How to launch an orchestra — a guide to creative entrepreneurship

Robin conducts SÓN during their launch concert in front of a sell-out Turner Sims audience

How to launch an orchestra — a guide to creative entrepreneurship

I thought for ages about this. Pondering, scrawling mile upon mile of notes, pondering some more, scrawling some more. It took me ages. Then I began. And I’m only talking about this, my first Medium post. I haven’t even told you about the orchestra stuff yet.

In late 2015, along with some other established musicians, I decided to create SÓN, a new professional orchestra based in the UK. So far so good. Quite a simple beginning, but the floodgates opened fast and we were up and rolling, the tsunami of reality lapping at our heels. Launch concert booked, musicians to hunt-down, endless favours to call in, photographers and videographers persuaded, all the mate’s-rates begging wearing a little thin real quick…

Fast forward to mid-2017, and we’re approaching the end of our second season, eight incredible gigs later (over half have been a complete sell-out, too). We’re still rolling, still juggling, still robbing Peter to pay Paul (they’re not players, it’s an expression. Not sure it translates stateside). We’ve got some big plans, some huge, life-affirming plans, some that’ll-never-work-and-besides-it’ll-cost-a-bomb plans.

Of course, money is an issue, as are things like staff (and finding them), as well as being bold and exciting, but not wild and whacky. It’s tricky to settle on a niche artistic direction without breaking the bank, not to mention being isolated in the equivalent of that grimy annexe where nobody wants to go.

There’s lots to tell. Loads of it. I’ll unload some of the most pertinent nitty-gritty next time. Nearly all of it, I think, is relevant to musicians and performers, all of us cultural entrepreneurs. Thing is, for freelance musicians (conductors, composers, grime rappers, bagpipers, whatever) we are all entrepreneurs. You may not like such an appellation, nor agree with it — everybody wants to be an entrepreneur right now, after all, and it can certainly put people off embracing the whole thing — but it’s what we are.

We need to start thinking like creative entrepreneurs, whether we’re searching for a breakthrough as a soloist, creating a community opera, getting gigs for our quartet, or launching a new orchestra. It’s all the same.

It’s not what gets taught at conservatoire or university.
It’s what gets taught by life.

And it begins with beginning. Actually doing. No amount of planning, no amount of dreaming, is going to lift any artistic project you may have off the ground. If you want lift-off, it’s simple: Act. Act now. Stop faffing around, waiting for things to be perfect. They never will be. Stop waiting until your proverbial ducks are in a row. They’re all excuses. And none of them matter at all.

Whatever your plans, your project, and your dreams — begin now!

An edited version of this post first appeared on Medium

  1. Chelmsford Sinfonietta (live) - conductor Robin Browning Mozart: Symphony No 40 (Allegro Molto) 7:39
  2. són (live) - conductor Robin Browning Sibelius: Impromptu for Strings 5:36
  3. Olivia Robinson & members of BBC SO - conductor Robin Browning Raymond Warren: In My Childhood (mvt 5 "Apple Blossom") 6:46
  4. són (live) - conductor Robin Browning Sibelius: Entr'acte from Pelleas et Melisande 3:01
  5. Chelmsford Sinfonietta (live) - conductor Robin Browning Mozart: Marriage of Figaro Overture 4:44
  6. Olivia Robinson & UH Ensemble - conductor Robin Browning John Hopkins: In the White Hours (mvt 6 "Morning at Last") 4:16
  7. conductor Robin Browning Holst: Lullay my Liking 3:57