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Meet Oni Buchanan of Ariel Artists

Today we’d like to introduce you to Oni Buchanan.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Oni. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I had no idea that I would be running an artist management company, let alone building one from scratch. My undergraduate degrees are in English and music, I have an MFA in poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and a master’s in piano performance from the New England Conservatory. I intended to be a concert pianist who curated conceptual performance programs, as well as created interdisciplinary projects between music and poetry/kinetic sculpture/theater/science/more.

At the time I was in the Conservatory – and besides the immediately disqualifying fact of being a young, unknown artist – these atypical programming priorities did not make me a desirable solo pianist to classical music management rosters. Undaunted, I decided I would simply book concerts for myself, and to that end, alongside of practicing and creating, I began building a strategy, marketing materials, and a database, researching concert series and reaching out to presenters, and performing more and more out in the world.

Fast-forward a few years and I was touring enough that my musician colleagues began asking me how I was making my career happen. Despite my enthusiastic explanations, my colleagues soon became overwhelmed and despairing when trying my suggested methods for themselves, and I realized that I had a unique skill set among them. In parallel I realized that in booking for myself and honing the processes along the way, I had accidentally built the infrastructure for a management company. And that through the platform of a company, I was poised to increase my artistic impact exponentially by booking not only for myself, but for other musicians and ensembles whose work I found extraordinary, and who, like me, passionately wanted to share and connect through art. I launched the company in mid-2009, and as it began to gain traction and reach, I made the choice to stop touring as a soloist and devote myself to the tremendous potential of the company.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Ha, it has absolutely not been a smooth road – but somehow I thrive under extreme duress. The obstacles I encountered only drove me to ardently employ all my cryptographic skills to find ways to break their seemingly impenetrable code.

When starting a new business, or when undertaking any harrowingly difficult endeavor – like the endeavor to be a touring artist, for instance – it is important to be both naïve and idealistic, but also tenacious and an active problem-solver. I began Ariel Artists with many naïve, idealistic ideas, including the assumption that if I identified the best young artists doing the most creative, inviting work at the highest levels of excellence and authenticity, that concert presenters would immediately notice and book my artists.

In fact that’s not how bookings work. Before everything, there is trust, and long-term relationships are the means for trust. I had to build up my company the same way I had built myself up as a solo pianist, and do so in the shadow of management giants with decades-long relationships with many of the same concert presenters I was hoping to reach. On the other hand, because I had been up against similar odds as a pianist, I had already found ways to offer something different and increasingly valuable to presenters – by means of curated programs, customized educational residencies, interdisciplinary collaborations, and more. Also, having been initially locked out of more traditional concert series, I had generated new performance opportunities for myself, created new venue possibilities, identified new audiences. In many ways, my ingenuity was forced by necessity, but that same agility became enormously advantageous to me and to Ariel Artists in the ever-shifting landscape of classical music in the present moment.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
Ariel Artists is a classical music management company, which means at the most basic level that we curate a roster of classical musicians, market their work, book events (concerts and residencies) for them internationally, contract and run those events, and support our artists in the short and long term by collaborating with them to develop artistic identity, supporting programs and projects, booking strategies, career benchmarks, and more. We are in constant dialogue with our artists, engaged in teamwork across all fronts of our mission. We are also in constant dialogue with concert presenters, listening to their larger artistic goals, and offering our expertise in helping them realize those artistic visions through custom-designed programs and artist residencies that are specific to their audiences and communities.

What defines the Ariel roster is that we represent artists who are characterized – aside from their sheer musical excellence – by joy, exuberance, curiosity, and a passionate desire to share. Our artists treat their art form as living and ever-expanding, and they deeply want to share their experience of art with others and leverage their mastery and chosen practice to have a positive impact on the world.

These defining characteristics of Ariel’s roster artists manifest in multiple ways. All of our artists have devoted their rigorous training from the world’s top conservatories to innovative artistic pursuits. They are committed to the future of their art, commissioning new work while also treating canonical literature as itself living and “contemporary,” creating dialogues across musical eras. They explore the overlapping terrain and potential cross-pollination between music and other disciplines, working with collaborators from other art forms as well as other fields entirely. They all want to interact with their audiences and with the communities they enter while on tour, forge relationships everywhere they go, connect people through the phenomenon of live performance, reach individuals through educational/outreach events, inspire and be inspired, and feel like they are bringing about good in the world.

One thing that sets Ariel apart from many other management companies is that we take a chance on young, visionary artists who are themselves taking risks and insightfully pushing the boundaries of their art. We encourage our artists to fully embrace and expand their authentic interests, working with them to shape those interests into concert offerings that are marketable in the industry, rather than treating the market as the Procrustean bed to which our artists must conform. What’s been very moving to me is how much the Ariel staff and artists are committed to each other as a team, and even speak of the roster and the whole company as the “Ariel family.” We have mutual respect and enormous trust in one another, with everyone working to their highest capacity, staff and artists alike. In that respect, we are ourselves a kind of chamber ensemble, relying on and trusting the integrity and full commitment of each member every step of the way.

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