who took a different approach especially with respect to programming (as well as the timing of the event), essentially inverting it. The festival thus morphed from a largely straight-ahead jazz/modern instrumental event with pop fringes to a hodge-podge of pop and r n' b offerings with the jazz and blues of the title increasingly relegated to the fringes.

Clearly, this shift to the middle was calculated to bring a broader range of show-goer than might otherwise have responded, but the organizers made an interesting decision they kept the Jazz and Blues line of the previous format in the new title, buttressing it with the supposedly more welcoming, certainly more general subtitle The Art of Music. Again, the artistic quotient of the event is open to question perhaps even more so than previously - but there's little doubt that the event has progressively become more financially successful, culminating with last year's bonanza (and chaos) of support attending headliner Celine Dion. Building on a groundswell of across-the-board support for the star, who was making her first live appearance in Jamaica, the organizers pulled in their biggest-ever crowds, and thus justified the confidence of sponsors, which included (as it has for several years) the Jamaica Tourist Board and thus by extension, the Jamaican Government.

From this we can see that promoters and sponsors share a common motive of profit, and it's incumbent on the one to demonstrate the likelihood of said profit to the other. Very often, neophyte promoters fail to take this factor into account and present themselves and their propositions rather as beggars than potential business partners with an opportunity for mutual profit. On the other side of the coin, many corporate entities miss out on the opportunity to cement themselves in the public consciousness, or to wipe out lingering negative perceptions (such as they're all about money, not people) by overlooking those sponsorship proposals that are inherently solid, or even exciting but are, for want of a better term, improperly clothed.

As we head into the other prime season for entertainment, the summer, the lessons for both sides are clear: Promoters should be students of business in the sense that they must be conversant with the workings, values and major personalities of the industries and companies they plan to approach. Cold-calling with the expectation of getting a decision (whether yea or nay) is beyond ignorant. Similarly, corporate types should have an eye on changing sociological and demographical phenomena, particularly so-called brand managers. My apparent derision derives from my experience that many persons so occupied today know very little about brands from a socio-historical perspective and are in fact, ill-prepared to advocate for their specific brand/s.

Similarly, promoters should also seek to match scale with scale. You will hardly be jumping out the gate with an event headlined by Celine Dion or someone of that ilk, so you don't always have to approach the big companies only, if at all. Second and third-tier brands, which are trying to scale up, just as you are, may more likely appreciate the concept and context of your event. Further, avoid padding - speak squarely, unequivocally but passionately to your objectives (profit and otherwise) and benefits.

The more synergy that can be created upfront, the easier everyone's work will be, and the sweeter the tune.

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