June 18, 2007
Michele Scoleri, Bumbershoot Artistic Director
Michele Scoleri has managed to spin her love of music into a two-decade career. Since 2000, this former New York talent agent has been producing events such as Bumbershoot and the temporarily on-hiatus Summer Nights Concert Series for One Reel, Seattle's arts and event-production powerhouse. In 2003, she became Bumbershoot's artistic director and now leads a team of six in the year-long process of planning the three-day, 14-stage summer music and arts festival -- a job that entails sifting through close to 2,000 annual applications from musicians, performers and filmmakers from around the globe, as well as soliciting another 1,000 "wish list" artists each year.
Q: How did you get started in this field?
A: This is all I've ever done. I started working in nightclubs in the late '80s when I was in college. I thought I would wind up in radio but found myself gravitating toward live music. It's definitely my love of music that drove me here. I moved out here to book the Summer Nights Concert Series in 2000.
[Previously] I was a talent agent in New York. I did that for approximately six years. We booked tours for musicians nationally and internationally. Our agency represented everyone from the Ramones to Bruce Springsteen.
Q: What's a typical workweek like for you?
A: We hold weekly programming meetings where we talk about what we want the festival to look like each year, and we make our wish list. And we start going after our dreams for the festival. We're talking to [talent] agents all the time and we get pitched all the time. For every band or piece of content you see at the festival, there's plenty that didn't happen where the conversation still took place. My department also manages all the flights and hotels, and all the ground transportation for the artists.
We also do a lot of community outreach and partnering with other organizations in town. It's a lot more than sitting on the phone with agents and booking bands. We work with the Seattle International Film Festival folks to do our film festival, and we work with Theatre Puget Sound to do our theater programming. Besides calling agents and booking artists, we're reaching out to people all over the community about what's hot and what's relevant.
"I think that the glamour aspect isn't quite what people on the outside think it is. You do get to have some exciting, unique experiences. But we're usually focused on making sure the artists have the best performance and our patrons have the best experience at our events, so we're generally not hobnobbing with the artists backstage during the event. I can tell you this: No one in my office is dating a rock star, including me."
Q: Do you book any of the artists yourself?
A: I still actively book artists. And I do a little bit of everything: I do music and arts. I come from a music background, but I've also done a lot of our performing arts booking over the years -- dance, theater.
Q: Do you get to see any of the performances at Bumbershoot?
A: I see some of the stuff from the festival as I'm walking by it to do something else, to keep the festival going. We're very hands on. Everyone on the team works the festival.
Q: We know you're slammed during summer, gearing up for Bumbershoot, but is there a downtime in winter?
A: Everybody sort of lets out the collective sigh for the three weeks after the event and people go on vacation, but we really work on Bumbershoot all year round because it's such a massive event. It's not a 9-to-5 job. But when you love what you do, you don't notice.
Q: What advice can you give people looking to get into festival or event work?
A: The majority of people who work in this business start out with a love of music. Many people who have jobs similar to mine have worked in music venues, [worked in] record stores, written about music and done college radio at some point in their history. It's often how you start to make relationships and begin getting relevant experience. Almost everyone I know doing this work has spent a large portion of their life going out to concerts from a young age.
But you also have to be a really hard worker and realize that it isn't all about hanging out with your favorite rock stars. It's still a job, and it's a job that requires a lot of hours. Interning somewhere is always a good thing, trying to get an internship at a company that produces events. Nobody starts at the top in this business -- it's like a lot of other jobs. You have to be willing to do the entry-level work. You have to start understanding the business side of things. I started out as somebody's assistant. I was somebody's intern.
Processing artist contracts as a talent agent's assistant in one of my first jobs is something that still serves me today. Some of the particular skills that are needed in getting the day-to-day done in a job like mine involve deal-negotiating with artists' agents, being able to budget and forecast ticket sales, understanding the market you live in and who your audience is. Even if you are working on the talent-buying side, you still need to have a good sense of the other areas making up your event, such as marketing, PR, production, sponsorship and concessions. Someone interested in this business doesn't have to come in through the talent-buying side of things -- they can work in any one of these other areas, too.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about the internship program at One Reel?
A: Interns are really important to us here. Our intern program is pretty intensive. It is a great way to make connections. I've definitely tried to help my past interns who did a great job get jobs. One of my previous interns is working in radio now. Another is working at a major record label.
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