Top art industry professionals met at the Young Arts Campus in the heart of the Wynwood Arts District on Mar. 31 to discuss what it truly takes to thrive as an artist in what is becoming an increasingly complex and challenging field.
The event, called the Salon Series, which is sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, featured a moderated discussion, question and answer session and live performance. Vocalist Niia (pronounced NYEA) Bertino and Tom Windish were the invited guests.
Both of them described their career paths to an audience of around 125 people in the arts that included artists, students, promoters, agents and media personnel. Bertino and Windish’s stories were filled with bright hope, determination and a palpable love for music and for people. It was an intimate gathering in a small salon on the seventh floor where the lighting was warm and soft. Light refreshments were served.
The Young Arts Foundation is an independent non-profit organization that works to provide young artists, ages 15-18 or in grades 10-12, with an opportunity to develop in their field and to learn to take their crafts seriously at a time in their lives when there can be many distractions. One such artist was young Bertino who won the 2005 Young Arts Voice competition.
She returned to describe to those gathered how her career progressed and share the wisdom of experience. Born in Boston, her mother was a pianist, but Bertino had other plans.
“I wanted to figure out how to be the best at singing,” she said. Later, she thought she “might be good enough to make it a career.”
When asked by the moderator, Esther Park-Clemetson, director of Campus Programming, to describe her music, she replied: “It’s a bit of a twist on classic. All artists have people that they like. I created my own palette.”
She stressed that although there are artists that young artists admire and seek to emulate, authenticity is key to creating a sustainable career.
“So it’s not about being cool. It’s about being good at what you do,” she emphasized.
After the discussion and question and answer session, she performed two songs.
She is due to release her first album and embark on a tour and Windish is solidly on her team.
Bertino wanted young artists to learn that for a time she was naive about how “there was a whole world that would nurture [her] talent and find the right route for [her].”
Windish had a similar message about perseverance and dedication.
He always had been “obsessed with music.” He describe that while a teenager, he had a landscaping business. He had started mowing his neighbor’s lawn and pretty soon he had four employees working for him. However, music governed his heart. While he mowed, raked and cut, he had his headphones on and was listening to music.
He also started working as a deejay during the age of cassette tapes and vinyl. He was dishing up favorites like U2 and REM, going on to deejay at college. After that, he began working as a booking agent. That’s where it began for him.
The first band that he booked was The Feelies.
“It was a great show. It was the bass player’s birthday. We had a huge cake. It was the last day of school and there were a thousand kids there,” he said.
When asked about his signature aesthetic, he was direct.
“I book bands I like. I book bands with sounds that have not been heard before.”
He mentioned the importance of loyalty and friendship in the music business where “there are no contracts, just a handshake.”
“I spend an hour a day just checking with people,” he said.
Now, to say that he is well known in the industry is an understatement. He is the founder and owner of the Windish Agency which books nearly 20,000 shows in this country, Canada, Mexico, South America, Asia and Australia.
It all started with a passion for music and his drive to showcase talent.
“The biggest thing is to make great music. Just go, go, go.”