Etta Dainty, Senior Artist Manger at YCAT, catches up with us about her career in the world of Artist Management. 

What does your career currently look like?

I'm the Senior Artist Manager at the Young Classical Artists Trust (YCAT), a charity that supports young solo and chamber musicians who are in that stage between conservatoire or college and a more full-time professional situation. A big part of what I do is to introduce artists on our roster to a wide variety of promoters and industry colleagues in an effort to secure engagements and experience , as well as helping them realise artistic projects, looking strategically at their career, and eventually  helping them potentially find commercial management if appropriate. Alongside this we aid their development in such ways as offering programming advice and encouraging them to carve out their own career trajectory as individuals. It’s a multifaceted role, and involves a fair deal of plate spinning!

Where did it all start for you?

I studied French horn at the Royal Academy of Music for undergraduate and Masters - but this was quite by chance! While not musicians themselves, my parents were always brilliant at introducing me to all kinds of music, and it was a big part of our home life. So it was no surprise that at around age 7 I wanted to play an instrument, and really fancied the flute. However, our local music service in mid-Wales didn’t have any of those ‘in the cupboard’, so much to my ambivalence I was given a French horn as an alternative…luckily I turned out to be quite good at it! I had lessons in school with a peripatetic teacher, joining local ensembles and eventually playing  with the National Youth Orchestra of Wales. This was a turning point; being around other passionate musicians solidified the idea that this could be the path for me, and so I auditioned at the Royal Academy and Guildhall. Amazingly, the Academy offered me a full scholarship on the spot, and assistance in purchasing a new, more suitable instrument (I was still playing on a loaned instrument from the local music service), and I took that opportunity; it would have been very difficult to afford to study in London, or indeed anywhere else given my financial background, without it. I started at the Academy feeling like I was behind a lot of my peers. I didn’t have very much idea about the music industry, I had barely any contacts, and I’d never really developed a proper practice structure for myself. It wasn’t a strong start, and unfortunately this meant missing out on good orchestral placings and making positive first impressions. At the time I was also quite shy and lacked confidence, which made it difficult to form strong chamber music relationships. But my playing and demeanor improved and I  got through the undergrad with a perfectly respectable 2:1.  I then got a scholarship for a one year postgrad at the Academy, so stayed on to complete that. When I left I had some sparse gigs to sustain me, and overall I found that the musical theatre scene suited me quite well: I enjoyed needing to be a versatile player and the people were fun.

"...I found it really rewarding working with musicians at the beginnings of their careers..."

So how did you come to the decision to go into artist management? 

I was working on shows for a little while and naively thought that the work would just keep coming in… until it didn’t, and I was faced with a very quiet February. I was back in London after doing a show in Leeds, and unlike some other people I had no teaching work to speak of to plug the gap (I was never keen on the idea of teaching: after having a first teacher who left my technique lacking in a fair few areas, I didn’t want to risk imposing that on someone else, so I’d always ruled it out as an option.). I knew I needed a job to support myself and pay rent, especially as my family wasn't in a position to support me, so I applied for jobs in the industry. My first artist management job was as an Assistant Artist Manager at a major agency in London.

But what about the horn?

Ironically, straight after getting the artist manager job was offered  a show at the Festival Hall, and did both! For six months or so, I juggled artist management with the horn but eventually the playing work petered off. While I could have kept taking gigs alongside my artist management work if I’d have pushed it, it was ultimately tiring to sustain both roles. The security of a salary was intoxicating, almost, and it meant I could plan ahead, enjoy things like leisure travel and live my life, rather than worrying about the uncertainty of being a freelancer. 

You must have found you have skills from playing the horn that complement your role now?

I learned a lot about orchestral repertoire at the Academy, and this was probably always my first love! I also worked with a lot of different musicians and conductors, which meant that I could offer a musician’s opinion of different potential signings, which was really valuable. I also learned on the job, especially about opera and vocal repertoire. Hilariously though , I think one of the things that helped me get my first artist management interview  was my experience from a short lived telesales job that I did (and hated), as it showed I knew how to sell on the phone…which couldn’t have actually been further from the truth!

" yourself and trust your instincts...that authenticity will eventually shine through and draw people to you."

How has the journey been since your first artist management role?

I stayed at my first management agency for 12 years, which by anyone’s standards is a long time! Perhaps I was institutionalised, but more likely it was because leaving felt like risking being in a tough financial situation again.  Over that time I experienced many aspects of the classical music industry, both positive and negative. I didn’t stay in the same role for all that time though, and was promoted to Artist Manager after five years which let me move from the vocal department into assisting instrumentalists and conductors which better suited my background. Developing my own roster, I started to work with younger artists and realised that I found it really rewarding working with musicians at the beginnings of their careers, enjoying forming close working relationships with many of them. Then the pandemic hit, forcing everyone to reassess, and I made a bold decision to take voluntary redundancy. I had no idea that I’d built up such a good reputation in the industry until people started to approach me to do freelance work, so I worked for some major arts organisations on a contract basis, which opened my eyes to the amount of great things that are happening in the charitable sector - an area which for some time I thought I may be well suited to. I then spent two years running the Benslow Music Instrument Loan Scheme in Hitchin, which was an amazing opportunity to get to grips with running a grassroots charity, preparing me perfectly for my next role here at YCAT! I wasn’t sure I’d ever go back to artist management but my position here is just the best of both worlds: it’s like the perfect fit for me. Going back into management was also hugely validating as I suddenly realised I had a web of connections .It took me a very long time to embrace my place in the industry (and this is still a personal journey for me) but now more than ever I feel I’m in a place where I belong.  

What is the best advice you ever received?

To be yourself and trust your instincts. There are lots of different characters in the industry, and I'd say that overall I'm more introverted than many - it can be easy to feel intimidated or overshadowed by more extroverted colleagues, but in the long term it's better to stay true to yourself rather than forcing a fabricated version of your personality, as that authenticity will eventually shine through and draw people to you. This approach can be difficult to maintain and may mean it takes longer for you to be noticed, but ultimately I believe arriving at a 'goal' as your true self to be worth that time and resolve. 

What is the worst advice you received?

To "push harder" regardless...this was in relation to booking artists with promoters from an artist management point of view. While, of course, persistence is absolutely required in cultivating contacts and generating bookings for artists, the idea that if you just keep pushing someone hard enough they'll give in is one which I refuse to buy into. I can't think of a quicker way to put someone off you or to lose their respect, and I've seen it happen. Subtlety and patience can be underrated...

What advice would you give someone else hoping to do something similar to you in the future?

Perhaps the best advice I can offer someone moving into arts administration as I did from a performance/conservatoire background, is not to miss opportunities early on, especially in cultivating contacts. Commit to your path and enjoy inhabiting the industry. While you may feel a career in arts administration was not the intended use of your degree and experience to begin with, it can be incredibly rewarding in many ways! 

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