Notes from our Think Tank: Producers & Producing

During our most recent member’s gathering on 23 April 2017, we invited producer Gwen van Spijk to discuss with us around the topic of producing for dance.  Her 10 point summary of our conversations can be viewed below, and are key considerations for any artist considering enlisting a producer for their work.

  1. Terminology: the term Producer has become somewhat overused (– even abused); often to dress up what is in fact company and project administration – essential and valuable tasks but not strictly producing.
  2. Definition
    1. Producers are individuals and/or organisations who work with artists to make great ideas happen. The producer takes the lead in navigating between a bold vision of an idea, and how feasibly – and brilliantly – to deliver it. Working with the artist, the producer works out how to locate the idea and bring it to life in the world of its audience.                   Kate Tyndall, London, 2005
    2. The role of Producer involves:
      • working closely with artists to develop and realise a project’s ideas and vision 
      • working out how to present it to its public 
      • raising finance 
      • taking responsibility for the project financially 
      • creating and managing the project’s contractual and delivery framework 
      • creating external support and involvement 

These responsibilities may be fulfilled by one person, who might also have other responsibilities – or by a team.

  1. When looking to fill a management gap within a project development and/or delivery situation – one needs to be clear as to what that gap is.  Is it really for a producer or is it for a book-keeper, a tour manager, project co-ordinator etc.? In the interests of expectations on all sides it is best to be clear and specific. Also, different roles with different levels of responsibility and are paid differently.  There is no point paying out a Producer’s daily rate for something that is not producing!
  2. A single individual might fulfil both producing and more straightforward administrative roes and equally the range of producing and administrative tasks might be covered across a team of people – one of whom might be the Artistic Director - or across a combination of individuals and organisations e.g. consider larger companies who do not have a designated Producer within their team. When it comes to producing - there are many ways to skin a cat.
  3. Producing is something that benefits from sector contacts, knowledge, experience and an excellent grounding in project and financial management. 
  4. Training in core administrative skills has enormous value for both artists and producers.  Training and developing artists and producers alongside each other can be very productive as each then understands the challenges and particularities of the other’s role.
  5. Producers do expect to be and should be paid; however arrangements are often bespoke between artist and producer:
    1.  In the early days of developing a project a producer may be open to committing some time for free to get the project off the ground or they may be happy to take a risk on being paid retrospectively (or they may not, and it would be unlikely for time to be given FOC if the producer had no prior relationship with the artist).  
    2. In dance it’s unusual for Producers to work on a commission basis; it’s typically a daily rate or a flat fee. In the UK the going rate is circa £200/day.
  6. Producing is inherently a position of responsibility but a producer can’t accept responsibility for the implications of decisions that they have not been involved in making.
  7. With number 8 in mind, producing is therefore a collaborative role; and the tasks in hand change over the life cycle of a project. 
  8. Artists more often than not can be very good at producing projects up to the point when they need to step into ‘the studio’ and start creating work. However, having a producer involved from the outset spreads the load, ensures the project is built on a sound financial and operational footing and that its public facing aspects are considered from the start.