For those of you who missed the about section, this blog is about giving a window into the lives of real-life musicians—real people with a vast array of interests and passions and the capacity, intelligence and determination to do a multitude of things extraordinarily well. One singer, who is exceptionally well-rounded as a musician, teacher, entrepreneur and overall human being, is bass-baritone and “Artrepreneur,” Adrian Rosas.
“I’ve never been on the opera track in my mind… I’ve always wanted to do other things as well.”
THE ARTREPRENEUR PART 1: Arts On Site
Adrian’s foray into entrepreneurship began with a partnership with dancer and fellow Juilliard graduate, Chelsea Ainsworth. “We met teaching on the weekends through one of the youth education programs at school.” They began hosting “Performance Parties” in Chelsea’s apartment as part of a project called Art for Your Cause, which helped performing artists raise money for their projects. It then changed to MOSAIC (Merging Our Specific Arts And Inspiring Collaboration), an LLC focused on arts education and eventually transformed into its current iteration, Arts On Site which helps foster a community of artists across disciplines through performance events, artist retreats and three East Village studios operated by an all volunteer staff of artists.
“In three months we went from zero idea to running two studios.”
“Arts On Site started as a multi-disciplinary performance event which literally started in a living room,” Adrian recalls. As the desire for these events grew, he, Chelsea and her husband, Kyle, started having to rent spaces for their events. “We hopped around to different spaces for a few years.” The plan was to continue on that way, offering performers a chance to share their work with one another once a month at performance parties. Then, an extraordinary opportunity came their way. “There was a girl, a friend of ours, who sings just for fun… She was a school -teacher at the time. She had sung at our event a couple times. She, at one point, while we were in a small space, I don’t remember where exactly, invited her parents to come see her sing. They own a number of buildings in the East Village and they were like, ‘we love what you’re doing, your event was great, thanks for having our daughter, your community is great, you’re obviously outgrowing the small spaces that you’re in. We have a studio that we sort of just rent out occasionally; otherwise, it’s open. We would love to donate this space to you once every other month, six times throughout the year, to host your party. You’ll fit more people, you’ll be more comfortable.’ …We did 6 events with their donated space and then at the end of that year, they were like, ‘well, upstairs is about to open as well, same exact layout, but one floor above… You’ve found success here; it’s obviously a better location, it’s a bigger space. We can’t continue to donate this space, but would you be interested in potentially taking over a lease for these two studios or even just one. We’ll give you a week to say yes or no.’ We had zero plan for doing anything more than this every other month performance party…so our immediate reaction was, ‘No way.’ They told us how much the rent was and we were like, ‘We don’t make that much amongst the three of us each month even for one space let alone two at that cost.’ We went away, thought about it a little bit more, talked about it a little bit more… We had on our email list at that point 15-1800 people that had come to our party over six years and we were like, ‘Let’s rethink this. If we want to take over the space, what could we do with it? We continue this party, obviously, that’s easy, but how can we pay the rent?’ That idea was to open hourly rental studios; there are very few in that area in the East Village. Also, Chelsea is a dancer and she has a very large dance community from a number of other projects that she had started, and, coincidentally, she knew that two major dance studios in the Lower East Side of Manhattan were about to shut down. The opportunity was, if we take these over, we can turn one of them into a dance studio with sprung hardwood floors and mirrors, and we could easily get the clients that are going to be out of a home when these two bigger studios are closing. So, we just were like, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s see what they say if we can make this a deal.’” So, this is the funny part of the story. The tenant previous…was Madonna’s baby’s daddy… He was a personal trainer, so he turned it into his personal trainer studio, but while he was there, it destroyed the original wood floors… So, their deal was if we were to replace the floors and make a permanent fixture in the building, they would give us three months of free rent for both studios. The floors were a big investment, but the rent was many times more than that. It [was] basically a big donation of time for us to develop the idea… We took about a month to renovate both studios and then we took a month to reach out to a whole bunch of people and say, ‘How should we use the space? What do you think should be there? How should it be set up?’ etc. etc., surveying the land of the community, and then a month to soft open. We started bringing in income for one month just to pay that first month of rent that we knew was coming, and then the whole opening once we had to start paying real rent. So, in three months we went from zero idea to running two studios.”
When they first took over the studios Adrian, Chelsea and Kyle did everything. Now, three years later, they have a full volunteer staff. “We didn’t have any money and we were all volunteering our time, so we started doing exchange programs where if you would help us to run different aspects of the studios, we would give you a certain amount of free time in the space… Now we have a team of 70 volunteers on our list that rotate all different jobs. We have a group of people called our ‘Community Directors’ who are sort of leading teams of volunteers. [They] are hosting the bigger projects…or recurring events in the space, where the one-off, here-and-there volunteers are just getting an hour for an hour… At this point we’ve been an official 501c3 non-profit for 2.5-3 years and we’ve…just started to apply for funding for grants and reaching out to people for donations. Otherwise…everything is paid for by the studio rentals and all the work is done voluntarily through exchange.”
“I’ve built a community of friends, as well as gotten some professional engagements from people that I’ve met through doing this, but me, myself, I’m a singer, performer, teacher.”
After creating and maintaining a thriving Arts non-profit, Adrian has decided to move on to new things. “I’ve, as of November, stepped down from the director position. I’m still on the board, but my day-to-day activity is over… I realized that although this is an awesome project and great for the community of artists that we’re serving, it’s not a personal dream of mine to run rehearsal studios. It’s been super exciting along the way, and I’ve built a community of friends, as well as gotten some professional engagements from people that I’ve met through doing this, but me, myself, I’m a singer, performer, teacher. I like doing administrative stuff, but I don’t want administrative stuff to be my life, so I just made a choice that Arts On Site is at a good place; Chelsea and Kyle…are 100% devoted to continuing, and there’s this big team of people that are helping, so…I could sort of distribute my work load to other people and focus on all these other hats and maybe that’s a good transition into the other hats.”
ARTREPENEUR PART 2: The National Music Festival
“Having done multiple business things, in my mind I was immediately like, ‘There should be a vocal component to this apprentice program.’”
One of the reasons Adrian stepped away from Arts On Site was to begin a new project that combines his love of teaching and entrepreneurship by designing a new Vocal Program at a music festival for college students. “Last year I did a gig singing in an oratorio piece with the National Music Festival in Chestertown, Maryland… It’s been mainly an instrumental/orchestral apprentice program for undergrad aged instrumentalists. They have not done vocal music at all. This is one of the first vocal pieces they did, and I was hired as one of the soloists. The soprano was a friend of mine from Juilliard as well… The town is gorgeous, the people are fantastic, the community and the people that were in the festival…seemed to be having a great time taking part in the festival as well… Having done multiple business things, in my mind I was immediately like, ‘There should be a vocal component to this apprentice program.’ They have the structure, they have funding, they have a supportive community, it’s a beautiful town, it’s a tuition free program for the students, or for the players that come out, and then they hire on what they call ‘mentors,’…for each instrument… Since they already had the funding, they literally would only have to find additional housing. So…this soprano friend of mine and me…wrote up a proposal for the creation of a vocal apprentice program. They just so happened to be having their board meeting…so we gave it to the music director, and he was like, ‘This sounds great! …I’ll take this to the board and see what they say. I can’t give you any promises.’ They met 2-3 weeks later and the next day…they approved it… We are now the two founders of the Vocal Apprentice Program at the National Music Festival, which sounds pretty cool. We spent the last few months fleshing out our idea even more and creating some written materials… Our next step is to reach out and find apprentices… They have to be at least 18 as per the stipulations of the festival.”
The program includes a weekly voice lesson, a daily master-class in which students will sing 2-3 times a week, two evening voice recitals and two informal lunchtime recitals. “There’s one major choral work with orchestra, there are two solo spots that will go to apprentices, a Tenor and an Alto. The others will be section leaders in the community chorus that they have. We, as the voice mentors, will also be participating in the choral work as the soprano and bass soloist and helping out in the choir… We’re going to host two seminars about the business life of being a musician or performers, just like we’re doing right now—talking about what that life is and break it down into all these different aspects. There may be an opportunity to do some chamber music with chamber orchestra ensemble. The rep isn’t decided on yet, and it also depends on who the singers are. We’re trying to keep it simple for the first time around… We’ve asked for two apprentice pianists, so, we’ve sort of changed their piano program. They already have apprentice pianists, but they’ve been mainly geared towards instrumental chamber music. We’ve asked for an additional two pianists specifically for vocal collaboration, so, in a way we’ve created the collaborative department as well… The students will only have to pay for travel and food. It’s not paid, but I think for like 18-19-year-olds it’s perfect. You get performing experience, both solo and with chorus, you get potential performing experience with chamber instrumental ensemble, and who knows…if your school has extra classes on the business, and then continuing voice lessons… So, that’s a gig that once it’s all set up, after the first year, there won’t be much additional work, which is nice, but I know that that’s my job now. That’s another part of my summer income.”
THE TEACHING ARTIST: California State Summer School for the Arts
Another part of Adrian’s summer income is as faculty at the California State Summer School for the Arts (CSSSA). “I go out there every summer. It’s a state funded program. It’s fantastic. It’s an all-inclusive arts program with about 6-700 kids that attend every summer for about a month. They all live on campus. It’s sort of like an arts conservatory for a month, so it’s pretty intense training; the kids are in class from 9am to 10pm five days a week. It’s a High School Program ages 13-18, but it’s usually Juniors and Seniors because it’s an audition based program. One of the best things is that it’s all audition based, and tuition is based on financial need, so regardless of your financial situation, if you get in based on your audition,…you can go to this program. So, the cool sort of social aspect is that you get kids coming from the poorest, worst neighborhoods in CA or the most wealthy, rich neighborhoods in CA and some from outside the state as well… Everybody’s at a fairly high level for their age group in dance, music, all instruments, visual arts, digital media, theater, the whole spectrum… I love promoting that throughout the year to whoever I can. It’s mostly people in CA. If you live out of state you have to pay the full tuition, but the tuition is only like, $1400-1600 for a month, which includes housing and food.”
THE ARTISTIC COORDINATOR: Moab Music Festival
“’Do you have any interest in seeing how a long standing, profitable, successful non-profit arts company is run?’”
Also during the summer and throughout the year as well, Adrian works as an administrator for the Moab Music Festival, the iconic destination music festival in Utah, with Michael Barrett. “That’s another coincidence…that I got that gig… I had sung with New York Festival of Song a bunch of times, so I know Michael Barrett very well. He invited me to sing on this festival like six years ago: loved it; it’s incredible. Moab is like a tiny little 2-3 mile town with Arches National Park on one side and Canyonlands National Park on the other, so it’s a huge tourist destination… Fast forward a couple years, I did a concert in New York with Michael. Afterwards, we all went out to dinner. I was in the middle of doing Arts On Site at this point—the first year of Arts On Site having the studios. I was talking to him about that and he goes, ‘our company just lost my right hand man, the guy that I work with throughout the year. We work together to prepare the festival… It’s a two-week long festival and musicians and the staff are there for three weeks. Do you have any interest in seeing how a long standing, profitable, successful non-profit arts company is run?’ Their audiences are huge, they do twenty-five concerts in two weeks, and they’re all outdoors, and the operations and logistics are crazy. It’s just huge…and it takes all of you to work… I knew that it would be a remote job. I’d just be doing work in my free time on the computer, which I was already doing with Arts On Site all the time, and then I would get to go out to Moab for a month every summer, which is gorgeous. It was a big learning curve in the beginning, but at this point, I love it.”
Working for a profitable Arts Festival has been a rewarding challenge for Adrian. He’s had the opportunity to enhance his administrative skills, learn from a successful non-profit and even gain some financial stability through a set monthly stipend. “This will be my third year as administrative staff. My title is Artistic Coordinator, but I do a bunch of stuff. I create and maintain the music library, both digital and physical, I create what turns into the program at the end over the year—creating formatting for all the pieces and movements and the timings, and then after that’s all set, I start reaching out to artists. I have to be all communication because then I, with the artistic director, decide which instrumentalists are going to play on each piece…also communicating with venues about their availability, working with the other team members, like operations and the festival coordinator who does all the contracts, things like that. I’m sort of having to see an overview of everything to take all the pieces out that I need to put into specific documents. That’s what I’m doing throughout the year. Then once artists are contracted, I’m their point of contact…any questions or anything: I’m the filter. So, they send everything to me, and I’ll ask the appropriate people and find their answers for them. Then, one of the most complicated tasks that I have is creating the rehearsal schedule…for like sixty musicians and twenty-five concerts in very few days. That’s usually an ongoing thing even while the festival is going on because schedules constantly shift and change. The last piece of that is I become sort of the assistant to everybody, physically, while I’m there too, so I’ll help to do stage management, assistant stage management duties, I’ll help to set up the spaces before and after performances, I’ll help to transport artists to and from the airport, helping set up the tent for selling CD’s, backstage, talking with the sound guy—anything and everything. There are heads of each of these things, but there’s usually just one so there’s often need for more help, and I’m not the only one doing that; everybody’s helping everybody while the festivals is going on, but we each have our role.”
THE PERFORMING ARTIST
“What I love doing is performing. I love creating characters, I love the visceral feeling of singing and seeing my own progression over time.”
In addition to his many entrepreneurial hats, Adrian has developed and maintained a steady performing career as an opera singer and classical concert artist—though that was not his original intention. In fact, as a college student, he wanted to be a jazz singer. Not surprisingly, he even started his own college jazz group! “I’ve never been on the opera track in my mind. I’ve never been an opera singer in my mind because my goal was never to sing at the best opera house in the world, have a traveling opera career. I don’t listen to classical music very often. I don’t really enjoy going to opera. I’ll go once in a while if my friends are in it or if there’re some famous people that I really want to hear sing live, or if I know it’s a really fun show/production, but otherwise, I don’t have the urge to go to opera or even a song recital, just not much classical music stuff; it’s not a big interest. What I love doing is performing. I love creating characters, I love the visceral feeling of singing and seeing my own progression over time, that sort of thing, but all that’s to say, I’ve also never been on a very spearheaded path…so I never really felt really pressured to do a lot of auditions. I’ve never felt pressured to continue taking voice lessons…and I guess what came along with that is not so much worry about my singing career. I’ve always wanted to do other things as well, so I have always done other things. I have fifteen random little jobs. I worked at Wal-Mart for seven years, I worked in an auto repair shop changing oil and tires for two years, I was a personal assistant to Steve Blier at his apartment. I worked as a music librarian, everything…babysitting, cleaning houses, and some of my career path has felt that way as well. Maybe it’s sometimes it’s too far spread, like, the net was always cast far out until it wasn’t catching the biggest fish. I was getting a lot of little ones, and maybe that has slowed down my progression in the opera field, but it’s also allowed me to experience all the other things and gain other skills along the way, and that’s not for everybody. That just happened to be the way that my mind worked, and I wanted to do it that way… I love having what I have right now… I probably do three opera productions a year on average, maybe 3-5 concerts, oratorio work, 3-5 song related concerts, not alone usually, like, hired on to do a Bernstein concert and you’re in a cast of six or something and you’re each doing solos and ensemble, like New York Festival of Song type stuff, but simultaneously getting to sing in cool places. This year I sang at the Kennedy Center, I sang at the Library of Congress, sang at Carnegie Hall last year, twice, but I don’t say those things to brag. It’s more the opposite, like, ‘Yeah, you can have this gig at Carnegie Hall one year and then not again for 5 years.’”
In addition to his solo performances, Adrian also has both a church and synagogue job where he feels being a great sight-reader isn’t everything. “I’ve had the same church gig for ten years… I got handed down the bass section leader position from the past one in 2008. He was another singer from Juilliard… He went away, I took over his gig and I’ve kept it… As of about two years ago I’ve had a fairly steady synagogue job as well… I had subbed at maybe 2-3 other synagogues…and somebody from one of those synagogues put me on the sub-list for the one I’m currently singing at. I subbed for this one guy because he had to be away for three months on a gig. He decided not to come back, so I took over the job. I’m horrible at auditioning for choral work. I don’t sight read well, I feel uncomfortable reading parts by myself, but I know very securely that I’m good at learning music fast, and if you give me something and you want me to sing it tomorrow, I will have that shit down. But doing choral auditions, I tried so many and failed. I got the same response every time, ‘your voice is beautiful, but you’re terrible at the sight reading part of this audition and we really need someone who sight reads.’ Which, I want to say for everybody who might read this thing, is that there are very few choral jobs that you have to be sight reading on a regular basis. It’s something that perturbs me about the audition process for choral work, because so often you get the music ahead of time or you can have the music ahead of time, it’s not like your part is changing when you get there. Except for very few bigger full time churches, the majority of church gigs you’re not having to sight read music almost ever, or if you are it’s super simple hymns.”
As I mentioned before this blog is merely a window. Adrian shared so many more stories about his work at Moab, his educational background and how he decided to go into classical music, and even his hiatus from singing during which he, with a small team of artists, created an arts program that helped save a public school in Brooklyn. If you’d like to hear more, I highly recommend taking Adrian for a cup of coffee. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a few of his words of wisdom.
“Doing things like this don’t take money, often, they don’t take much education or experience… What it does take is community. It does take time and willingness to continue.”
ON TRYING THINGS AND CHANGING DIRECTION:
“Rather than waiting and auditioning for everything, create something that is yours that can be recurring. That’s sort of been my goal in the last two years or so, is, using the administrative tools that I’ve learned through starting and running Arts On Site and implant them into my music career, whether it be teaching or singing… You just have to try and do it… Doing things like this don’t take money, often, they don’t take much education or experience, not necessarily, or not the traditional education or experience that you might think you need to start a business of some sort. What it does take is community. It does take time, and willingness to continue, I think, is a big thing, because another thing I’ve noticed is that ideas are really easy to have. So many people have so many ideas…and ideas can shift. I used AOS and me as an example. I was addicted to AOS it was like a drug that kept pulling me back in in multiple ways… you’re gaining so many friends and people that love me and I’m doing something awesome for people, but I realized after a couple years that it was draining everything out of me, and I wasn’t working on my own dream or passion. I didn’t have a big goal for myself; I was just riding on this AOS thing, which is great, there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s fantastic, but it’s not feeding me. It’s only taking from me. The point was that even when you have ideas, and even when you convince yourself that you should do them, you have to also have the flexibility to know that you can change. You don’t have to keep doing that if it’s not fulfilling the thing you thought it was fulfilling in the beginning and maybe, I haven’t done this with my singing career yet, but, I know that many people do, they realize this career, this path is not for me. I want to have a family, I don’t want to be travelling and singing all the time. Or, I don’t want to have a paycheck randomly every few months. I’d rather have biweekly income that I know I’m making 40K a year and next year I’ll get a little raise and it’s all settled; I don’t have to think about it.
ON GIG COMMUNICATION ETIQUETTE:
“Make that lasting, personal as possible connection while you’re there so they know that you’re a person that is really dedicated, and a person who really cares, and that you’re thankful, and then they remember you.”
Before the gig: “I never call people, I rarely text people for professional things. Professional things are almost all email… Email is huge. You gotta be emailing all the time. That’s it. You should have a connection. You should have a reference that you can reference in that email at the least, or you should have met them somewhere and talked to them in person; cold emailing, I don’t think, works very much at all.”
During the gig: “During a gig it’s also nice to have continued communication with everybody. When you’re doing and opera or you’re doing song recital or oratorio thing, respond to every email that you get coming from anybody that’s working on that thing—even the stage manager that’s emailing you the schedule everyday. Respond and say thank you for that email and that it’s received. Every. Day. It takes 10 seconds, and then all of a sudden that stage manager knows you more than she knows the guy standing next to you because you responded and she sees your name and picture everyday, or to the person paying your check from the administrative office. Send them a couple sentences saying thanks for your work and thanks for helping me get paid. It’s just a job, same thing with the conductor and your fellow singers. I will say that I feel like I’m not very good at self-promotion. I don’t post my gigs very often…I could be better at continuing relationships after a gig, but I do feel like I’m very diligent with communicating during gigs, which somehow leaves a lasting impression so that you don’t have to be so active afterwards. It’s like having a great friend who while you’re together in the same place, whether it be at a summer program or a college, you create some strong bonds, but the best friends are the ones that go away and you don’t have to talk every month, you can talk twice a year and it still feels close. I think it’s a similar thing with jobs; make that lasting, personal as possible connection while you’re there so they know that you’re a person that is really dedicated, and a person who really cares, and that you’re thankful, and then they remember you. Then, when they’re thinking of casting something next year they’re like, ‘Oh, remember Adrian last year?’ It’s always these team talks that are happening. This is another cool thing to know is it’s usually not one person making the decision even if there’s only one or two people in the audition room. They usually take that back and they’re discussing with the whole team of people, including the lighting designer and the costume designer and the production crew and whatever, and if everybody on that team remembers you like, ‘oh yeah, Adrian helped me stack the chairs after rehearsal one day. He’s awesome. I would love to have him here again.’ That person might have nothing to do with your hiring, but all of a sudden you’ve got a good word from somebody. Good words count.
After the gig: I always email after, ‘I’d love to sing with you guys again, I had a great time, and if you hear of anybody else that’s looking for Bass-Baritone, please send my name along.’ It’s always just a request like that for me.
ON MANAGING FINANCES:
“It’s just in the last two years that I really started to realize, or think about, organizing my…personal finances. Even though I’ve had a couple of these jobs for a number of years…I wasn’t thinking about them in the right way, in that, ‘ok, I know that, (and this is used in my own performing career as well) maybe you make $4000 this week. Awesome. The next 2 months, I’m gonna make nothing’… It’s looking at your calendar and knowing how much money is gonna come [and] taking that idea of having a stipend and disbursing it throughout the year has become a very important regimen for me. I’m still not great at it, but it’s definitely getting better and it helps. It helps you feel stable even though you’re not gonna get a check every week or every two weeks or every month… You don’t feel like you’re living check to check anymore because you have taken control over your own spending of your own income.
Thank you, Adrian for taking the time to sit down with me and share your story!