Industry Insider: Adam Debevc, Manager of Sales at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra

November 17, 2014

Our latest installation of the Industry Insiders delves into the career specifics of a Manager of Sales for a large scale music organisation. Adam Debevc speaks about his role at Toronto Symphony Orchestra, its members, funding, and how he rose to his current position. Read on to hear about Adam’s personal experiences and his advice for anyone aspiring to land a career in the music industry.

Industry Insider: Manager of Sales at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Adam Debevc

Adam Debevc, Toronto Symphony Orchestra
“Key skills required in the sales world are a keen ability to listen, the aptitude to effectively communicate, the capacity to overcome rejection, the capability to think quickly on your feet, and the confidence to speak to someone you’ve never met.”

The cost of a large scale musical performance is a lot more than the general public often estimates. How much on average does it cost for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra to put on a performance and how is the sponsorship and funding of these performances arranged? It’s quite an undertaking you have…

First of all, it’s not just me. There are a number of gifted, passionate, and focused colleagues that work at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO). There are teams that focus on fundraising, individual philanthropy, government-operating grants, and ticket sales. These all combine to fund the TSO’s mandate to serve the community with exceptional live concert performances. Additionally, the TSO is committed to education and community outreach programs that are not ticketed. We also work with a number of partner organizations that share our passion with the development of projects that focus on enriching the community. It’s a challenge to determine the costs of a concert because it is a complex network of people, resources, skills, and assets that produce a priceless performance for all to enjoy.

Are the members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra full time musicians, or do many hold other positions of employment?

The musicians of the TSO are on stage from September to June, and with a schedule of over 100 concerts a year, this is their main focus. However, many of our orchestra musicians teach. It’s a great way to pass on their knowledge and experiences to the next generation of musicians.


How did you come to work in the Sales department for the Orchestra? What is your employment background?

My first job in the industry was booking blues acts in Canada and the US. I learned a great deal about sales in this role. The skills that my mentor, Brian Mortimer, taught me have proven quite valuable. Brian has years of experience in sales, event management, and procuring sponsor partnerships. He taught me about the challenges he had experienced in his career and where to focus my attention. In addition to booking acts, Brian and I began selling corporate sponsorship and advertising for Canadian Music Week (CMW). My involvement with CMW lasted for four seasons. During the conference itself, I also managed the trade exhibition. I wanted to take what I had learned from Brian and the team at CMW and apply these skills to another sales role in the industry. There was an opening at the TSO and I was up for a new challenge. I am truly grateful for my current position. It’s the most creative and fulfilling environment I’ve ever been in.

You previously worked for iconic recording studio, Kensington Sound. How did that situation come about? What were your duties of employment?

It started after I was introduced to a fabulously talented producer and musician, Ben Pelchat. Initially, I managed his band in Toronto. I then began to manage him as a producer. Vezi, who owned Kensington Sound, was living in Dubai at the time and was eager to breathe new life into the Toronto studio. This created an opportunity for Ben, myself, and Ben’s brother Liam. We renovated the facility and focused on working with artists that were dedicated to developing long-term careers in the music industry. It quickly became obvious that when you surround yourself with people that have an intense desire to achieve their goals it becomes infectious. When our clients met their goals, we met ours. Their passion fueled our passion.

I am no longer at Kensington Sound, but when I was there my role at the studio could be compared to a General Manager at any number of different businesses, but I must stress that, the four of us worked as a team. I looked after strategic planning, accounting, booking sessions, marketing, web-based operations, and scheduling of maintenance. My objective in this role was to provide a positive, inspiring space for artists to explore all avenues of music creation. I feel we met Vezi’s vision, as the studio continues to grow. After forty years, Kensington Sound is still a remarkable and exciting space for artists to reach their full potential.

When you were leaving school what were your aspirations, and how close to those aspirations is your current working reality?

I believe that as you develop and mature, your goals evolve and your reality changes. I enrolled in the Royal Military College of Canada after graduating from high school with the aspiration of becoming a fighter pilot. As I progressed, I re-discovered my passion for music and for business.  After a year and a half, I left the military and transferred to the University of Western Ontario to pursue a degree in business.  I mention my short time in the military because it played a crucial role in shaping who I am today. My takeaways were leadership, problem solving, organization, and teamwork. This provided me with the skills to effectively assess risks and confidently make choices. It became obvious that I should follow something I’m passionate about. I love the arts and I love business. This industry allows me to work with one foot in each world.

Do you have any words of advice to impart on the generation just entering the workforce now?

Find your passion and make a career of it! It separates those that succeed from those that do not. You must truly enjoy the profession you have chosen and you must be willing to overcome any challenges that stand in your way. Do it because you truly love doing it… not because others think it is the best option for you. Become an expert at networking – learn from those who are doing what you are aspiring to do. This is how I built the majority of my contacts in the industry. Learn where the industry leaders congregate and meet them there. Continue your education. This industry is in a rapid state of change. In order to keep up, you must understand the shifting trends and opportunities.

Finding someone to mentor you in the field you are interested in is vital. A good mentor will assist in guiding you through the countless challenges you will certainly face.

You have an extensive background in corporate sales for music festivals. Which key skills are needed to work in this field of employment?

Identify your personal goals and achieve them through collaboration. Your own success is married to it. Key skills required in the sales world are a keen ability to listen, the aptitude to effectively communicate, the capacity to overcome rejection, the capability to think quickly on your feet, and the confidence to speak to someone you’ve never met. To become successful in any sales role, you must have a complete belief in what you are selling. If you do not, you cannot possibly convey any excitement about the product and you cannot build trust with your client. They need to see that their organizational growth strategy aligns with what your business is able to offer them. Of equal importance, and in order to secure a future sale, you must exceed all of their expectations at the event itself.

How severely has the Canadian Music Industry been affected by global economies? Do you see any major changes between the business world you entered into straight out of school, as to 2014?

I can speak best to the trends I have seen within my day-to-day career experiences. There has been a reduction in the amount of capital invested by sponsoring organizations. Though long-term sponsors continue to invest in the festivals, shows, and events they have in the past, they are greatly reducing the amount of money they spend. It is also more challenging to bring new sponsors or donors on board. Things will stabilize. It’s important that we keep an open mind and a positive attitude. We work in a creative field and we need creative solutions to the economic challenges that present themselves now and will continue to surface in the future.

I would like to conclude this interview with a statement that has changed the way I look at EVERYTHING:

Life is not happening to you. You are creating it.


© Ngawara Madison, Music Vice

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