Currently, we are in the midst of one of the most transformative periods in the evolution of media. No doubt, you’ve heard all the warning signs. The Internet and increasingly powerful technology are tearing down the entrenched corporate business model. Artists are taking on more of the management and production of their art and the industry is suffering.
This is happening in all kinds of media, from films to music. Self-published books, particularly e-books, have taken off in the recent past. More and more of them are finding their way onto best-seller lists.
If the art community paused long enough to really consider this, I imagine it breathing a sigh of long awaited relief along with a “WTF?!?! Can you believe this is happening?”
What you’re seeing now, the birth of the new entertainment industry is the realization of long held dreams by many artists. Freedom to call the shots is creating a freer and more responsive art market than ever before. But there are still limits.
I’m predicting, with some bombast, that we’ll look back on this sea change and see it is a moment where consumers, the audience, really took charge of the market and defined the course of the art and media, at least on an indie level.
Of course, the greatest modern example of this is crowdfunding. Crowdfunding puts the audience closer than ever to the artist, giving them almost instantaneous market power, rather than filtering their desires through middle men, warped by their own interests. From here on out, artists will be increasingly successful based on how well they interface with their audience. The audience is the boss now, so you need to know how to please your boss. Some tips:
- Be Yourself: It’s an adage that’s been parroted to death by Hollywood, but it remains true. Your Kickstarter campaign, your Twitter feed, and any other way you communicate with your fan base is an extension of yourself. If you’re the kind of artist that hates cultivating an audience, make that the premise of your audience outreach. There are plenty of people who can get on board with that message. They want to support you.
- Give Them What They Want: There is actually a step before this: know what they want. Hopefully, you’re such a deft commander of your audience that what they want is you. All your quirkiness. All your diffidence (refer to number 1). All your indie cool and style. Then dish it out in absurdly programmed doses. Like daily. Don’t let them forget about you. They love you, so you don’t have to worry about saturating the audience, unless you blast them with Tweets all day. That’s a good way to cultivate audience hatred.
- Make the Audience Part of the Process: The cliché of the artist slaving away in the ivory tower, only rarely emerging with polished nuggets of brilliance is still viable, but is a somewhat tired aesthetic. To make a living at art, bring the audience into your workshop, at least metaphorically. Ask for audience feedback, let them suggest a title for your new album, or direct a music video. They want to feel part of something bigger, and this week, it’s your project. They’ll forever sing your praises and support you.
- Dream Big: People are into crazy ideas. Indie audiences especially are looking for the next cool thing to add to their list of things the mainstream has yet to ruin. This is one way to distance yourself from the competition. Crowdfunding, in some circles, has become standard operating procedure. Can’t find the cash to publish your zine? Crowdfund it. Can’t leverage donors for your new NGO? Crowdfund it. The crop of average crowdfunding projects is deep. The crop of innovative ideas is much smaller. Try to make your idea bigger, smaller, more underground, more subversive, more philosophical….As an artist, you probably have big dreams, so share it with the audience. Let them see just what a crazy wizard you are.
- Don’t Be a Jerk:Most of the time, being nice pays off. With the increased transparency of the artist/audience relationship, people feel as if they know you, and invest some trust (and money/time) into that relationship, even if their perception is way off (don’t sweat it, they’ll never know). It’s a lot like having a friend. Don’t expect these friends to hang out with you if you abuse people.
There are exceptions. Some people make careers out of making waves. Kanye West comes to mind. Global information reinforces the idea that any publicity is good publicity, so trending on Google is a good way to get noticed. Look deep into your soul and ask yourself if that’s how you want to be known.
There is one thing you need that this list can’t help you with. Be interesting. Be the kind of artist that fans give a damn about. There’s no magic bullet for that. You’ll work hard. You’ll get shut down from time to time. You’ll suffer. Every once in a while, you’ll have some successes. Just keep your fans up to date on your struggle with your Twitter feed.