Songs for the Struggling Artist


Confusing Art with Money

With a couple of decades in the indie theatre trenches behind me, I have some complicated feelings around money and art. I believe in paying artists. I think it’s important to give value in a monetary form to people who create. I fight hard to make it happen as often as I can. But I would much prefer to work with a group of people who aren’t doing it for the money. As soon as money gets involved, there’s always someone who starts treating me like I’m PepsiCo and makes demands, defines rigid terms and sets intense limitations. It feels lousy every single time. I find I usually have a more satisfying artistic experience with the people who signed up when they thought they were getting nothing and are happily surprised when I present them an actual check. They get paid either way but in one way the context is clear for everyone and the one with money involved makes things muddy. When I offer money from the start, some people are doing it for the money.

But this is so complicated because I really believe that it is okay to do things for money. Teaching, for example, is full of people declaring they love it, that they’d do it for free but they wouldn’t actually and when I do it, I’m not going to lie, I do it for the money. I’m good at it and I’m not doing it for love. I’ve done acting for the money, directing for the money and writing, too. So where do I get off wanting to have my artistic collaborators not do it for the money? You know? They’re allowed to only want to do my show because they want/need the $200 I have to offer them. That’s okay. Except for art is this delicate vulnerable creative sensitive endeavor and when I smell a mercenary, when someone starts to engage with me like I’m a Hollywood agent, I get a wave of anxiety and despair.

If I have $200 to give someone, it’s because I probably cobbled it together in $20 increments from my uncle, my college buddies and fellow artists. I don’t have more. I’m not out here trying to get something for nothing. I literally just want to make art and make sure folks get at least a little gesture of value for their work. That’s all it is. But almost every time there will be one or two people who make it clear that this art I think we’re making is a business transaction for them. It always confuses me and it makes me feel bad. I know it comes from their history of being taken advantage of or having to chase after payments from shady vendors but it feels so lousy to be lumped in with those people in an art context. It always gives me pause and makes me think, “Oh, I’m doing all of this wrong. They’ll know I’m not built for the business.” But it’s also possible to see it as this person doesn’t understand the context. This person doesn’t understand the world I come from. But even then it makes me question my own judgment in bringing them into my quiet little circle. It’s a real tornado of an experience. When it happened recently, I had a little meltdown and my friend talked me down off the “I can’t do this” ledge by pointing out that I really need an Executive Director for a business manager – someone who can talk the business talk with my collaborators and then send them to me for the art part. But when you’re a one person band like I am, there is no offloading these interactions. They are part of it and I am working very hard to not take them personally.

Most people I work with in the arts have mastered the context leap. They work with Network Executives and agents differently than they engage with tiny indie theatre producers. There are ways of engaging that are fundamentally different when you’re working for PepisCo or for a fellow artist. The folks who don’t work that out don’t last too long in the business. Or they don’t last too long in the art. Whichever one they’ve not nailed the special mores of. Or both.

For many artists, more important than actual currency is social currency and you start to damage that when you lean into the business side of things. It’s confusing for me, too – but it’s like, I want to pay artists but I don’t want to talk to artists about money (unless we’re doing a show about it, which I did) and if they’re doing it for the money please don’t let me know that as I need to believe my art is the best and only art and that you’d do it for free even though you wouldn’t, okay? It is a fragile relationship.

If you’re wondering whether the job you’re about to do is business or art, think about how vulnerable to flattery the creator is. Me? Totally vulnerable. Three of the five people I cast recently let me know how much they liked the show and I don’t think I cast them because they liked the show, or even because it was clear they did some research, but it did tell me that they understood what I was trying to do (it was apparent in their work really) and that all makes a difference. Let me just say a person writing ad copy probably isn’t too concerned whether or not you understand his artistic vision. He just wants to know you can read it correctly and on time.

The thing is, I’ve been at this art making business for decades and I still don’t know what to do when someone starts engaging with me in business mode instead of artistic mode. I get absolutely flummoxed. Their business concerns are fair, of course – but it always turns me around. No, you’re right, it isn’t a lot of money. No, my uncle doesn’t have another $20 for you, I’m sorry. If you need my uncle’s $20, this is probably not the gig for you. Please don’t do it for the money. Or if you are doing it for the money, can you just pretend you aren’t? Just for the illusion. This is theatre after all, we traffic in illusions. Please help me maintain mine!

Sometimes the way to do it is to make Art ABOUT Money. I’ve tried this too!

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotifymy websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Want to help me integrate art and business better?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a “coffee” (or several!) on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



Crowdfunding the Arts Doesn’t Work

My theatre company is over twenty years old. We started in 2001 and we’ve seen some things.

For our first show, we raised funds by writing a letter – yes, an actual paper letter – and we mailed it to anyone we thought might write us a check. This worked pretty well. I’d have to double check the numbers but it’s not impossible that it was the most effective fundraising we ever did. There are a couple of reasons for that, I imagine. One is the First Steps Toward a Dream Effect. This is the thing where people love to fund the FIRST something. They enjoy helping people take a first step toward a big dream. (They don’t love so much the slog of keeping something afloat.) But I think the other factor that helped this first show’s fundraising was just the moment we were in and the circles to which we had access.

It seems like it should have been harder in those days. The efforts that people had to make to donate were substantial. First, they had to open and read our letter. (Not a given!) If they wanted to donate, they had to get out their check books, write the check and then put it in an envelope, put a stamp on it and put it in a mailbox. There are a lot of moments for this process to get derailed. It’s a lot. It was not like clicking on a link, letting your credit card info autofill some boxes and then hitting submit.

When donating through the internet started to be a thing, we were very excited. It seemed like, by eliminating all those steps for people, we’d get so many more donations. It didn’t really work out that way, though. We saw charity donation websites come and go. (Remember Charity Blossom?) The donations got smaller and smaller and people who’d written us big checks never made it to the digital mailing lists. We didn’t have their emails. I’m not sure a lot of them HAD emails.

Then crowdfunding kicked off and everyone was so excited about its potential. In some circles people talked about it as a democratizing fundraising source. We wouldn’t need to depend on rich people to fund things anymore! If we got enough tiny donations, we could make a big difference! What a win for democracy! Poor people could pay for the arts instead of rich people!

But here’s the thing. You need a LOT of people to give you $20 to make up a 10k budget. You need 500 people, in fact. (Actually, given that all these platforms take a cut, you’ll need MORE than 500 to get there.) And for people without much to spare, even that $20 is a huge deal. It’s a huge deal for me. Most folks, no matter how much they like you or believe in what you’re doing, are not going to bother or they just don’t have it to spare.

If you want to really depress yourself as a theatre fundraiser, take a tour of the theatre fundraisers on a platform like Indiegogo. You’ll see a lot of folks barely making a dent in their humble 3k ask. Theatre isn’t a good candidate for crowdfunding. It doesn’t scale well. We don’t have compelling prizes. But crowdfunding is sort of the only deal anymore. Even wealthy donors expect you to eke out a bunch of $20 donations before they’ll think about sending over a few hundred bucks.

It feels a bit like crowdfunding has killed our ability to actually raise sufficient funds because sometimes a wealthy donor looks at how a crowdfundraiser is doing and thinks it’s not worth the investment. They see that we didn’t get 10 people to give us 20 bucks and they reconsider the 2k check they were thinking of writing us. In having our struggles be so transparent, we lose leverage. We can’t sell someone on a dream because they can see how little others have put in to it.

Crowdfunding, like a lot of things, has turned out to work best for things that are going viral. Remember that potato salad? Or the Josh battle? Crowdfunding also does really well in a well publicized tragedy – but it is terrible for the day to day art making. It is a very blunt instrument. It may be the only instrument at the moment, so we pretty much have to use it but it’s not very effective. Like anything in this capitalist world, your ability to fundraise is dependent on the wealth to which you have access. Your crowdfunding campaign does not depend so much on the content of your work but on the wealth of the people in your circle who will open their wallets for you. We had more access to those people two decades ago than we do today. Today, most of my contacts are fellow artists. We have a joke in the indie theatre community about how we all just pass the same $20 around between us.

To make a 10k budget, you only need 10 people to give you a thousand dollars. Big deal! That’s only ten people! But you have to know ten people who might have a grand to spare first. That’s the real kicker and why crowdfunding the arts doesn’t work. Not unless you only want work by and for the wealthy, which is what you get when you don’t subsidize the arts, no matter which way you slice it.

Crowdfunding demands an extraction of wealth from the artist’s community. Every time I put on a show, I have to go to the crowdfunding mines and extract a little wealth from the people I know. I know some folks have found a way to perceive this as obtaining their community’s investment in their work. I appreciate that perspective but I find it particularly challenging to see it that way in this moment where most of my community is in the performing arts and most of my community lost their jobs or their big plans or their dreams or their support. Now is not the moment to extract wealth from the performing arts community – even if you call it an investment. Same goes for a lot of people right now.

I know someone is thinking, “Hey what about grants?! Grants exist. Can’t you just get a grant?” Oh darlings. Yes. We have gotten some grants. Most of them were about $500. Very nice! It’s helpful! Not as helpful as someone just writing you a check for $1000 that you didn’t have to write several essays for but helpful! $500 is a very nice start and other funders like to see that you got it but there is not a grant in America that will fund your whole project. They want to see that you can extract $10k of wealth before they will give you $10k. The best way to get an arts grant is to show how much you don’t need one.

In my experience, it takes around 10k to do just about any significant art project. That’s with a shoestring budget. Shoestrings cost about 10k. For some people, donating that 10k would make less impact than the $20 coming from a struggling artist – but an arts organization lives or dies based on where that $10k might come from. Crowdfunding seemed like an answer and it’s probably not going anywhere but you can tell that it’s not an effective tool because you’ll never catch one of the big arts institutions using it. No one suggests that The Metropolitan Opera do a Kickstarter. They extract their wealth in a much more efficient way.

And yes, of course, I’m in the middle of trying to crowdfund a project right now which is, of course, why I’m thinking a lot about this. I feel extraordinary gratitude to the people who gave us their $3 or their $1000 and I really wish I didn’t have to ask them for it, just to make a piece of art.  

I made this for the company for World Theatre Day. I figured I could extract a little more value out of my labor by putting it here, too.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotifymy websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Want to help me keep talking about the stuff no one wants to say out loud?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a “coffee” (or several!) on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



Maybe I Should Go into Business

Creativity is incredibly important to me. That’s why I read Jonah Lehrer’s book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, even though he’s been disgraced for being a little too “creative” with his Bob Dylan quotes.

Before he got himself disgraced, he made all the podcast rounds so not much of the book was a particular surprise to me. I’ve heard the story of the invention of the Swiffer. I know all about Pixar’s architecture. I am familiar with 3M’s post-it note development. However, the cumulative effect of reading the whole book made me feel like the people who really care about creativity are in business, not the arts. Businesses like 3M, Pixar and Wieden+Kennedy are in the business of innovating, so they do the studies. They run the experiments. They actually value creativity, it would seem.

What strikes me the hardest about this is how arts organizations are NOT particularly interested in creativity and innovation. Arts organizations do not run experiments to see what will make its makers most creative. They’re not working hard to innovate. They out their hardest work into seeming stable, secure, unshakeable. Theatres, museums and such are some of the most conservative of businesses.

It’s a real drag. And ironic that it is the creative arts where creativity is so taken for granted, so devalued, so bottom of the pile of priorities, as to be almost never talked about. Creativity is not a big value in the creative arts.

This is why I’m thinking of getting into Business. Not any business. I know MOST businesses don’t have the interest in innovation that places like 3M or Google do but I am ready to sign up for a businessy day job with benefits if I could be valued for my creativity. Maybe it would be great to bring my outsider creative brain to the task of inventing new kinds of tape or a crazy new mop or whatever. I’d love to try and solve some kind of business problem with my theatre brain. I’m tired of trying to solve theatre problems with my theatre brain. No one wants those things solved. I will go where I’m wanted!

The thing is, as much as outsider perspectives do stimulate creativity (the way the computer programmer invented the Bacon-Infused Old Fashioned or the scientists at InnoCentive tackle problems outside their fields for prizes)  it would be extremely unlikely that I would ever be hired at any of these creativity loving businesses, except as a receptionist or something. And I know from experience that no one ever asks the receptionist what they think about a creative problem.

So even though I might be willing to jump over to Business just to be valued for my creativity, it is extremely unlikely that they’d want my particular brand of creativity. Even innovating businesses are suspicious of willful rebellious artists.

We may not talk about creativity in the arts (to our detriment) but creativity is, at least, usually implied. Probably I need to stick with the people who drink the same sort of creativity water. Maybe it’s just so common we don’t need to talk about it. I’d like to stay in the arts, actually, and just experience more creativity and innovation there.

(Also, I discovered after I wrote this piece that I’d read this book before, back in 2012, before Jonah Lehrer’s fall from grace. Hilarious. So memorable! No wonder I recognized so much of the material!)

I did a search for “business” over on Pixabay and this was on the first page of results. Look at this very businessy lady wanting some innovation. I will note that this image was made by an artist named Michal Jarmoluk so it’s not all business over here.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotifymy websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Want to help me value my creativity?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



Should I Quit Acting Because of X?
May 23, 2021, 11:53 pm
Filed under: Acting, advice, art, business, movies, musicals, Quitting, theatre | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Since joining the acting subreddit, I’ve been seeing a lot of posts with a similar theme. They boil down to, “Will X prevent me from having an acting career?” or maybe more accurately, “I’m X or have X or did X. Should I quit acting?” In this equation, let X be a quality or physical attribute or life history.

I have such complicated feelings about these posts, mostly from young actors looking ahead at a possible professional life in acting. Because on one hand, yes. You should absolutely quit acting and do something else if that’s an option for you. Absolutely you should, if you’re looking for conventional success, run in the opposite direction of an actor’s life. No question.

But on the other hand, the reason to quit is not whatever you’re imagining. You shouldn’t quit because of your science degree or your scars or your background. It won’t be THOSE things that are obstacles to having an acting career. The obstacles to an acting career are everything. Everything is the problem. The problem is not whatever flaw you perceive yourself as having (or whatever some asshole teacher might have said to you). The problem is that it is a very hard business that almost everyone struggles in, in one way or another. The obstacles to an acting career are being born to non-celebrities or not having access to a generous trust fund. The obstacles are a lopsided system that values money and connections more than talent. The obstacles are a commercially driven capitalistic theatre scene that is not accountable to the public in any way but the question of whether or not they will buy tickets.

One thing I did not understand as a young actor is what an ongoing hustle working in the theatre would be. I imagined that I would get one acting gig and it would lead to another and that would lead to the next and so on until I ended up on Broadway. And once I was on Broadway, that would be it! I would have made it and I would be on Broadway until I died.

I think the moment I fully understood this wasn’t so was when my friend (and acting colleague) closed her show on Broadway, the one featuring several movie stars, and the next day went back to her catering gig. It’s possible there were a few actors in that show who went straight to another acting gig. There may have even been one or two that were slated for another show on Broadway. But for most of them, they closed the show and then went home to hustle up the next job. Possibly even the movie stars had to do this. (Though they surely had a lot more help from their agents and their next job wasn’t food service.)

Any acting career is a cycle of working and not working and an acting career is full of dumb reasons for not getting a gig. Mostly, you will never know. Sure – you could lose a gig because of your hair. But you could also GET a gig because of your hair. You cannot know. And while casting directors or agents may tell you some opinion about your appearance or your background, it’s not actually the casting director or agent who gives you the job. They are gatekeepers. And they are not always right about what the people inside the gates actually want. They might tell you a person with glasses like yours will never be cast but then you meet the director and the glasses spark their imagination and you get a call back because you were that interesting one with the glasses. So much of casting talk is about making people more average, more like the conventional but in my experience of running auditions, I have much more often cast people because they were fully themselves or quirky in a way that captivated my attention. I don’t think I’m alone in this. Sure, there are those who have no imagination and just cast the person like the last person who played Juliet so they’ll fit in the costume from ten years ago. That’s a thing, sure. But the artists out there, the visionary directors and writers, are looking for something more. After a full day of looking at people who all look the same, you, with your X walk in and maybe you change the view.


On the subreddit, it feels important to be optimistic and supportive of these young people’s dreams and just answer the question they asked. Should they quit because of their appearance? No. Absolutely not. They should quit because it’s a heartbreaking business but not because of whatever their imagined obstacle is. Is it possible that their obstacle, their X, will make it even harder? Very possible. But, I know some people with all the advantages. They are Adonis-looking white dudes who have talent to burn and no obvious obstacle, who gave the business their all for decades and are hustling now just like they were at the start. There is no guarantee. Not even for the children of movie stars, who generally have the most legs up of anyone.

Should you quit if you’re not the child of a movie star? If you’re looking for security, then, yes, you should quit.

But will you? That’s the question. If you’re tenacious and determined, no cold water of reality will stop you – and that is what you really need in this business. Not the “right” hairstyle or the “right” body or the “right” background but just some talent and ability to keep showing up and giving it a go. But still – I will only say these things here. In conversation with these young aspirants, I will only give them all the examples of people who had “X” and did it anyway. This is partly because I feel that whatever X represents, it is always something we need more of in theatre. We need more people with X, whatever it is, because they don’t see that represented onstage or onscreen and think they would not be chosen because of that. That’s a sign that we’re failing in representing the diversity of humanity well. So, if that person – with X – can ride the roller coaster of life in the arts, then they should not quit. They should get in here and make things better. Are there possibly fewer opportunities for them? Yeah. Possibly. But there are few opportunities period. Get on in and ride the roller coaster and don’t let X stop you.

Each generation re-makes the business. Your colleagues now can, and will probably, be your colleagues later. If you all have X and you want to get together and make an X movie or an X play, that’s good work! No one with X will worry about X in the future because you kicked open the X door for yourself and made room for those with X behind you. That’s what I want you to do, instead of quitting.

Someone told these actors they should quit because of those Xs. That someone is very silly.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Want to help me keep making stuff so I can hire people with X?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



Frustrated Artists and Tyrants

From listening to the Bunga Bunga podcast, I learned that Silvio Berlusconi started as a singer. He was reasonably successful and having a great time when, apparently, his dad shamed him, asking him if he was really going to be a singer for the rest of his life. So Silvio Berlusconi quit singing. Even though he loved it. And became a shady ass real estate developer instead. This led him to becoming a shady ass media mogul and then the shady ass prime minister of Italy. Did that go well for Italy? No, no, it did not. Would Italy have been better off if Berlusconi had just continued to do what he loved and just kept singing? I think so. I blame Berlusconi’s dad for the problems of Italy. I also blame the world that denigrates the arts and deems them not enough.

This makes me think about Hitler, of course. Hitler wanted to be a painter. He was rejected by the Academy of Fine Arts of Vienna, where he’d moved to pursue his dreams. He had a go of selling his work and found a few people to buy it. He was fucking serious about painting. Was he any good? No. But some people liked his stuff. They even paid for it – so hey – that’s something. But his failures in art led him to politics and the world ended up with a disaster. Do I blame the Academy of Fine Arts? Nope. No one wants to go to school with Hitler. And he was bad. So. Of course they had to reject him. But someone, somewhere might have encouraged him. I don’t know who but somebody could have kept that man painting and it would have saved millions of lives.

The stories of frustrated artists going on to do terrible things are many. And there are many frustrated artists who ruined the lives around them when they took their own. What I’m trying to say here is that I think we need to take frustrated artists seriously.

Think of all the tyrants we could have avoided if we’d just managed to be supportive of artists or even just gave them some time, space and resources to do their thing. I mean – good lord – Just give artists the space to be artists and the ones who would have turned out to be tyrants can just happily paint in their basements or sing in the clubs.

But – golly gee whiz – what if they’re no good? What if they’re a terrible singer or a lousy painter?

To that, I say, wouldn’t you rather have a gallery full of shitty paintings than the fucking holocaust? Live with the shitty art, for crying out loud!

Embracing art and artists is a great thing to do, just because art is great but it ALSO could be seen as a preventative measure. Prevent a tyrant! Support an artist! Even a shitty one! I swear everyone is so concerned with whether things are good or bad when, really bad art is entirely tolerable in a way that, say, genocide is not. And I say that as someone who, when I’m watching something terrible, acts as though I’m being quite melodramatically tortured.

I’m not trying to say that all frustrated artists are genocidal maniacs (if so, watch out for me!) but an awful lot of genocidal maniacs really wanted to be artists. They would have rather been singers and painters or authors or actors or whatever. I think a culture that encouraged these things would see a lot fewer genocidal maniacs. Support an artist! Prevent a possible global catastrophe! Buy that weirdo’s ugly paintings! You don’t have to hang them up. Go to that terrible play! Listen to that awful album! Do it for the world.

I feel like sometimes when people talk about supporting the arts, they really want to make sure they only support the really good stuff. Organizations have extensive applications to make sure they get work of which they approve. They require references or degrees or resumes to try and insure quality. If you propose running a lottery, they worry about how they will weed out the bad stuff.

But true support would mean supporting all of it – the wonderful, the good, the mediocre and the terrible. It’s like trying to save a forest by just saving a couple of the tallest trees. The forest thrives because of all of the trees, even the fallen rotting ones and to support a forest would mean supporting the widest variety of forest life. The same is absolutely true of the arts. The more supported the entire ecosystem is, the more good art we get out of it.

And if just having a robust arts culture isn’t enough of a reason for you, just think of investment in the arts as tyrant insurance. Support all the arts, even the bad, and maybe you’ll save us from the ravings of the next frustrated artists.

Again, I’m not saying artists are uniquely poised to be tyrants; Surely someone who had potent dreams in another field that were thwarted and discouraged, would be equally likely to turn sour. Anyone with their dreams dashed upon a rock might be likely to turn bad – but artists have their dreams dashed more often than most and there are few places in the world where an artist’s ambitions might be realized to their full potential. I think a world that encouraged its artists, whether they be good, bad, mediocre or genius, would be a much more interesting world. And if my theory is correct, it might also have a lot fewer tyrants in it.

Look how happy young Berlusconi was singing.
Coulda saved everyone a whole heap of trouble if he’d kept this up.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Want to keep me from turning tyrant?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis

 



Theatre, Celebrities, Hope and What We’re Doing Now

Part of the reason I just went ahead and went full steam ahead with this podcast idea of mine a few months ago is that I thought, well, with all the theatres shut down, theatre journalists will have absolutely nothing to talk about – so maybe a little indie theatre company making work in the middle of this storm will suddenly be of interest. Maybe, I thought, this is our opening. We are, after all, still making theatre of a kind – even if it’s in solely audio form. Theatre lovers will want to hear it, I naively thought.

Turns out what theatre lovers want is celebrities. Turns out theatre lovers would rather watch cast reunion zoom meetings. They would rather gaze at Kristin Chenowith’s bookshelves than engage with some off-off Broadway something or other. Big companies would rather air the stuff in their vaults than point the way to smaller companies who may have already been working in the digital space. Theatre lovers would rather listen to a podcast of people talking about famous theatre than actually listen to theatre via podcast.

With all of theatre sitting on the sidelines, it has become incredibly clear who has been driving this bus the whole time and it isn’t the non-profit world or the fringe.

A collection of interviews about the future of theatre made the social media rounds among my theatre friends recently. And a lot of them found a great deal of hope and comfort in it. I can see why – there are a lot of people reading idealistic, formative texts like The Empty Space and thinking about how to boil theatre down to its essence. They are dreaming of a new and better theatre and I really hope that can be true – but I am incredibly skeptical. It’s not because I don’t believe it’s possible to do things differently; I 100% believe it is possible. The reason I’m skeptical is because it’s already not what’s happening. The funds and resources and attention are, for the most part, going to Broadway and celebrities and theatre celebrities. The National Theatre in England is asking for donations in sharing its work and getting them. Meanwhile, that is a publicly funded organization. So, we have a major, tax payer funded organization sharing its work internationally and raising money. Not to say that I’m not enjoying getting to see shows I couldn’t get across the ocean to see but an organization like that has a built-in audience, thousands ready to click on it and has already invested buckets of money in high quality filming of their work.

The digital space is being dominated by the winners in just the same way that our live space was. The winner take all philosophy has been ruling our theatre world for ages and given the way things are going digitally, it does not look likely to change. I’m glad people can be hopeful about it and that they’re re-reading Towards a Poor Theatre – but I can tell you, as someone who has been making theatre without many resources for the last two decades, resources are what make the difference.

It feels to me like folks are interested in a Poor Theatre Empty Space sort of world as long as they can have Patti LuPone in it. They want to make “poor theatre” but with all the usual rich ones. (Not that I wouldn’t get a kick out of seeing LuPone in some freaking experimental basement empty space production. I would.)

And, of course, I started writing this piece before American theatre really started reckoning (or, in many cases, pretending to reckon) with its racism and watching that continue to unfold might give me a kind of hope, except I have yet to see any particularly profound shifts. Everyone is saying, “We’ll do better when we get back.” But I don’t see a lot of people doing better now.

Look, I know there is no theatre right now. But a lot of places still have budgets and are still paying their (mostly white male) artistic directors while their artists are unemployed. There are things to be done. Instead of writing up toothless diversity statements, maybe they could commission some BIPOC writers to create some new work or hire some BIPOC directors and designers to begin pre-production work on a socially distanced show of some kind. I know there’s no theatre. But I’m a tiny theatre company with a four figure budget; If I can figure out how to make something, I know that the million dollar organizations can, too.

I have yet to see a leader in American theatre do anything even remotely close to what the guy from Reddit did and actually give up some of their own power. It’s all well and good to write a diversity statement but it’s meaningless without action – and action is actually still possible even though theatre as we’ve known it is still on lockdown. What we do now is a clear reflection of our values and interests. If all we’re promoting are celebrities on Zoom, then that is what will we have upon our return to the stage. What we nurture will grow and it’s become clear to me that celebrity, even just theatre celebrity, is what drives the clicks so it is what is driving our theatre. I get it. I like clicks, too.

So – I have a solution. We just gotta lean in to it. If celebrities want to help and “take responsibility” like they said in that video, then let’s do that. Let’s give every major theatre a celebrity sponsor. And that celebrity sponsor lends their name and their platform to the show and pays for it. They pay for the BIPOC writer and director and cast and they get to say, “Julia Roberts presents” over the title but that’s it. The theatre gets the celebrity boost, the clicks and the cash to make sure they actually keep their freaking promise to produce more work by BIPOC artists.

Or – and this will be a lot easier to get going – we go ahead and start promoting the BIPOC artists and work that’s already being done right now.

Or – and this is the one that I know that nobody’s going to do – all the white folks who’ve been leading our major institutions all these years and drawing six figure salaries and above, can quit those jobs and name BIPOC successors, preferably artists, who can run those institutions in their place. And it’d be okay with me if we just broke those big institutions up and just funded a bunch of artists instead. The buildings aren’t doing anyone any good at the moment.

But that’s me dreaming. I know how unlikely it is that change that dramatic could shift what’s happening. It’s never been more clear how the theatre business has actually worked thus far and it is rather dramatically a winner take all world.

The way things are now, theatres that survive this will be the ones who can suck up the most resources. The ones who can survive long enough to grab all the funding that might be left in a year will be the winners. And maybe those of us who are used to making things with a cardboard box and a piece of string will survive, too.

Cardboard and string have gotten us this far without resources – maybe there’s hope for us, too. I don’t know, though. I would love a more meaningful theatre climate but based on what’s happening right now, I think we’re looking at a future of Google, The Musical and Amazon! The Story of Jeff Bezos! And it is unlikely to move a single one of us.

The Theatre Development Fund is raising money, not to develop theatre, but to keep itself afloat. There are currently no grants for making things, just grants to cover rents and administrators for our big buildings. Those who are innovating in new venues are unfunded. What we do now is what we will do in the future. If we want a more accessible, open theatre when we return, we can’t just hope for it. We have to be working toward it now. We’re in the middle of a good conversation, where artists and freelancers are finally feeling free to tell some of the truths about working at these big institutions but until there is actual action, with actual resources, until someone with power hands some of it over to someone without it, we’re just doing things the same old way. We can’t just hope that when we come back things will be different. We have to make it different. It’s already started. It’s already happening. We have to make it different now.

I keep thinking about this passage from Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark:

“Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal… To hope is to give yourself to the future – and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.”

Now is the moment to give ourselves to the future.

One of the most inspiring theatre things I’ve seen during this time is the Virtual Toy Theatre Festival by Great Small Works. Someone give those folks a pot of money please! (This is a toy theatre from the olden days.)

 

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Want to help support this theatre artist?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat.

https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis

 



A Duck Message on New Year’s Eve

Due to having lived in London for a bit, I am on the mailing lists of many English theatres and arts organizations. On New Year’s Eve, I received an email from the Institute for Contemporary Art wishing me a Happy New Year with an animated drawing of a duck.

And that was it. That was the whole message. They wished me a Happy New Year with a drawing of a duck. They didn’t let me know how many hours were left in the day to make their fundraising goals. Nope. They just sent me a fun drawing of a duck.

If you live here in the US of A, you understand why I found this surprising and amusing. As 2019 drew to a close, I heard from American museums, theatres and arts organizations of all kinds. I received hundreds of emails. Many of them, indeed, wished me happy holidays – but that was largely a pretext for reminding donors to send money. I didn’t read most of those emails – but I know what they say because I’ve read thousands of them over the years. I’ve also written them myself for my own non-profit theatre company. I know the strategies because I’ve used them.

The ICA’s duck message was so refreshing. So pure in its message. It can afford to be. They can just send out art at the holidays because it is an arts organization in a country that funds the arts.

I find the hundreds of end of year pleas from arts organizations so demoralizing. Every single one of the arts orgs are in need of support – even the big fancy ones who draw in a lot of grant funding. There isn’t an arts organization in the country that could skip an end of the year plea for funds. (Mine skipped it this year but only because I don’t have any projects on the docket right this second.) Even the wealthiest theatre in the US still relies on year-end giving to survive. And this is partly why I find the whole enterprise so depressing.

Let’s say I had millions of dollars and all I wanted to do was support every arts organization I’m on the mailing list of. As the end of the year rolled in and I started to receive the year-end pleas, I’d probably have to make it my full time job, going to all the different web sites, logging in, entering my credit card, etc. As this mythical arts loving millionaire, just to support all the arts orgs in my orbit, I’d probably give up before the last email rolled in on New Year’s Eve. The way art gets funded in this country is not only brutal and unpleasantly capitalistic – it is also wildly inefficient.

Imagine, if you would, just for a moment, a world in which you did not have to choose between sending your year-end donation to the Public Theatre, The Chamber Music Society, Gibney Dance or your cousin’s indie art museum. You could just pay your taxes knowing that the American Arts Council was looking out for the national health of our arts scenes. You could know that you helped pay for theatre, music, dance, visual arts, film and more and you didn’t have to deal with two hundred emails to do that.

You would get holiday emails from your favorite arts orgs at the end of the year that weren’t fundraising emails in seasonal greetings disguises. Instead of frantically trying to meet fundraising goals at the end of the year, arts orgs could just come up with creative ways to wish you a Happy New Year – like a fun drawing of a duck.

This is not the duck they sent me.

 

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Want to help me just send a duck one day?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



How to Make Money as an Artist

The answer to how to make money from your art reminds me of a joke Steve Martin used to do. The bit goes, “You can be a millionaire and never pay taxes. You can have one million dollars and never pay taxes. You say, Steve – how can I be a millionaire and never pay taxes? First, get a million dollars. Now….”

Except with art – it’s a long list of things like: First, become really popular or First, make commercially profitable work or First, be incredibly well connected socially. Or really, just the same: First, get a million dollars.

If you’re wondering how to make money from your art, chances are you don’t have any of those things yet because if you did, you would probably already be making money from your art and thus we have the art making paradox.

I have read endless articles and books on this topic and they all offer more or else the same thing in more or less optimistic language, depending on the publication. They all know that this is what everyone wants to know, so this is what they tell you, even though no one has the secret. I’m not going to lie to you – the reason why there are so many articles about how to make money from your art is because everyone wants the answer and no one knows how to do it, aside from the Steve Martin, “First, get a million dollars” way. There are some things to try, for sure. There are possibilities and methods. Maybe one will work for you but there are no guarantees.

However – I don’t want to deny what you came here for – so at the risk of repeating what every other article about this says – I will, in fact, offer you some strategies for making money on your art work. I will be unable to avoid drawing on my experience and of other artists I’ve known, though, so you can expect, perhaps, an uncomfortable amount of realism included.

Okay. First:
Get a million dollars.
Kidding. Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

First: Make art. If your art requires an upfront investment and you can make it, do it. If you can’t, find ways to adapt. Like, if you’re a painter and you can’t afford a canvas, sketch and draw for a while until you can get the canvas. Make drawings and sketches and paintings. Write novels and plays and blogs and screenplays, etc, etc. Don’t think about selling any of it at first. You just have to do it enough that it becomes part of your life.

If you’re a performing artist, you’re going to have difficulties of a different sort. You’re going to need space (try a park? A basement? Your living room?) and you’re going to (most likely) need other people. Finding other people who will contribute to your art without compensation is probably harder than actually making your piece. All I can advise here is kindness, transparency and gratitude. That is, if you don’t have any money to pay your artists – say, “I don’t have any money to pay you.”

There are those who will pretend they have money to pay artists and then do not have money to pay artists and so do not pay their artists after telling their artists they would be paid. Those folks will get an unsavory reputation very quickly.

Whatever your initial projects are, do not expect to make money on them. The odds are that you will not.

The odds are probably such that your second and third ventures will also not make you money. But you stand a better chance the more work you make – and if you’re lucky you will cease to care quite as much about that.

So – that’s step one. Make your work. And I just want to pause to acknowledge that this is not easy. Making art without money is very very difficult. I have surely talked about this in many blogs before so I won’t go into the unpredictable ways that money makes a difference but just now I suggest that you acknowledge that you’re up against the wall and give yourself hugs.

Step 2: Let’s say you now have a body of work. Make sure you document it because whatever path you take with it, you’re going to need the receipts on your artwork.

Now you can start to think through whether you want to approach making art as a business or as a service. You can try to do both but you’ll likely end up split in half, as any servant of two masters does.

If you pursue the business track, I’d recommend thinking through your boundaries and about what counts as art for you. If you’re happy to be creative on assignment, you will likely be able to make a living. You can get a job in advertising. You can paint for an interior designer. You can write for soap operas. Being creative for a living is entirely possible but be forewarned that this is being “a creative” not being an artist. It’s being artistic for money. It’s not making art. And for a lot of people, this is enough. For some people, they find the balance is to be artistic for work and an artist at home.

If you’re interested in business, you can try selling your art – though I don’t know many who find a way to make this work. Those that do tend to develop a business – they’ll do design to sell their images on t-shirts for example – but given how unwilling most people are to pay for art these days (and for art also read music, theatre, film, dance, writing, etc.,) I don’t know if you can really bank on selling.

I’m not saying you can’t do it. I’m just saying that it is a rare artist who can. If you’re Damien Hirst you can sell a pile of lint but if you’re not already Damien Hirst, it’s not likely you can become him. I think partly that’s because those heady days of buying and selling art are kind of over and partly because the obstacles in the way of becoming the kind of artist who sells his work are more extreme.

Let’s look at music, for example, (and just project out for the other arts) in the pre-internet days, we sort of had a pocket of middle class musicians. An indie band could tour and sell their records and maybe they wouldn’t be able to buy a house but they could keep the band alive. Now, the musician middle class has virtually disappeared. There’s a lot of money at the top and nothing the rest of the way down. What I mean is, you’re either getting 14 million plays on Spotify and doing pretty darn well or you’re getting a thousand and making chump change. You’re either Taylor Swift or you’re struggling. Selling records doesn’t do it any more. Selling paintings doesn’t do it. Selling your writing is a similar problem.
You can try it, of course and you very well may be the one in a million who cracks the code. But the odds are worse than they’ve ever been.

Taking the service route may seem like the easier path. You could start a non-profit organization, go sing your tunes for incarcerated grandmothers or paint puppies in peril.
Probably someone has already suggested you “just get a grant” for something you do. If I had a grant for every time someone suggested I get grant, I’d have a fully funded non-profit. Somehow the world thinks it is super easy to just get a grant – I think they think there are pots of free money just sitting around and all an artist needs to do is to go ask for it. If only.

Listen. Grants are great. I started a non-profit theatre company and I am grateful for every grant check I have ever received. But there are hardly pots of money lying around waiting to be distributed. Grantmakers are rare rare birds and finding one that happens to want to fund exactly the sort of thing you want to make is like going searching for a Rose-Throated Becard (that’s a rare bird from Arizona.) And if you do spot one of those Rose-Throated Grants – well, the odds of it providing you more than a tiny token portion of what you need are VERY slim. Can you find a grant? Sure you can. But you might spend 7 times as long searching for and applying for that funding as you do making your art.

I promise you I’m not trying to be discouraging. I just want you to know what you’re up against.

Are there people who make this model work? Absolutely. They are pros at soliciting donations and establishing artistic organizations and the better you get at it, the bigger the grants are that you become eligible for. So if it appeals to you – give it a shot. I just want you to know that it is not as simple as getting a grant. The first grant we ever received as a non-profit theatre company was for $500. We worked on that application for weeks. The labor, if we’d charged for it, would have been three times the amount of the grant. And $500 was only a drop in the bucket of what we needed.

Grants aren’t magic. That’s all I’m saying. Can you probably pick up a grand somewhere? Probably. But I’m going to guess that you’re going to need more than that to do whatever it is that you want to do. And every penny of it will probably have to go back into the project. So – are you making money with your art? Probably not in this context.

Is it hopeless to imagine you could make a living as an artist? No. It is possible. It’s a little bit like – some basketball players get to play in the NBA and most do not. And more and more – it is only the NBA players who are making any money. Metaphorically speaking.
But again – I’m not telling you this to discourage you. Though, I will say, if you’re discouragable by me, just some struggling artist lady with a blog, I think probably a little discouragement is a good idea. The only way you’re going to survive the indignities of making art in America is if you’re undiscourageable.

Like – if I can, with my little truth telling machine, prevent you from going into whatever art you’re considering, it’s actually a service to you. You might just decide to go to law school instead and then, later, once you have a house and car and your kids have gone to college, you might just come on back to your art and I will tell you that you will likely be in a much better position than those of us who have kept at it, without pause, from our youth.

Do I wish I had done it that way? Nope. No one could have convinced me to take a minute away from my art and if you’re like me – I’m sorry. It is easier the other way. I am envious of those who made other choices and have things like…furniture – but I wouldn’t have, couldn’t have, done it their way.

But let’s say you are like me and no one could convince you to abandon your craft.
Here are some ways you can make it work.
1) Get a full time job. Do your art at night. (Or whatever arrangement of the day you find.) Some of the happiest artists I know have full time office jobs. Others have full time teaching positions.
2) It’s the Gig Economy! Gig it up! Have 6 jobs! I’ve done it. It’s crazy but if you’re trying to prioritize your art, sometimes it’s good to more or less make your own schedule so you can build in a rehearsal day or whatever. I know a Broadway actor who became a handy-man so he could grab a gig when he had the time. When thinking about Day Jobs, I recommend Carol Lloyd’s book, Creating a Life Worth Living – and consider whether or not it will be beneficial for you to do your day job in the big tent of your art or to do something entirely separate. Like, if you want to be a circus performer, would you be happy with a gig as a ticket seller at the circus or will it hurt your heart to be around the thing you love and not IN it? Anyway – jobs, gigs, support careers – they’re a reality for most of us.
3) Other avenues to consider are things like crowdfunding. Crowdfunding, when it first came up in its digital form, was thought to be the future of the arts. It has not turned out to be the panacea it was hoped it would be. But there are ways to crowdfund your work. See also Amanda Palmer’s astonishing Kickstarter album – followed by her great success on Patreon. But – in order for Crowdfunding to work in those magical ways – you have to have a crowd that is already in your corner. If you’re not already popular, crowdfunding is a lot trickier. Amanda Palmer killed it on those platforms because she already had a giant committed fan base when she joined. Personally, I get the bulk of my support on Patreon. I don’t have a CROWD, per se. But I do have some really dedicated supporters – and if you can find even just a few of those, they can make a tremendous amount of difference. If you have people in your life who are willing to help you out, I highly recommend letting them. I’ve known a lot of artists who felt like they couldn’t accept offers of support or patronage and without that avenue, your options for funding your work are really few. I wish it were not so but it is. Art is important. If you have to make it, you will find a way. If you let people help you make it, it will be a lot easier.

Now – a lot of arts support organizations will likely not enjoy this post. They will strenuously argue for their efficacy at giving artists the skills they need to make money. These organizations are some of the top creators of the How to Make Money posts and books and podcasts, etc. It’s how they justify paying all that rent or those salaries for those organizations. Many of these art-support places are very invested in the possibility of magical money that will come to the artists that work hard at the skills they have to offer. I would love it if this were so. I have taken nearly every workshop these sorts of organizations have to offer. Marketing for artists! Grantwriting for artists! Touring! Social Media for artists! Budgeting for artists! PR for artists! Databases for artists!

You can know how to do all those things and still never see a sustainable dime. You can make good work, do bang up support for it and still never find sustainability or even a break. It doesn’t reflect on your quality. It is really and truly the luck of the draw. Not all art is marketable. Not all art makes money.

You should play the game if you want and have to but if it doesn’t fly – it’s probably not you. It’s just that very few things fly.

Even a million dollars isn’t a guarantee. However – it does up your odds significantly. So – to really improve your chances of making money from your arts:

First – get a million dollars.

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Want to help this artist beat the odds?

Become my patron on Patreon.

*

If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



35 Cents

Hey all my good people who have worried about me and my financial security – worry no more! I have signed up to do advertising on my podcast and after a week with the service, I have made 35 cents. The little “pending” next to the number disappeared and I now have 35 cents. 35 cents! I sold out to the man (The Anchor Man. Ha! – Anchor’s the name of my host/distributor – so that’s the joke. Anchor. The Man. Anyway…) and I made 35 cents. Woot! Let’s throw a 35 cent party!

I joke, of course. No one can throw a party for under a dollar. But – I do have to say, while the number is currently very small, it is, in fact, much larger than any of the other digital platforms I pour “content” on to. WordPress (the home of this blog) has ads, but that revenue goes to them, not me. Pretty much everything else I do on the web (besides the podcast) costs me money – it doesn’t make me any. Spotify, for example, recently upped their payments to .02 per song play – but that music doesn’t stream every day and at the current rate, I have spent vastly more money to put songs on the digital platforms than I can ever hope to recoup from the payments for them.

Just last week, when I cross-posted a blog on Medium (I post them on WordPress then import them to Medium) it asked me if I wanted to opt in to their recommendation service, which could potentially offer me money through a porous paywall (it’s complicated.) I said yes. So – this, at some point, may also turn into a small income stream. As much as I want to joke about my 35 cents via Anchor this week, I do actually think it’s a step in the right direction. Combined with Medium’s new policy, it’s starting to feel like the incremental payments that Jaron Lanier proposed in You Are Not a Gadget may actually happen. (Lanier suggested that instead of the total free and open internet that its creators thought they were making, we should have some way to tag creations with their creators that would send them micropayments.) If more of these digital platforms begin to follow suit, to pay creators for their content, I might start to feel a little hopeful about the digital world again.

Now – am I ready to throw a 35 cent parade? No. Anchor is now owned by Spotify. It could all just blend into an underpaid nightmare at some point but for now, 35 cents is actually a step in the right direction. And a little hope is pretty good deal for 35 cents.

At the moment, it’s breaking down to a little more than one cent per listener. And if more people started to listen to the podcast, it could become even more and then it’ll be a real Blue Apron/Casper mattress/advertising world. (For those of you who don’t listen to the baskets upon baskets of American podcasts the way I do, for a while these two companies were doing the bulk of podcast advertising.) If that world comes to be for me, I’m bound to have some complicated feelings about it. But I’ll be comforting myself with my baskets of 35 cents.

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

The digital distribution is expiring at the end of the month, so I’m also raising funds to keep them up. If you’d like to contribute, feel free to donate anywhere but I’m tracking them on Kofi – here: ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis

*

Want to help me earn more than 35 cents a week?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

If you liked the blog (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



This Is My Motherf—ing Brand

(If the title hasn’t already tipped you off, there will be a great many f-bombs in this post.)

I went to a conference for “creators” and of course there was a session on branding because that’s the world we live in now. I did not attend because that is my motherfucking brand. My brand is that I don’t fucking believe in branding.

You know where we get the idea of branding? From actual white hot branding. Can’t tell the cows apart? Put a brand on their rumps. Whose cow is this? Check the logo burned into its rear. You know WHY branding became a part of advertising? It’s a way to distinguish identical things. Can’t tell the difference between the cans of cola? Put different logos on them. My motherfucking brand is no brand. If you can’t tell who I am without a branding, I can’t help you.

We live in a world of branding now – we talk about things being “on brand” in just regular conversation. Personal Branding is a thing. If you make things or work in any creative capacity, you have probably been encouraged to work on your brand. I know I have.

I understand that it makes sense to create a narrative and/or identity around what you do. I have a mission statement for my theatre company. I suppose you could frame that as a brand (OMG, please don’t) but a mission feels very different to me. As an individual artist, writer, etc – I also operate on a mission basis and not on brand.

I’m pretty sure that the people who support me know that. I’d bet the vast majority of my patrons on Patreon see their support of me as service, as contributions to the greater good – even though, as an individual, I am not tax deductible. (My theatre company is a 501c3, though.)

Since I went to Patreon’s conference a few months ago (the aforementioned conference for creators,) I have been wrestling with the discomfort I feel around the whole enterprise. On one hand, I am awash in gratitude for the structure Patreon provides. By making trusted space for people to support me, it has allowed me to begin to make a living doing what I do. It allows me to be of service to my whole community. That is a thing of beauty. On the other hand, Patreon is kind of Brand Central Station. It is a business that makes its money on the support of people supporting creators/makers/artists. They have been hugely profitable by taking a cut of patron’s generosity.

But everyone does that. Kickstarter. Indiegogo. Crowdrise. Go Fund Me. All of those platforms do the very same. I just raised $2550 on Indiegogo for a project and they took $208.50. Crowdfunding is a big money maker for the owners of those platforms (less so for the people on them.)

When it first started, Patreon pitched itself as a way to support artists – that is, as a kind of service. Now it explains what it does as powering “membership businesses for creators.” I’ve seen this transition in progress – and find myself questioning what it means (because that is my motherfucking brand.) While I am on board for the ongoing support, I do not see myself as a business (or a brand!) I have missions. I have purpose. I’m trying to make art. Not everyone there is.

Patreon is for “creators.” The actual artists I met at PatreCon could be counted on one hand. And I wouldn’t even need all my fingers for the counting.

I did, though, meet a guy who puts casts on people. Not like sculptural casting. No. Casts – like for broken arms or legs but without injury. I mean. No disrespect to Kevin. He was a very nice guy. But he’s not making art.

He is making money, though. Unlike me. Kevin makes money. I make art. I guess that’s my motherfucking brand.

People aren’t giving Kevin their money out of desire to be of service. They give him money so that he’ll put a cast on them or so they can watch a video of him putting a cast on an attractive young woman. There are more Kevins than there are of me. And Patreon makes its money on the Kevins. It also makes its money on the “content creators” like the guy who spearheaded the Gamergate campaign and makes misogynistic harassment videos directed at Anita Sarkeesian.

It doesn’t make much money on art. Art isn’t profitable, folks.

There are exceptions, of course. But in the old days, arts’ unprofitability was why it was something rich folks supported for the public good. Our new ruling class rulers – i.e. the dudes at the head of Silicon Valley companies – don’t support the arts the way the ruling class of old did. Zuckerberg probably doesn’t sit on the board of a ballet company and Tom of Twitter probably isn’t supporting the opera. The head of Patreon probably doesn’t either – despite all the talk of supporting creators. What gets done for the public good anymore?

Do we have to search for our public good in hidden pockets of digital platforms? What are we going to do when there’s no more art – only brands? No more artists, just content creators? No more art scenes, just income generation?

And as lovely as the good people who work at Patreon are (and they are very lovely) their salaries are paid by a cut of all of the patron’s money once a month. It’s more like a bank than a mecca of creativity. I adored every employee I met while at PatreCon AND I have a lot of questions about what all this is for. But then – that IS my motherfucking brand.

For example, at the final talk of conference, the CEO asked for the creators to ask hard questions. The first question was what the company was doing about the Hate still on the platform. (Last I checked the guy who made misogynist harassment videos was making $8k a month on the platform.) The CEO hedged and said they were doing their best but it’s hard, you know, because it’s somebody’s living. The next question was what he planned to do with the money once the shareholders had been repaid. And he said “This is what keeps me up at night.”

And there it is. It’s the profitability concern that keeps him up at night. Not the misogynist hater making his living destroying the livelihoods of women. But about how to raise profits for shareholders. The Second question was the actual answer for the first.
All of that gives me the creeps.
But it is coupled with a charmingly candid conference closing speech and a CEO who makes things and seems to have his heart in the right place even if it fails to deal effectively with misogyny. The creeps are counter balanced by a staff of many bad ass women and everyone just trying to do their best.

I see all that and I really appreciate it but I am twisted up by the questions. Which is, of course, my motherfucking brand.

Digital platforms aren’t neutral. They are businesses. Hopefully we all know that now, after the revelations about Facebook. None of them are perfect. Not even the ones that provide structures for us to survive.

We are all striking a kind of devil’s bargain to continue our lives on line – and possibly off, as well. We know Facebook and Twitter have some major problems but for those of us who still use them, the good outweighs the bad. I’d like for Patreon to be exceptional – to be of real service to artist, to be the true new patronage but I know it’s ultimately most accountable to its share holders.

I know this seems ungrateful – but biting the hand that feeds me is very on brand for me, wouldn’t you say? The thing is, Patreon doesn’t actually do much for me besides process credit cards. They provide the structure that allows people to feel comfortable giving people like me money on a regular basis – which is not nothing. Giving people a way to support me is huge. No one was giving me money once a month before Patreon came in to my life, believe me. And having a platform people trust helps facilitate that. I’m clear that there isn’t any other structure in place that has people’s trust enough to fund me through it.

This whole rant here might lead you to think I’m mad at Patreon but I’m really not. I’m super grateful (in a questioning way.) What I’m mad at is the sidelining of art, the blending of art into commerce, the branding of art and the branding of humans. I’m mad that when future generations look back at art movements of our time, they’re more likely to look at brand evolutions than art revolutions. I’m mad about the branding of culture and the dissolution of art for art’s sake. I’m mad that almost every artist I know feels inadequate about how impossible it is to make a living as an artist. And sure, I’m mad that Patreon, that I thought was an artist driven structure is just a money making content container – made for the management of porn, hate and commerce, like everywhere else on the internet. But I’m not mad at Patreon. It’s just doing like everyone else does.

Patreon is not a non-profit. It’s a business. Currently, it’s a business that provides a structure that allows people to support me, hallelujah. But businesses are not neutral. They exist to make money. Art does not make money. “Content” does. “Content” needs branding. How am I to know which content fits my personal brand if the content doesn’t have on-brand packaging?

And still, I know enough about branding, from just living in these times, breathing this capitalist air, to recognize when I’m falling into branding tropes. I can’t help feeling like not having a fucking brand is just another way to have a brand these days. Like one of those ironic ad campaigns. And what the hell am I selling?

My Patreon page? My second Patreon page that I just launched? I don’t actually think I’m doing a great job at that if that’s it. Though it is sort of on-brand for my Gen X anti-selling selling. Ack! Is there nothing unbranded anymore? Can we not live without labels and brands and logs and such? Is my motherfucking brand really not having a motherfucking brand? How do we shake free of this branded world?

brännjärn_för_märkning...kammaren_-_22511.tif

This blog is also a podcast. You can find it on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

If you’d like to listen to me read a previous one on Anchor, click here.

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs, an album of Gen X Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Did I totally sell you on my motherfucking brand?

Support me. Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a “coffee” at Ko-fi. https://ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis




%d bloggers like this: