One For All…All For All: Collective Action

For nearly 25 years now, I’ve been warning Jazz artists and professionals of the serious dangers that were lying ahead to both the music and their livelihoods. But more importantly, I’ve been developing methods of addressing, thwarting and overcoming them on both the individual and the massive scale. Unfortunately, my message was either unheeded or shrugged off with a “that’s the Jazz life” attitude by the artists and professionals. Far worse, the foundation and “advocacy (stop laughing)” world totally ignored my concepts and instead decided to pursue a plantation mentality trickle-down plan that fattened the top in the expectations that they would provide for those below (am I hearing “tax cuts for the rich” being mumbled somewhere?).

Now I’m often asked about the crystal ball that I must have used. No crystal ball – just simple deductive reasoning and applied arithmetic. So, here we are 25 years later. The jazz record industry has pretty much collapsed, radio (what’s left of it) and press no longer sell product, touring opportunities have been decimated, the pay scale for gigs is totally polarized and the lottery system of serendipitous chance is the only key to substantive success within the mainstream Jazz business structure . You’ve been sucker-baited into semi-oblivion and divided & conquered into economic inertia.

So listen and listen well. The only way out of this mess is to work together – with common goals, shared knowledge and using the most powerful force at hand: COLLECTIVE ACTION.

This is not only the best way to deal with the current music business environment, it’s the only way.

The best approach to this is to build an entity that can bring at least 5, but generally not more than 10 musicians and professionals together where their individual strengths, resources and connections can be combined into a geometric or even exponential context far greater than their individual reaches.

I immediately want to dispel a serious misconception about the nature of collectives; and that is the improper assumption that its members need to somehow pare down their own ideal aspirations for the good of the collective. Nothing could be more damaging to the potential of a collective than to take this perspective. In reality, for a collective to reach its full potential, its members need to bring their full goals and expectations to the table so all of the members can contribute their energies to the fulfillment of those goals for each other, and thereby, themselves.

In my own experience, having worked extensively with artists who emerged from the AACM in Chicago, and BAG in St. Louis, the collective identity of these entities was highly instrumental in our ability to properly exploit that background into personal career development. I’m not recommending anything as large or complex as those organizations, but to cherry-pick elements into a context that works for you, your fellow artists and your environment in the current circumstances.

To thumbnail it, there are three primary business development areas where collective action offers effective results. These are rough guidelines, intentionally. It’s a loose template upon which to build concepts.


  •       Ongoing concert series
  •       Festival
  •       Creation of Venue
  •       Development of a dedicated booking agent/manager

Public Relations:

  •      Collective members’ promotion at all member events
  •      Collective as a promotional story
  •      Collective website linked to all members’ sites

Product sales

  •      Distribution package to retailers and online sales
  •      All product available at all members’ events
  •      Group marketing (discounts/package sales)

There are two key questions that also need to be asked in putting together a collective:

What does each person want to get out of this?

What can each person offer? 

Clearly, it requires both prudence and full consideration to determine who would make ideal members. Everybody has to understand that they are working both for themselves and for the other members in a partnership of efforts that will offer benefits to all involved in an equitable fashion. And they need not be limited to artists. In fact, a self-contained business component through its members is ideal.

Collectives should take the shape of its contents (members), and they should also work together with other collectives. Utopian? To a degree. But all things of value are, in essence, Utopian. I’m currently involved with 5 collectives in connection with my client base, all at varying stages of development. Check our consultation page if you might be interested in moving in that direction. And also take advantage of a free download of Musicians Working Together, a chapter from my book, Straight Ahead…

As the old saying goes: In unity there is strength.

Click on the cover image to download the free chapter from Straight Ahead:

Musicians Working Together - Free eBook download from Outward Visions


Marty Khan

If this piece interests you, please add your thoughts in a comment below and use the social network buttons to share it with your community.  Subscribe to this blog to receive new articles by email and exclusive e-books, discounts, and offers on Outward Visions products and services.  Marty Khan is the author of “Straight Ahead: A Comprehensive Guide To The Business of Jazz (Without Sacrificing Dignity or Artistic Integrity)” now available as an e-book, and is currently working on an anthology of articles chronicling the beautiful art and the ugly industry of jazz.

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  • Your suggestion is similar to what Rhythm Conspiracy in New Orleans is doing – though we are looking at 100 – 150 members and employing the worker cooperative model – and not just musicians but writers, actors, dancing , visual artists and craftspeople as well to all work together and provide services to each other that will bolster the income of all ….