Folk Alliance International - Aengus Finnan Interivew - Folk Alliance International was born as a mission in 1989. Over the decades since its first steps, the organization has grown, expanding while keeping its purpose out it front; waving its mission statement like a banner while using its words as a shield. The Folk Alliance International mission statement is ‘to nurture, engage and empower the international folk music community — traditional and contemporary, amateur and professional — through education, advocacy and performance’. Concentrating on six goals, the organization is a teacher and guardian throughout the year. There are satellite events for Folk musicians and the industry that helps them serve career needs. In February each year, Folk Alliance International gathers to put another year of education, advocacy, and consumer development into the FAI history books, and to celebrate the future by providing a platform for networking and professional development on major level.

In 1989, 125 people from across the continent traveled to a retreat in Malibu, California, to begin discussions on the formation of a coalition of folk organizers. Invited by Clark and Elaine Weissman and the California Traditional Music Society, they were major presenters and small folk societies, people who’d done business across the continent, but who’d never met face to face. This formational meeting changed the way that the folk music and dance presenters, performers, agents, managers, media, and record companies do business in North America. The North American Folk Music and Dance Alliance was officially born in 1990. In 2008 the organization’s name changed to Folk Alliance International to address and embrace international opportunities for North American members and the growing list of international members and delegates.

In 2016, Folk Alliance International provided value for the community and its musicians with its Kansas City conference in February. The FAI meeting is an open range where all of the industry interests can gather around the same watering hole or elevator shaft. Artists have multiple showcases and can be heard over the course of the conference. When the main ballrooms close at 10:30PM, the music that never stops can be found on three entire hotel floors, each room hosting music from around the world. Folk Alliance International becomes a city during its yearly conference in Kansas City.

The current head of Folk Alliance International is Aengus Finnan. Born in Dublin Ireland, Aengus is a Canadian Folk musician and arts organizer who grew up in Ontario, Canada. In 2003 he was awarded the Queen's Golden Jubilee Commemorative Medal for his humanitarian and cultural work in Canada. Aengus Finnan took time to answer questions about Folk Alliance International and its abilities.

The Alternate Root (TAR): Folk Alliance International offers a variety of personal options as well as professional for artists. How did this develop over time?

Aengus Finnan (AE): Ultimately Folk Alliance International is a tender balance between community and industry, and we strive to serve a full range from amateur player to legends and luminaries. While we ultimately need to connect working artists with work, there is also a personal and professional development aspect that helps prepare artists and other for the complexity of navigating a viable life in music.

TAR: The benefits can be educational as well as financial with offers such as artist royalties. What sort of outreach do you perform to educate artists on how much they are missing in monetizing careers?

AE: We provide panels and workshops each year for artists to learn about the basic best practices in business, but also the many options they have to capitalize on their work. We also publish advocacy documents year-round that are designed to provide demystified views of critical aspects in language that the community can easily review.

TAR: There are a few insurance options, such as Sound healthcare and Fractured Atlas. Musicians tend to ignore insurance and other options you offer when they are managing their career outside of organizations. Do you find musicians accessing these benefits as much as they should?

AE: Not at all. It’s an area we plan to expand and address in more detail once we have full staff capacity to do so.

TAR: You offer information and steps to take for house concerts. Do you find this more necessary in 2016 with the influx of house concerts?

AE: We have negotiated a House Concert Agreement for member presenters to assist in clarifying the conditions by which presenters are exempt from paying PRO license fees. This is certainly a growing and vital part of the folk music ecology, but make no mistake, private house concerts are still a direct part of musicians’ professional careers in that they provide revenue towards their creative business bottom line.

TAR: How do the benefits you offer compare to other organizations?

AE: We are certainly member oriented, and with national and international scope we attract some substantial and important partners, however, as we develop staff capacity to do more than simply mount the worlds’ largest folk music conference we will be further able to develop member benefits.

TAR: The amount of performances for each artist was a huge value at FAI 2016 with ballroom showcases, hotel room performances and stairwell concerts. It created a city of music. What is the response from artists about how this affects their careers? Do you get good response from festival organizers and venues?  

AE: We’ve actually been refining the event, taking a quality over quantity approach, and actually reduced the number of Official Showcases to just 194 this year. Presenters have been specifically requesting a more diverse, dynamic, and tour ready artists and we have seen an increase in presenter attendance as a result of our efforts.

TAR: How do you include observations from the community about each year’s event in the structure for the following year?

AE: We value the input of all delegates and take the post-conference survey very seriously. It helps guide the changes and adjustments each year, in addition to the overarching Strategic Plan which sets the multi-year goals for the board and staff.

View Folk Alliance International 2016 conference report

Become a member of Folk Alliance

Listen to artists appearing at Folk Alliance International 2016

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