Songs for the Struggling Artist


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 any 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.

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

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Want to help this artist beat the odds?

Become my patron on Patreon.

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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

 

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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.

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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

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

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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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?

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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

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Did I totally sell you on my motherfucking brand?

Support me. Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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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



Art by the Numbers (or Six Ways to Really Support Artists)

When I stepped away from my acting career, the first arts project I got into was my alterna-folk-pop band, Bright Red Boots. It was the first time I’d had to ask for people’s attention, the first time I had to gather an audience. It wasn’t easy, but between the four of us, we managed to pull in enough people to keep getting booked at a handful of venues. Handing out and sending postcards made me uncomfortable but that’s the way we did it, really. There were a lot of venues we couldn’t play because we couldn’t draw a big enough crowd and that has been the story of my life as a generative artist ever since.

When I started a theatre company, the problem of bringing in an audience wasn’t at the forefront of my mind at first and also, at first, it wasn’t that hard. With a fairly large company of actors and creative team, we managed to fill up our first small Brooklyn house most of the time and didn’t do badly at filling up a big theatre in an out of the way venue during the Fringe. But as time has gone by, pulling audiences in to see anything has become more and more challenging.

Around about the time we had to cancel two shows in Edinburgh because no one showed up, I started to dream of not having to worry about bringing in an audience. I wanted to just make things and not worry about who received them. I tried posting things on the internet, thinking this is just how we do things now, thinking that it’s all just clicks and likes and maybe the digital realm will be less concerned with popularity than the time-based live performing arts can be.

And, well…I discovered a kind of indifference I never thought possible. Despite the vastness of my POTENTIAL audience on the internet, I generally draw just about the same numbers that I used to draw in person. Very few people give a damn about what I get up to.

How few? I have two podcasts. One averages 13 listens per episode. The other averages 15. This is almost exactly the number of people I can manage to get into a theatre these days if I put on a show. This blog is definitely the most popular thing that I do because, occasionally, when some post is a hit, the numbers rise into triple digits briefly. (Once, they went up to 4 digits. Once.) But then it goes back down to my usual 6-16 readers. Music? Hmmm. I put out 4 albums this year and sold 5. Not 5 per album. 5 total. I would probably have sold a few more but my main supporters (my 16 Patreon patrons) got them for free as a thank you gift for their support. Songs on Spotify average 15 plays. I’ve written around twenty plays and probably 15 people have seen more than one of them. And I want you to know how much I appreciate those 15 people who have viewed or listened or bought or come to see shows. Those people are my heroes. Those people know how to support the arts. They know how to support me. (If you’re one of the 15, I thank you!) And truthfully, I know it’s more than 15 altogether. It’s more like 15 people at a time. The total is probably more like – I don’t know – 50? 60?

But I’m not going to lie – sometimes I get very discouraged that generally only 15 people at a time care about what I do. This is why I had to write a post for myself called No One’s Asking for Your Art.

So much of the artistic world these days is valued by the numbers. The box office numbers of movies are reported like important news stories. We measure if a movie is good by how many people go to see it on opening weekend. (Which is absurd, by the way. The only thing those numbers are an accurate reflection of is how effective the marketing plan was.) We have a 1% problem in the arts, just as we do in greater economics. There are a small handful of artists at the top, with big numbers (millions of downloads, books sold, tickets sold, etc.) and the rest of us limp by with our 15.

Here in America, we treat popularity as if it’s quality. (And of course this is a factor in our politics as well.) We assume that if lots of people like a thing then it must be good. (All over NYC, taxis advertising the musical Frozen proclaim it “a serious megahit” – which tells us nothing except that a lot of tickets were sold.) And we ALSO assume that if very few people like a thing then it must NOT be good. And if you think we artists don’t internalize that metric and make ourselves miserable, you probably don’t know a lot of us artists.

I have to constantly check myself on this point. When I’m disappointed that only 15 people looked at some thing I made, I remind myself that numbers are not a sign of quality. I remind myself that there are hundreds of thousands of white supremacist assholes. Those guys are very popular. Before his account was suspended, Milo Yannopolis had 300,000 followers on Twitter. Popularity has NOTHING to do with quality. NOTHING. Not one thing.

I always think about this episode of This American Life where they interviewed these conceptual artists who hired a market research firm and then made art by the numbers they received. I’m sure I’ve talked about this before (I am obsessed) but the deal is that they polled people about what they liked most in music and in visual art and then made pieces that were the MOST popular things and the LEAST. And the most popular song is bland and unmemorable. It’s about love and features a saxophone. It sounded like everything else on the radio at the time. The least popular song is a tour de force. I think about it all the time. I get parts of it stuck in my head. The opera singer rapping cowboy lyrics over a tuba is extraordinary. (It’s here if you need to hear it.)

It feels as though so many aspects of our lives have just been reduced to numbers, to how many clicks something gets or units sold or whatever. Even our journalism is caught up in it. Have you wondered why the New York Times has been posting so many kooky opinion pieces the way I have? Well, as Michelle Woolf pointed out – a share is a share is a share. (Seriously watch her video about this – it’s illuminating and funny.)

We make no distinction of quality – is this a good piece of work? A good show? A good movie? A good song?

If lots of people clicked on it – it must be, right? It’s the free market, right? Don’t we live in a meritocracy where the cream rises to the top? We don’t. Sorry. And it’s not even a free market. Let’s take music, for example. Watching this video made it crystal clear to me why songs became popular. (Short version – it’s extreme exposure coupled with audio manipulated for maximum loudness.) They became popular, not because people liked them but because executives decided to make them popular and so they are.

Which, you know, that would all be fine with me if the folks making work at the other end of the spectrum weren’t limping along with only 15 views or whatever. I feel like there should be room for all of us but somehow there isn’t.

I have no idea what’s to be done about it but if you’re wondering how to make the most difference to those who continue to make work in the face of impossible odds, I do have some suggestions.

1) Read, Listen to, Watch, Go to people’s work. Even if you don’t love it. The support you give now to an artist may lead to work you do love in the future. Or it may not. But your view, your click, your ticket sale, your presence will make a huge difference to someone who is used to indifference. Subscribe to their email lists, click on their links, like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter and Instagram.

2) Respond to what you see with love, kindness and support. Even if you don’t love every aspect of what you see. Just some acknowledgement that the work’s message was received means a lot.

3) Boost these folks as much as you’re able. I know it’s exhausting sharing stuff all the time. But know that your cheerleading for a struggling artist has a much bigger impact than cheerleading for something everyone is already talking about. Example: You loving a Marvel movie is great. But everyone’s already going to superhero movies. They really don’t need the boost. You’re one of millions. You loving your friend’s short film? You’re one of 15. Be that person. That’s impact. I’m not saying you shouldn’t post about how much you loved Wonder Woman but maybe complement it with another post about an actual wonder woman you know.

4) If you hate something, you don’t need to say anything. Obscurity will take care of it, believe me. It’ll take care of the good stuff, too, unfortunately but —a share is a share is a share. You’ll actually boost the thing you hate if you talk about it.

5) If you can afford to: buy their book, buy their album, buy tickets to their show, even if you don’t particularly want to read the book or listen to the album or see the show. As I learned form this article – even super well established published authors have trouble selling their books to their loved ones. If someone you know wrote a book – buy it. And give it to someone if you don’t want it. Impress your friends by giving them a copy of your other friend’s book!

6) If you have some extra cash, you can go to the top level of support with something like Patreon. Helping an artist pay their rent is one of the most supportive acts of kindness. Patronage doesn’t have to be big. Someone giving a dollar a month to an artist gives not only the $12 a year but also a gesture of faith – of belief in the value of whatever that artist does. My Patreon patrons have made the things I’ve made in the last couple of years possible. They are why I can write these words now.

 

If you can only do one thing – start with number one. Just watch, show up, go, listen, view. (I heard about someone who sets their Spotify account on their friends’ albums and sets them to repeat all night while they’re asleep.) It’s exponentially more valuable to an artist like me to see that someone clicked on my work than it is to Taylor Swift. She deals in millions. I deal in multiples of 5. By the numbers, your share is more valuable to me. And a share is a share is a share.

Am I great at this? Nope. I’m not. I’d like to be better though. I actively try. But most artists I know are better at this than others – mostly because we know how it feels. Unfortunately, us liking each other’s work doesn’t always translate to the wider world. We need fans. We need cheerleaders. We need advocates. You don’t have to do it for every artist you know. Maybe pick one and be that one artist’s champion. It will mean more than you can imagine to that person. I have a couple of people like this and I appreciate them more than I can possibly say.

I’m not trying to say that only 15 people are ever interested in what I do. Sometimes I get a hit. But most of the time – 15 is the average. And I feel like I’m telling you this now because I know I am not the only one. Many of the artists I know are in a similar position but most of us work very hard to create an illusion that our numbers are much higher than they are. We’re not doing this to con anyone. We just know that human beings tend to gravitate toward popular things. To sell tickets to a show, tell people it’s selling out fast. Every theatre producer knows this.

Here are some reasons that people have given me for reading, watching, listening to my work: “Because you’ll be famous one day,” “because I want you to thank me in your Oscar speech,” “because I want to say I knew you when.” These are all investments in a future where my numbers are so big that the person is glad they got in at the ground floor. I used to try and capitalize on this instinct – to try and project an image of “I’m going places!” But I find I can’t get on board with this idea anymore. Not because I don’t have faith in my work but because I think possible fame in the future is a lousy reason to support artists.

It is unlikely I will be famous one day. But something I do might influence someone who will be famous one day or who is already famous. Or, more important to me: something I do might contribute to the culture, might influence another artist to make something great, might inspire someone to create extraordinary things.

In order to get just 15 views, sometimes we will create an aura of success. I have been known to say things like “bloggers over on WordPress love this!” when three bloggers have clicked the like button. I’m not lying. Three bloggers is more than usual for me. But I also understand that I’m putting a little bit of a shine on a situation while trying to boost my views.

When I began in theatre, I didn’t know almost everyone was bluffing. I thought everyone’s career was really going great! I didn’t know that theatre people are always having a great year no matter what is actually happening. I also didn’t know art wasn’t meritocratic yet. I didn’t know how much more important process and artistic integrity would be to me than “success.”

But I digress. I’m telling you about this because I want you to understand that even the artist who is projecting an air of cool, could probably still use your support. Unless your artist friend is Beyonce, they’re probably struggling to get more than 15 people’s eyes or ears on each of their things. Click, show up, be a patron. It’s good for artists. And good for art.

This blog is also a podcast. You can find it on iTunes.

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

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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

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Want to be a top supporter?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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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

 



My Dentist Thinks I’m Cool
May 8, 2018, 10:49 pm
Filed under: age, business, feminism | Tags: , , , ,

The last time I was at my dentist’s office, he passed by while I was in with the hygienist, waved, said hello and then, as he walked away said, “You’re so cool.”
It was very charming and he said it in such a way that made me feel very cool. Like he’d just seen Lou Reed or something. Or Laurie Anderson.

And my dentist is also pretty cool. He has this extraordinary quality of being genuinely excited about teeth while simultaneously being exuberantly curious about the people those teeth belong to.

But that day, the day he said I was so cool, he did something kind of uncool. Instead of giving me the dental exam himself, he sent in his new partner. He declared that I would love the new guy and that the new guy would love me and then my dentist was gone.

You may not be surprised to learn that I did not love the new guy and I’m pretty sure the new guy did not love me. The new guy barely even saw me. He was polite enough. He smiled and asked how my day was going but it was pretty much like talking with a flight attendant on the way out the door.

Now why did my dentist, who thinks I’m cool, who has a sense of me as a human being think this guy was so great? Probably because that guy is great to him. Me, though, the new guy just saw as a lady in her 40s with a set of teeth that were going to help him get paid that day. To him, there was nothing to see. He had no curiosity about who was in the chair in front of him.

I’ve come to recognize that sense of not being seen, particularly by younger men. The socialization of women being valued only by their youth and/or beauty means often that men, like the new guy at my dentist’s office, only manage the bare minimum of social politeness with women like me. The new guy will never think I’m cool. Not ever. Even if I came in arm in arm with Laurie Anderson and Kendrick Lamar. Not even if the entire cast of Hamilton sang me an entrance number and surrounded the dental chair.

And I don’t need my dentist to think I’m cool. It’s nice – but it’s not what I go to the dentist for. However it IS what I pay extra for. Not the coolness part but the being SEEN part. See, I have, periodically, in brief interludes, had dental insurance and I saw other dentists (some adequate, some rough, some appalling) but none of them saw me. And I went to see my dentist, even though he didn’t take my insurance. I could have gone elsewhere for cheaper, but I came to see him because he saw me and that seeing was coupled with a kind and gentle quality of care that was worth a lot to me.

But…I won’t go see the new guy. And I probably won’t see my dentist now either since there’s a good chance he’ll just toss me over to the new guy. I’ll go get my teeth cleaned and x-rayed and examined at a cheaper, less cool office my next go round.

And if I’m very lucky, there’s a chance that the new place will have someone who’ll see me and maybe, if I’m extra extra lucky, just maybe think I’m cool.

Laurie Anderson is SO COOL. SO COOL.

This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Anchor, click here.

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

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

*

You can help me keep me be cool

by becoming 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

 



Spotify for Good or Ill. For Good and Ill.

For a little while, I felt righteous and superior because I didn’t have or use Spotify. I knew their reputation for underpaying artists and felt I had the moral high ground by not participating in it. But then I saw it in action. I saw how it was an incredible library of music. I saw how it was more expansive than any music library I had ever spent time in (and I have spent time in a few.) It is an incredible resource. And while it fails to do it adequately, it does, unlike many other platforms, attempt to give back to the artists in its library.

I think Spotify is actually a useful example of an increasingly urgent crisis point developing in our new modern world. It has all the good and all the bad rolled up in one.

For the good: As a person who cares about music, Spotify offers a world I would never have access to without it. While researching material for my children’s book, I explored the music of Mesopotamia, Somalia, Lithuania, Sudan, Iran and more. All of which was available to me within seconds. That so much music of the world is at my fingertips is an absolute miracle of the modern age. My new favorite artist thanks to exploring on Spotify, is a Malian woman who lives in France.

Is it possible I could have stumbled upon her at a local record shop? Sure. That’s how I fell in love with Cuban hip-hop band, The Orishas and got into Afro-Peruvian music – by hearing them played at The Tower Records I was browsing in.

But. Tower Records is gone and my CD player isn’t even plugged in anymore. I don’t think we’re going back – even if there is a revitalization of vinyl and the kids listen to cassettes ironically or whatever – I don’t think Tower Records is coming back. I think we now have to reckon with a digital musical world. For good or ill. For good and ill.

The ill is how Spotify‘s dominance in music means the extreme diminishment of musicians. People don’t buy albums of music anymore because they don’t have to. Why pay for something when you can hear it on demand for free? It’s easier, it’s less fussy, you can just listen to everything you love in one place. Why would you pay when you don’t have to?

And many a listener comforts their feeling of guilt at listening via Spotify by thinking about Spotify’s pay per listen situation. They’re thinking – well, an artist is getting compensated every time I listen to a song. Having recently joined Spotify as an artist, I too, thought I’d be pulling in a little bit of something that way. But Spotify doesn’t tell you how much you’ll get. When they gave me my artist page, they said nothing about money. From my band’s previous digital distribution deal, I know we once made .01 per listen. It’s doubled now to .02.

I read about an artist who just retired from music. Her quarterly statement was for around 14,000 streams and she made around $15. My digital distributor just sent me my first earnings statement for my current music on multiple platforms. For 126 streams, I made 55 cents. It’s going to be a long long time until I pay off the $20 per album I spent to be on the digital platform. And to keep an album on Spotify next year, I’ll need to pay double what I paid this year. It is definitely a money losing proposition to be there.

As an artist on Spotify, I love that it tells me where people are listening. It delights me to know that, this month, people in Sweden, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, South Africa, Finland and more are listening to stuff I recorded in my living room. That is very cool. It makes me feel like a citizen of the larger world. Spotify has a way of making the world smaller.

That smallness of the world is one of the major changes the digital age has brought us. We can’t pretend that what we do in our small corner of the world doesn’t have an impact elsewhere. Donny Twimp is happening to everyone all over the world – not just us Americans. Those who voted for Brexit might be said to have voted for a return to their pre-digital village life. Perhaps they wanted to return to a world where they could pretend that only those within their immediate area mattered. But there is no putting this global genie back in the bottle, for good or ill, for good or ill, for good and ill.

That’s why the “America First” idea is so absurd (not to mention a slogan from the Nazis in America during actual Nazi time.) Anything that happens here, happens everywhere just the way a company like Spotify, started in Sweden, can change the entire landscape of music in the world. We have to figure out a way to embrace the wonders and the ease of this new emerging world and also support the unintended consequences. Spotify has played a giant role in the elimination of the musician middle class. The CEO of Spotify is now a billionaire. People who once could make a living from music have had to stop. This means that the bulk of money being made on music is coming from one of the three remaining record corporations – and most of the hit songs are written by the same handful of guys.

While music still means big money for those corporations, it is not good for music as a whole. And Spotify’s business model makes it worse. The music it pushes via its individualized playlists are the songs paid for by the corporations. Spotify suggests what the corporations pay it to suggest. Playlists are how Spotify makes the wheels turn. When someone puts you on a popular playlist – that’s when the wheels start turning. So what is the solution? Opt out of Spotify? You could. But at this point, it’s like opting out of an iPhone or social media. It’s not unheard of – but I’m not sure it makes much difference. In a way, the die has been cast. The musician middle class is already decimated.

Can we count on a corporation to do the right thing? I doubt it.

Should we shame people into buying music they don’t want to own? I see people trying that strategy and it doesn’t seem to work. I also feel like maybe the notion of owning music in the first place is kind of odd. We’re trying to downsize our things and our environmental footprint, right? Consume less. Make less plastic, etc. So. No. Shaming people into buying instead of streaming doesn’t seem like a great way to proceed.

It seems to me that aren’t a lot of good options here….and this problem isn’t just with music – this is for so many other things. But as Jaron Lanier pointed out – musicians (and journalists) are the canaries in the coal mine. In the last year or so, we’ve seen a revitalization of journalist outlets – but I don’t expect that that surge is a lasting change and I don’t know if such a thing is possible for music. I think this moment probably calls for a radical restructuring of how we do everything. Idea: a Universal Basic Income – everyone can have all the music they want for free if musicians could live and create without worrying about basic survival.

One of Jaron Lanier’s books offered a technological solution – and I’m not a technologist so I don’t have an idea of how this would actually work. But he proposed that digital code include a little tag back to the creator of that thing so that when that thing were shared or played or downloaded, its creators would see a bit of a return on that. There’s something about this idea that has really stuck with me, though I read the book years ago now. There is a sense of justice to it that we don’t have in the current model of things.

More and more things that we used to have to pay for are now free for us to use. We can listen to music for free on Spotify (and not just Spotify. Amazon, Google and Apple are now in the streaming game as well.) We can use a free robot lawyer via DoNotPay. We can access therapy via digital therapists. We are entertained for free via YouTube or our trial subscription movie/TV services. We read our news for free (as long as we clear our caches.)

And once people can get a thing for free, they are then unlikely to pay for it. I don’t think we can expect people to suddenly start donating to their newspaper of choice or paying for TV shows. We’ve tried to fund the arts through crowdfunding but it’s about as effective as trying to crowdfund an entire nation’s healthcare. Single companies have tremendous power to change the landscape of entire swaths of the world in record time. Spotify, a Swedish company, is making massive amounts of money while artist make massively less.

In my own artistic practice, I benefit greatly from a handful of extraordinary people who subsidize my work for the others who get it for free. It’s a bit like the Public Radio model – a handful of listeners donate so that the others can listen. My patrons keep me going so I can live to write another day. Which might sound a little melodramatic – but that’s essentially what’s at stake. If you like music and like to be able to hear more than the manufactured beats of a handful of Euro dudes – you have to help keep those musicians alive. Dead musicians don’t make music. And hungry ones don’t make the best music they can. If there’s no money to be made in music, then your musicians will be too busy trying to scrounge up a living to be able to give you the music you love.

But what are we supposed to do? Spotify is a great way to hear music but it’s destroying musical cultures around the world. Facebook is a great way to connect with the people we care about but it’s destroying our democracy. Amazon was once just a great way to get books your local bookseller couldn’t carry but now it’s destroying one brick and mortar business after another, gutting Main streets and shopping districts. It’s not as simple as deleting Facebook or not using Spotify because whatever digital behemoth we take down, another will rise in its place.

We are in a very sticky situation and have been for some time. Me? I look to the people who were part of creating the digital world  to help us out of it. They are at the forefront of both recognizing what trouble we’re in and offering ideas about how to fix it. For example, governmental regulation is very high on a lot of their lists.

New York magazine just published this extraordinary article about all this called The Internet Apologizes and it is bracing and important reading. We don’t have to delete Facebook or Spotify or Amazon or Twitter or whatever – at least not yet – but we do have to figure out how to hold them accountable for the changes they create in our greater world. And we need to stay awake and aware and get really creative about how to have things like the world’s greatest music library without destroying the lives of some of the world’s greatest musicians.

This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.

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

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

*

You can help keep me going

by becoming 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



What People Click On

One of the side activities of having a blog is watching the stats roll in. My host, WordPress, keeps track of views and clicks on my blog and they share that info with me. This means I see when a post is traveling through the internet (usually Facebook) and when it does not.

The bulk of my views tend to come through Facebook (WordPress shares where the click originated.) And I can see what posts people read on Facebook, what caught people’s attention and what did not. Based on that (admittedly limited) data set, I might determine that people are the most interested in sexual harassment. My big viral hit a few years ago (four thousand views one day) was on this topic and the subsequent follow-ups were also in my top most views.

In the recent wave of discussion on this topic, triggered by Weinstein, I found my blog getting more views again. It makes me think about the following possibilities: people are very interested in sexual harassment or I just happen to be a better writer on this topic than I am on other ones. Another possibility is that Facebook likes to promote topics in this vein as it hits two of their algorithmic favorites: things that generate outrage and sex. (Not that sexual harassment really has anything to do with sex – but it does have the word in it!)

Based on the data, I might, if I were a person who was interested in following the market, be inclined to write more about sexual harassment and less about, say, arts education. But I don’t trust the data. I’m interested in it but I don’t trust it.

Social media companies make money on outrage. They promote posts that stir up controversy (controversy means more comments and more time on the platform) and are disinclined to promote posts that take people outside the network. I’d imagine they’re not so keen on posts that are critical of their platform either (unless, of course, they trigger a lot of comments.) I wrote a post a while back about how “discussion” on social media isn’t really discussion – about being reflective about what these platforms can actually do for us and it got, like, no views.

This could be because it wasn’t that interesting to people (fair point – very possible) but it could also be because Facebook isn’t that interested in being reflective about itself. Because it’s an open question, I really cannot and should not base what I write about on my stats – and I also need to be careful about making assumptions about people based on my stats. These sorts of data can make me feel like people are only interested in hearing from women when we’ve been the victim of something and I have to hope that that’s not true.

Want to keep up with me without the mediating force of Facebook?

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become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.

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

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

*

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




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