We all have a resume for our muggle life and looking at mine recently I realised there were so many skills that I have picked up through burlesque, be it performing, producing or teaching, that I have never thought to include in it. I guess the idea of having to explain how I acquired those skills is less than appealing when I often work in a corporate environment, more so for the fact that I can’t provide any formal recognition or qualification for them. But it doesn’t mean I don’t have those skills and in my current quest to help newbies out (see my last blog), I thought I might give you an idea of some of the skills you can acquire over the course of participating in burlesque. I’m not talking about dance skills, i.e. how to choreograph etc. I;m talking about the skills that we pick up because we a time rich and money poor.
Marketing, Advertising and Sales
Whether we know it all or not, we are all in marketing, advertising and sales. Some of us are more skilled at others, some can do it better online, some in person, some not at all. I’ve been very lucky in the last 18 months to have a great mentor in Matt Wiseman from Glory Days Magazine who has given me a better understanding of marketing and it’s subtle nuances. But I also know I’ve barely even scratched the service in knowing anything about it really and recognition we probably could all do it better and more consistently.
So what am I really talking about here? Yes there’s the obvious of social media skills. We post, we advertise, we do events blah, blah, blah. That is a subject in itself too. But this topic is so much more than just social media. It’s the skill to create interest, build hype, create desire. It’s writing press releases, sponsorship proposals, funding applications and trying to generate leads and network contacts, and ultimately sales, be it for tickets or for getting gigs, or gaining students. And it goes further than that. It’s also about understanding your target markets, the effect of other markets on your own, and coming up with new and creative ideas to repackage the same thing. It’s not a once size fit all category either, so what works for one, does not work for others, even when it’s the same product just for a different audience. It can be a minefield and it expands into so many facets of what we do… branding, web sites, impression, imagery etc.
It is a huge subject and the more you learn, the better you’ll get at applying it to your brand/business/show/persona. I highly recommend checking our free online marketing courses (google has a great one), doing webinars, and constantly learning and researching. For social media in particular, because of forever changing algorithms it’s important to stay updated with changes so that you can adapt your marketing strategies to get the biggest reach. Keep your knowledge base up-to-date and relevant.
Leading on from marketing and how you present your brand etc, if you don’t have or can’t afford a dedicated designer then you better get resourceful and do it yourself. You may have to design your own poster, materials, programmes, retouch your own images, create content for marketing and merchandise and more. You have to learn about different file formats, pixel sizes, resolution and quality, the effect of that in print and digital media, and how to adapt those to fit your needs and marketing strategy (there’s that word again!). And you have to source the suppliers to do the quality work of manufacturing the goods at times.
I’ve managed to have some amazing people support me in design, be it from full design and print through to mentoring and guidance. I learned a lot about design through Cat at Byte Design, who was a great friend and generous sponsor of the New Zealand Burlesque Festival for a number of years. I spent last year applying that learning as I rebuilt our website, and designed all the imagery and materials for the festival. This year am grateful to have Carrie Hawkins on board leading the way for our design work. I have also found some great resources online like Canva.com that has helped me to create my design needs without having to get into full on photoshop design details and costs.
This has been a huge learning curve for me, but one I’ve really quite enjoyed. Learning how to put together your own website is a great skill to have, even on a basic level using a blog format like WordPress.com. When I originally started, and I had a friend, Pauly Informed, put my first WordPress site together and give me detailed instructions on how to maintain it. I then got to learn the ins and outs of actually establishing my own website all by myself after changing hosts later. I learned a lot through watching and maintaining the festival website through Cat at Byte Design, and then when we relaunched the festival I had to learn about the different between domains, servers, hosting and self-hosting, using different themes for design and marketing (woop there it is!) and creating the content that was relevant and going to get conversions to actual business.
Further beyond that though, you can also learn how to utilise free resources like google and zoho to create emails, link them to your own url’s for professional email address, create forms, newsletters and integrations to your site, and build in e-commerce like Ecwid or Woocommerce to your business. Some thing’s I’m still working out or I haven’t worked out yet is SEO’s and monetization of content, like for blogs :). But I’m guessing that would be a pretty good thing to learn right!
Web development is again a vast subject, and one I suggest you learn little bit by little bit according to what you need. Web Designers can be expensive and if you can learn how to set up and maintain a website and email yourself, you will save a bomb, while presenting what you want as a professional burlesque dancer/producer/teacher.
Audio Visual Skills
I was originally a bit spoiled in that I was married to a musician of 20+ years and so got to understand more about lights and sound than many of us have been able to. That said, I do highly encourage learning about it yourself. Even basic things like side, back and front wash, the colours to not use depending on the costume, and how to create movement without overstimulating and drowning the performance out with the lights. Great for producers and performers alike.
Playlist management is important for both your show and creating an atmosphere outside of show times as well. If you can take the time to learn about basic sound desk functions it is useful too. Being able to adjust levels is useful, as often we get given music which is too quiet or two loud and needs to be adjusted. We can’t all have top notch sound technicians at our shows so often we may rely on a mate to push play on the old laptop. For this reason, it’s important to understand the functions on the programme you use, be it iTunes or media player or whatever, so you can make the adjustments you need on the spot if needed.
In terms of cutting your own music I use a free programme called Audacity. I’ve been able to mix tracks together, change levels, fade in and out, play with tempos, change from an iTunes format to mp3 format and more. Having a programme like that is useful for both producers and performers and it’s cheaper than handing it out to a professional who doesn’t really get what your creative monologue is to mix.
Recently I have also discovered the art of making your own videos… a necessary with current social media algorithms. Online programmes like Wevideo.com are great as you can put in a video or pictures or titles or backgrounds and more to really give it the effect you want. They’re fairly user friendly too, so easy to learn. Research them though as some will make you pay after you;ve made so many videos or you’ve used a certain amount of storage.
Business and Accounting
Two things are certain in life. Death and Taxes. Accounting programmes like Xero are wonderful for keeping track and then just flicking off to an actual accountant to check and file at the end of the year. Its also important to understand your tax obligations so you don’t get stung, be it as a performer earning money, or as a producer engaging independant performers (contractors) and paying money. It’s not only important to understand the legal side of taxes but also of business practices as well, such as contract law, employment law, health and safety regulations, licensing for audio, and sometimes movies as well (that was a new one to learn last year for me!). That way if you understand the basics, you are less likely to find yourself up shit creek without a paddle.
Other “business” skills I’ve collected is how to set up a company, the processes around directors, shareholders and parent companies and the legal requirements for maintaining a company, be it a limited liability or sole-trade organisation that is not formally register. For those in NZ by the way, you can now get a NZBN (business number) as a sole-trader without having to register as a formal company. Very useful for tax.
A producers work is never done
While above might be a good list of some of the broader skills you can learn and develop, don’t forget about being your own general dog’s body. You will sometimes provide your own labour as kitten, stage manager, emcee, chauffeur, merch minder and be your own sugar-daddy without the sugar. Add in packing in and packing out, beating the streets for advertising, decorator of sets and rooms, actually making your own merch, stuffing bags, costume designer and fixer-up-er, and just general admin skills, you’ve got your hands full. On the admin side, I suggest you learn about formulas for excel (so useful!), form creation and management, and formatting skills. Get some basic administrative skills under your belt. It will help immensely.
TLDR Summary: While it would be great to farm out all the skills we need, it’s not always possible. Do remember that you are a business, be it even a hobbyist performer or occasional producer, and you should develop your business skills to support that even if it is so you can look like your know what you’re talking about and give some guidance on what you want when you do engage a professional to do the work. There are plenty of free resources on line that you can utilise, as well as courses, webinars and tutorials to help you do what you need to do without having to fork out to someone else. Of course bear in mind the value of your time and the quality you get may be better if you do farm out the work. If you’re broke though, time maybe the only thing you have.
Get yourself a mentor in different business aspects of your producing/performing/teaching as well. Having someone who has actually made the mistakes, studied formally, got qualifications or had many years experience to pull on is invaluable. They can teach you things that online stuff can’t and are a great resource to flick ideas around with. Mostly though, don’t stop learning and developing your skills beyond just the generalization of putting on a show/putting on a performance/putting a class together. After all, there is much more required to burlesque than just being a creative person.