By Lydia Bailey Brown
On June 23, I met with a select group of entrepreneurial artists who are working in technical creative industries that support the performing and film arts. The Kentucky Arts Council organized a roundtable, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, to encourage thought leadership in the commonwealth. We invited our Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet teammates from the Kentucky Film Office to the roundtable at the Kentucky Educational Television studio in Lexington.
After the daylong sessions ended, I enjoyed a Q&A on the topic of arts business with composer, music producer and Kentucky native Vince Emmett. As a composer, he blends country music elements uniquely with orchestral, experimental, ethereal and traditional scoring elements for feature films and episodic work. After his first feature film, Pharaoh’s Army (1995), staring Kris Kristofferson, Chris Cooper and Patricia Clarkson, he began to receive requests for compositions and productions from major networks and film companies. Emmett’s current soundtrack release “The Song,” can be heard on Capitol Records and Lakeshore Records.
Lydia Bailey Brown: Vince, are you an entrepreneur?
Vince Emmett: Entrepreneur, yes. I am CEO, musician and chief bottle washer. I now have employees but I still wash the bottles and all the rest of the dishes. The buck stops with me.
LBB: Why don’t many folks think of artists as entrepreneurs?
VE: Most people only know folks who do music or paint as a hobby. Being an artist full-time is a bizarre concept for so many who get up daily and work for a company. I understand that. My parents were very hard working people. I grew up with my grandfather’s stories of building roads in Adair County Kentucky. Back breaking work, human breaking work. So, in just one generation I’m playing and writing music for 30 years and making a living. That’s quite a social, cultural shift in just my family.
LBB: How has that perception of art not being a business made your career path difficult?
VE: I’ve run into walls. I’ve stood in more than one social situation being introduced as a composer and gotten giggles and awkward comments. But mostly I’ve experienced interest and the usual thousand questions. A working artist is just not someone you meet every day. At the same time, media – films, music, episodic works, art of every imaginable bent – is integrated in people’s daily, hourly even minute-to-minute experience, more than ever before in history. Somebody has to make that.
LBB: How does an artist define entrepreneurial business success the same or differently than another entrepreneur?
VE: Sleeping indoors is a start. But seriously, I don’t know an artist that doesn’t consider it a blessing just to be able to do it daily. I always tell young artists, “This life is not a normal life; it is the utmost privilege.” I’ve lived a wonderful life and provided well for my family. That’s bonus upon bonus.
LBB: What skills are required for an artist to be financially viable as an entrepreneur?
VE: It’s not news a young artist likes to hear, but you have to be a business minded, informed artist, otherwise the art will stop. My life consists of 60 percent new business pursuits, managing business partnerships and straightforward day-to-day connecting the dots. Then some music happens.
Prepare yourself, eating requires the exchange of money for food.
LBB: As an artist, are you working with the film industry in Kentucky?
VE: I am. I compose music for film and television, so I’m here.
We believe enough in Kentucky’s efforts and those heading the effort, that we are willing to put a considerable financial investment into the future here. I have a 251-year-old log cabin that was a recording studio for years near Louisville. It is now our new post studio for my composing work.
I was honored to be invited to Los Angeles with former Gov. (Steve) Beshear and the First Lady as they made the announcement that Kentucky was “Open for Business” to the film industry a few years ago. And I’m encouraged by the excellent work of the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet and its agency leaders, including those leaders at the Kentucky Arts Council, who collaborate in the name of creative business. It’s going to do well.
LBB: Thank you, Vince. We love what we do! And we are proud of your artistry and your business.
For more information on Emmett, visit vinceemmett.bandzoogle.com.
Lydia Bailey Brown is executive director of the Kentucky Arts Council.