Choices in an Age of Unethical Behavior

The music business needs to step up—and we need to step up!

Clearly, with the advent of the #MeToo movement, unethical behaviors exist and are coming to the forefront in nearly all professional arenas: music, sports, religion, finance, academia, politics, and so on. The point in writing this is not only to state what is happening but, more importantly, to look at our choices and the opportunities present to all of us moving forward as our call to action. We must hold ourselves accountable to, and stand for, higher personal and professional standards within this business of ours.

The primary unethical behaviors being brought to everyone’s attention include discrimination, sexual harassment, assault, financial dealings, power, ego, and political gain.

Yes, we have encountered those who will not hire artists based on the color of their skin, how much they weigh, or how old they are. Over the past 14 years, Mirshak Artists Management has represented/managed artists who have been groped or verbally or sexually harassed. Artists have also discussed with us how they have been promised contracts and bigger and better careers in exchange for sexual favors.

We have also encountered voice teachers in the academic arena who visibly act only in support of their own students regarding receiving financial scholarship, academic awards, or operatic roles.

These actions and choices exist worldwide and, once again, are not limited to the music industry. Such behaviors traumatize wonderful people and performers.

When are we going to act honorably in every facet of our art form and focus once again on the music and everyone’s collaboration to bring out the best in each other and the music itself? This includes everything from business management, direction, production, and design to singers, instrumentalists, and every single person who has anything to do with this amazing creation called music. The answer is clear: now.

How exactly do we do that? Here are a few practical ways.

-We must inform ourselves, study the business, and learn as much as we can about how it is supposed to be run for any of us to experience positive reciprocity. More colleges and universities need to offer courses/programs on the current state of the music business to better prepare students who are considering making music their career and professional living. While students/young artists need to develop their talent and musical study, they also need to prepare themselves from a business perspective. This includes being able to handle situations where questionable ethics may come into play, so they know what to do and the best ways to handle a given situation.
-We must trust and have faith that our careers will unfold successfully by knowing we have something important to say through our voices, our music, and all our varied and wonderful abilities.
-We must own a greater sense of self-worth. When we are confident and have self-respect, we are better able to stand up for ourselves and others—especially when exposed to unethical behaviors.
-We need to follow our intuition and do what we know is innately right. Doing the right thing is a moral code not only for us but for our art form and the beauty it brings to the lives of others. What type of person do you want to be? How do you want others to regard you?
-We need to get back to some core values that all of us can agree upon. The following is a variation of the U.S. Army’s Core Values:
Loyalty to your own moral code.
Duty to fulfill your agreed-upon obligations, both verbal and written.
Respect all men and women worldwide. This includes not spreading or listening to rumors or gossip.
Selfless service in helping each other even when it is not your “job” to do so.
Honor everyone, pure and simple. We are reflections of each other.
Integrity in your words and actions. They should always be golden.
Personal courage to speak up and stand up for what is right.

All of us are affected, directly or indirectly, by unethical choices being made in our business daily. If you haven’t read Anne Midgette and Peggy McGlone’s article “Assaults in Dressing Rooms. Groping during Lessons. Classical Musicians Reveal a Profession Rife with Harassment” published July 26, 2018, in the Washington Post or the various recent New York Times and New York Daily News articles on accused rape in the music business, please do so immediately.

Unfortunately, these are only a few of the growing number of sexual harassment/assault allegations being brought to public attention. Let’s be clear: the ripple effects of such behaviors are far reaching and can last for generations.

Make the choice to do your part to change the business by stepping up, making your voice heard, and setting a good example. It starts with you. It starts today. We can make a difference because today the world needs great music and heartfelt performances more than ever. Speak up, because it is vital to humanity!

In the upcoming part two of this article, we will address your questions, so please send any you may have. And we also want to hear about your experiences. Have you found yourself in a compromising ethical situation, or know of someone else who has, and you have questions about how to handle such a scenario? Perhaps you have made choices, or know someone who has, that have had a positive impact on a given situation—we would like to hear about those, too. We are all here to support each other and to lift each other up to be the best possible person, student, colleague, or artist we can be! Please email to ask your questions and/or share your experiences.

Robert and Jane Mirshak

Robert Mirshak is president and founder of Mirshak Artists Management, a classical artist management agency based in New York City whose mission is to make a positive difference in artists’ careers through work ethic, integrity, and passion for the musical arts. He is a frequent lecturer at music conventions, Young Artist Programs, and college programs. He received his DMA in vocal performance from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.   Jane Mirshak has performed worldwide with Washington National Opera, San Francisco Opera, and China National Symphony Orchestra, among many others. She has been a guest lecturer on stress reduction and the power of positivity for the Organization of Women Leaders, the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce, and more. She has also served as executive director of Naam Yoga Healing and Research Center in both New York and Los Angeles. She attended the University of Missouri–Kansas City Conservatory of Music and she also holds an MFA in acting and directing.