Posts Tagged ‘Arts and Entertainment’

Detroit Hip Hop Artists Capitalize on Social Networks

Monday, January 31st, 2011

You have heard from Hubert Sawyers III on this blog before and this time he is telling the story about a hip hop artist he is working with personally to build a grassroots campaign to fund his debut album via Kickstarter. From “Progress Report: Using Social Capital to Generate Startup Capital,”

When I first met David Allie Strauss aka D. Allie, I was not aware that he would become someone that I would be in constant contact with years down the road. Back then, D. was just another dude that I would share the occasional microphone. I have since retired my dreams of hip hop supremacy, but I am glad to see Dave still at it. He has impressed me with his growing cachet from years of performing, bartending and overall hustle to make his dream a reality. As a former brother-in-the-struggle in the realm of music, I realize music is mainly seen as just entertainment to the end-user and most artists aka entertainers rarely have the end-user in mind. These days, me and D. are on the verge of becoming business partners, mainly because he understands the end-user aka YOU are his boss(es). (Emphasis mine.)

Ah, if only every artist thought like this. It is important to embrace the fact that your audience is your customer, and your customer is your boss. Your job is to make them feel special, wanted, needed, (and if you are Justin Bieber), loved.

I met Dallie a year or two ago at a Tweetup as well as seeing him around town and I remember him distinctly, mostly because he was a nice person. He remembered me and bothered to take time to chat. Maybe he was thinking ahead, maybe he knew, two years ago, the importance of social capital, maybe the fact that he did not blow me off like a lot of cooler-than-though artists do is the reason I donated to his Kickstarter campaign and genuinely want to see him succeed.

Maybe? Absolutely.

A common theme I see creeping up in arts blogs as well as conversations “in the field” is a very us vs. them mentality. From the tone of the writing to the ideas expressed, there is very little that makes me want to be a part of the arts community online, despite the fact that I have every reason in the world to be wholly invested: I consider myself an artist, I come from a family of fine artists, musicians, composers, dancers, and actresses, and uh, I write a blog dedicated to the arts. And to be perfectly honest, most art blogs turn me off. There is so much complaining, so much name-calling, so much blaming for the state of affairs the arts are in, and little responsibility, little genuine community-building, and little problem-solving. (I may be missing something – so please, leave links in the comments.)

So, when I see this project, from someone I’ve met, who was nice to me, who isn’t a complainer…but a doer…I’m all about it, and you should be too.

Old Arts, New Audiences, and Why Artists Are Not Snobs

Friday, January 14th, 2011
Natalie Dessay - Amina, La Sonnambula MET
Image by dapertuttotrubadur via Flickr

What New Audiences are Expecting

Via Andrew Taylor at The Artful Manager,

During the ‘lightening round’ session at the Arts Presenters conference, performing arts facility consultant David Taylor pointed us to the challenge of traditionally designed and constructed performing arts spaces, particularly in the face of evolving consumer trends. At the heart of his presentation was the ‘Ten Trends of 20-Somethings” identified by Marian Salzman in the Huffington Post last year…they are:

1. Real-time expectations
2. More intensely local lives
3. Radical transparency
4. Expecting cheap or free everything
5. Demanding entertainment
6. Worrying about the planet
7. Seeing luxuries as standard
8. Pro-business, anti-multinational stance
9. Wanting to regulate the heck out of media bias
10. Naturally Me but aspiring to We

Among the most compelling for the performing arts are 1, 3, and 4, that challenge the traditional professional performing arts organization — which is highly scheduled, opaque in administration and process, and costly to run.

Reading this, I immediately thought of two performing arts experiences that I thought fit the “What a 20-Something Wants” bill. The first was a 2009 Met live broadcast of La Sonnambula featuring Natalie Dessay (with brilliant Mary Zimmerman direction, I might add), the second was an interactive modern dance performance choreographed by Peter Sparling, where dancers performed via live feed from a remote studio, “controlled” by Sparling’s hands manipulating them from the live stage. (By the way, it seems Sparling has evolved this concept over the years and fully embraces new technology and its interplay with his art and audiences.)

What both had in common was “live feed” and a “behind the scenes” feel. As an audience member, I felt more intensely connected to the stage action than if the third wall was more rigidly constructed such as during a more “traditional” opera or dance performance. Philistine that I am, I actually prefer the Met broadcasts to being at the Met. Not only is the price tag cheaper, you can see more stage details, to the point you feel like you might just be a lucky chorus member participating in the action. Close-ups revealed the labored breathing and singing of what sounded like a vocally struggling Dessay (my fellow audience members mused about whether an understudy would take over after intermission.) During the Sparling performance, an all-black clad videographer was on stage, shooting the choreographer’s hands, which appeared on the walls of the Kresge Auditorium in Ann Arbor, inspiring the remote dancer’s movements from afar. In short – the effect was super cool, conceptually, and artistically. Again, I was reminded of the days of being behind the scenes myself, and the prototypical “tech guys” who always wore all-black to blend in with the darkened stage during scene changes.

Why Connecting with Audiences Is Critically Important, and Why (I think) Artists are Bad at It

Audiences do not want to be treated as somehow beneath the artists. Indeed, we do not want to get the impression we actually are philistines, which artists could do a much better job at. Is it just me, or do artists often-times appear remote and snobbish? I say appear because it is so rarely the case that they are (with the exception of the primi donne e uomini who are amusingly full of themselves). I believe that more often than not, artists are not narcissists, parading on stages to self-glorify, but to glorify the art. They may seem remote off-stage because they may have just spent every ounce of their energy, and post-performance have very little left to give, or because their on-stage personality is truly pretend, an outlet, and they could be quite shy in real life.

I am focusing on this no-really-artists-aren’t-snobs issue, because I know that I usually wanted nothing more than to duck out the back door after a performance, rather than do the requisite meet-and-greet of the audience. I was usually experiencing an exhausted kind of buzz, you know the kind, like when you’ve had too much caffeine? My body would feel like it was on fire, my mind would be completely blank, and I would have to plaster a smile on my face, turn back into Milena, and somehow muster charm? Not only that, I would begin to feel guilty accepting any compliments that came my way because I never really felt responsible for whatever talent I happened to be acknowledged for, and I think many artists would share this opinion with me – we feel inspired by something greater, and that our talents are just a gift, our bodies simply the receptacle through which that talent is miraculously allowed to flow.

So, What Can Artists Do?

As always, I try to emphasize that if you hope to make a living in the arts – business must come first, and you should not harbor any delusions that your talent alone can carry you. Artists need to recognize the above issues and find a way to overcome the challenges of performing in the 21st century, particularly if they practice old world arts. Often times, the way to stay relevant is to stay connected, and for today’s audiences, that might mean reaching beyond your limitations as well as your personal autonomous zone. You need to let audiences in, in a way that will likely make you very uncomfortable. You may have to take this quite literally and reveal far more personal aspects of yourself than you would like: start a blog, post YouTube videos of your practice sessions, accept all the friend requests you can on Facebook and Twitter, admit your faults, your fears. Audiences respond to this like a child might if their favorite doll came to life, with enthusiasm and eager for more.

If this all sounds exhausting, well, it is. If it sounds largely unnecessary, well, it’s not. It’s just what people are demanding these days. You have to muster all the energy you can, not only for your art, but for the longevity of the business side of your career or for the organization you represent.

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Hollywood’s Love-Hate Relationship with Capitalism

Friday, June 11th, 2010
Hollywood Sign
Image via Wikipedia

I think it is fairly obvious that Hollywood is one of the greatest beneficiaries of the blend of free markets and free speech. I also think it is amazing that movies are routinely made demonizing recent Presidentstrashing the very economic mechanism that allows a director to successfully produce his film, and glorifying racists, genocidal maniacs, and homophobes without even the slightest apology or hint of irony. No one associated with these films gets jailed, stoned, or hung and the only form of censorship (to my knowledge*) is a role played freely by individual market actors by withholding their entertainment dollars, or having freedom to speak out against movies they disapprove of. (*Although, the history of the NEA clearly demonstrates the government actively censors art of all kinds when public dollars are allocated for their creation and consumption.)

Of course, many artists are not likely to share my rosy view of artistic freedom for a variety of reasons, but I maintain we have it pretty good in the free world compared to many other countries.

Economist Alex Tabarrok wrote a recent essay in the Wall Street Journal about how often Big Business is cast as the villian in movies and rarely are entrepreneurs and businessmen shown in a positive light,

Capitalism hasn’t had much good press lately, and when it comes to the movies capitalism never seems to get a fair shake. In the movies, capitalists are almost invariably cast as villains. Has someone been murdered? Are the residents of a small town dying of cancer? Is an environment being despoiled? Look no further than the CEO of some large corporation. Quick, name as many movies as you can that feature capitalists as heroes. “Batman Forever” and “Iron Man” do not count. There are a few (“The Edge,” “You’ve Got Mail”), but it’s a short list. Now name as many movies as you can that feature mass-murdering corporations and corporate villains? That one is easy: “The Fugitive,” “Syriana,” “Mission Impossible II,” “Erin Brockovich,” “The China Syndrome” and “Avatar,” to name only a few.

Most moviegoers can’t get enough of these storylines, but they are so hackneyed for my taste that I have a hard time keeping from laughing out loud in otherwise serious films where the villian is revealed as some Big Business operator where the scandal goes “all the way to the top” sometimes to the White House for extra added punch, depending on which party is portrayed in office.

Tabarrok correctly points out that,

In the big picture, art and capitalism work well together. The greatest periods of art history were often times of relative wealth and economic growth, as economist Tyler Cowen discusses in his book “In Praise of Commercial Culture.” It’s capitalism that creates the wealth that supports artistic creation, and it’s capitalism that provides artists with new technologies and media to work with. But when it comes to making particular movies, capitalism and art stand in conflict.

I find artists are often loathe to admit the benefits of the free market, though are happy to silently reap those benefits to line their pockets when their particular art is in favor with mass culture. In my opinion, this truth is one of life’s little ironies that deserves being uncovered and made fun of a bit, to shake artists from their holier-than-thou attitudes about art and business. The fact of the matter is, all successful artists (defined for purposes of this post as those who are able to earn a decent living off their art), whether they like to admit it or not, are successful business people and that means being part of the capitalistic mechanism.

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Making a Profit in Music: The Mick Jagger Meme and More

Friday, May 28th, 2010
Mick Jagger - The Rolling Stones live at San S...
Image via Wikipedia

I saw this quote from Mick Jagger at least 5 times in different blogs in my Google Reader,

…people only made money out of records for a very, very small time. When The Rolling Stones started out, we didn’t make any money out of records because record companies wouldn’t pay you! They didn’t pay anyone!

Then, there was a small period from 1970 to 1997, where people did get paid, and they got paid very handsomely and everyone made money. But now that period has gone.

So if you look at the history of recorded music from 1900 to now, there was a 25 year period where artists did very well, but the rest of the time they didn’t.

I think people are fascinated about what Jagger has to say since he is one of the most wildly successful and no doubt wealthy recording musicians of all time with career longevity most artists envy. Plus, he’s rich, right? Is he saying it was just good timing? (Nah, I’m certain some of that musical genius and epic charisma had something to do with it.) However, despite Tyler Cowen’s friendly rib that Jagger is no economist, the phenomenon Jagger is talking about is no less true and is explained further by Daniel Wolf of Renewable Music,

That date [Jagger is referring to] in the late 90′s coincides rather precisely with the mass introduction of cheap digital recording equipment and media as well as the widespread use of portable digital players.  The old model of radio advertising paying royalties for recorded music which was licensed cheaply for broadcast with the idea that randomly-heard broadcasts of songs were advertisements for the purchase of albums — which allowed the listener to select particular songs on their own — pretty much collapsed at that point in time.  The technological innovations leading to ever-cheaper and ever-more accurate recording and storage capacity were inevitable but the whole thing gets ugly when one considers that the firms selling the new recording technologies were, in many cases, also publishers of the music that was inevitably going to be recorded.

The “gets ugly” Wolf is referring to is the loss of revenue to individual artists. (Check out this scary graphic re: distribution of profits in the music world via NewsObserver TechJunkie.) This is admittedly a problem for most artists aiming to have a recording and performing career. Wolf further notes, and correctly in my opinion,

Although recordings and webcasts may have some advertising function, in the end, the grand experiment [of commodifying music] may leave us back where we started, with live performance the most important — and in many cases, only — opportunity for a musician to earn money.

While I will only mention the can of worms that is the issue of Baumol’s cost disease in live performance, I think Wolf is correct in that performance is likely to be the most lucrative way to make money. It is undeniable that the business model for artists is subject to rapid change, in particular when technology is introduced and dramatically alters the landscape artists have to work with.

However, I find it curious that despite the fact that individual artists are likely to have low(er?) chances of making it big financially in music, introduction of technology has helped achieve what has long been considered one of the most troubling aspects of becoming and artist and disseminating work: access to distribution channels. Never before in history have so many people been able to access A) ways to make and distribute their own music cheaply B) ways to hear music of all kinds cheaply. This is an undoubted improvement, as far as egalitarian ideals of access to the arts are concerned.

So, are we dealing with trade-offs (sacrifices) between access and profitability? Are there other business models that could evolve to put even more control of revenues into individual artist’s hands? Is what is “wrong” with the music industry the big labels in charge promoting watered down music, or the poor tastes (and thus, demands) of mass consumer culture?

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Guerrilla Arts Marketing Techniques

Saturday, April 10th, 2010
Lonely Musician
Image by AndyRamdin | via Flickr

For those of us in the arts, building an audience is almost as important as, if not more important than developing your craft. You might be a genius musician, but it won’t do you much good financially if no one knows about you and, according to Greg Sandow, if you don’t make a point to connect with and get to know your potential audience.

Sandow writes,

As part of the project I’m doing at the University of Maryland, members of the school’s symphony orchestra went out to the student union, and started practicing their parts for Strauss’s Heldenleben, the big piece on their upcoming concert…Did the other students at the Student Union get more interested in the  orchestra? Did any of them come to the concert?

During my visit to the Yale School of Music last week, a student told me about something very like what the students did in Maryland…Some undergraduates started an orchestra, and held rehearsals in some public place on campus, to develop interest, and of course an audience. And in fact a lot of the other students who encountered the rehearsals seemed very interested.

And then what happened? Hardly anybody came to the performance!

So, what is the message here? Sandow is careful to note he is not making blanket assumptions about the outcomes of “guerrilla marketing” techniques such as providing free sneak previews of your work, but offers that simply showing up and giving people free stuff is not necessarily taking full advantage of the opportunity you have created.

He has some great suggestions,

It might not be enough to do guerrilla promos for an event. You have to follow up.

What would the followups be?

…you need to talk to people who watch you rehearse/practice/whatever unexpectedly in public. Make some friends. Get some names! Put these people on an email list. Make them your Facebook friends. Get them following you on Twitter.

You might also try what Peter Gregson did so successfully on the BBC Proms website last summer. Bring a video camera when you show up guerrilla-style in public, and film conversations with people hearing you who seem interested. And, maybe, with some who aren’t interested! Then put these conversations on a website, or a Facebook page. The idea is to get these people to send their friends to your page, to watch the video. And, of course, to find out about your project, as inevitably will happen.

He goes on to list a lot more great ideas, so read the full post. However, it strikes me that a lot of times artists are not short on ideas for promotion, even for free promotion – some of them just do not have the personality for promotion. Some of them are too shy to start a blog, be on YouTube or tweet about themselves. I think another reason artists do not do a great job promoting themselves is that they may simply not have enough time! It is a lot of work promoting yourself as an artist or your arts organization.

According to a fine art photographer I know who supports himself entirely with his art, he says he spends 90% of his marketing and gigging at art fairs and photography workshops. The other 10% of the time is spent shooting photos. Of the time he spends shooting, he says 90% of it is on capturing images he know will sell, and only 10% on things he likes (abstract images) that do not sell as well.

The reality is, being an artist is just like being an entrepreneur. Especially if your idea (your art) is unproven, you have to work that much harder to promote yourself. I think a lot of artists do not realize just to what extent the life of an entrepreneur is a challenge and exercise in sheer stamina.

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Opera vs. Lady Gaga

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

I came across two YouTube videos today on Facebook that are entertaining and post-worthy for the following reasons:

1. They are both kind of neato.

2. I think it’s interesting that the Lady Gaga remake has gotten far more views than the La Traviata at Whole Foods clip. Not surprising, but just interesting. What does opera need to do to get more viewers? To oversimplify – opera is just not as cool and accessible as Lady Gaga sung by a cute girl on 4 iPhones – and it never will be. But is that necessarily a criticism?

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Economic Evidence of Atlanta’s Hip-Hop Dominance

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

I get very excited when I see things like economic analysis of the hip-hop and rap industry.

From the article, “Urban Economics: Atlanta, the Rap and R&B Capital of the World,”

A preliminary analysis of our 2007 MySpace dataset shows the MSAs whose Hip Hop and Rap bands have captured the most fans on Atlanta’s urban artists and groups have the third-most fans in the country – 6.4 million – behind only Los Angeles and New York. This is roughly 7.5% of the 83.7 million fans of the two MySpace genres, which, incidentally, are the most popular genres on MySpace.

Atlanta is an elite producer of one of America’s most widely consumed cultural products: radio-friendly rap and R&B. Atlanta is indeed a skilled city. But it is doubtful that the proportion of four-year college graduates is much of an indicator of the songwriting, arranging, and performance skills that some of Atlanta’s most successful entrepreneurs practice at world-class levels.

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ArtPrize Opens Again

Friday, March 26th, 2010
ArtPrize logo
Image via Wikipedia

I feel like ArtPrize just finished, and yet, here it is again, the world’s largest art prize – open to anyone anywhere in the world as long as they can match themselves and their art up with a venue in Grand Rapids, MI.

Venue registration runs March 15 to April 15; artist registration runs from April 19 to May 27. With a whopping first prize of $250,000, second place of $150,000, third place of $50,000 and $7,000 for 4th through 10th place – it would be crazy not to try!

ArtPrize is also one of the world’s freest competitions, in that anyone can compete with only a $50 entry fee and anyone can vote for the winner, online or via

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Applaud if You Want To – It’s Only Natural

Sunday, March 14th, 2010
Crowd applause taken at the Liverpool Arabic A...
Image via Wikipedia

If you love music, but are never sure when is the “right time” to clap during concerts, or happen to be one of those snobs who ridicules people who clap at the “wrong time”, Alex Ross of The Rest is Noise fame has some thoughts for you and challenges to the so-called No-Applause Rule.

While I usually feel kind of bad for people who clap at the “wrong time” I always understand why they do: the music asked them to. I only give the maloika to people who incessantly wrestle with their cough drop wrappers during performances. HINT: if you must, unwrap them prior to your event and place them into a sandwich baggie, which can be virtually soundless due to the miracles of soft plastic.

Ross argues that by smothering audience enthusiasm with the No-Applause Rule, we may be putting the fear of God into already reluctant concert-goers and making the entire experience less fun and more intimidating. Furthermore, by imposing rules on when applause is acceptable, we may doing a disservice to the spirit of much of the music written that sonically begs for applause at the “wrong” times. Okay – he explains it a lot better.

The lecture at The Royal Philharmonic Society opens with,

Last fall, Barack Obama hosted an evening of classical music at the White House—once an unremarkable event, more recently something of a freak occurrence. Beforehand, he said, “Now, if any of you in the audience are newcomers to classical music, and aren’t sure when to applaud, don’t be nervous. Apparently, President Kennedy had the same problem. He and Jackie held several classical-music events here, and more than once he started applauding when he wasn’t supposed to. So the social secretary worked out a system where she’d signal him through a crack in the door to the cross-hall. Now, fortunately, I have Michelle to tell me when to applaud. The rest of you are on your own.”

Obama was having some fun at the expense of the No-Applause Rule, a central tenet of modern classical-music etiquette, which holds that one must refrain from clapping until all movements of a work have sounded. No aspect of the prevailing classical concert ritual seems to cause more puzzlement than this regulation. The problem isn’t that the No-Applause Rule is so terribly arcane that even a law professor turned commander-in-chief cannot master it.

Rather, it’s that the etiquette and the music sometimes work at cross purposes. When the average person hears this—

[EXAMPLE: End of third movement of Pathétique]

—his or her immediate instinct is to applaud. The music itself seems to demand it, even beg for it. The word “applause” comes from the instruction “Plaudite,” which appears at the end of Roman comedies, instructing the audience to clap.

Chords such as these are the musical equivalent of “Plaudite.” They almost mimic the action of putting one’s hands together, the orchestra being unified in a series of quick, percussive sounds.

So if President Kennedy—or President Obama, for that matter—ever clapped after the third movement of Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique, or the first movement of the “Emperor” Concerto, or in other “wrong” places, he was intuitively following instructions contained in the score. This explains why newcomers exhibit such anxiety on the subject; it even appears that fear of incorrect applause can inhibit people from attending concerts, although they may be merely inventing excuses. Children pose a particular problem. If you examine literature handed out by various music-education associations, you notice that the suppression of enthusiasm in children is a major concern. Program booklets sometimes contain a little list of rules rendered in the style of God on Mount Sinai: “Thou shalt not applaud between movements of symphonies or other multisectional works listed on the program.” And it is often insisted that one may only applaud: “Appropriate applause is the only acceptable audible response from the audience.” One must make no other noise—for example, with one’s mouth.

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The Day Bureaucracy Stopped the Music

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010
Model of the Pantheon as originaly built
Image via Wikipedia

First off, I need to introduce everyone to a blog they should bookmark right away, The Collaborative Piano blog by acclaimed accompanist and faculty member at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Canada. He posts tons of interesting information, links, and great performances from YouTube. Just take a peek at his series 31 Days to Better Practicing which would no doubt be applicable to working artists in any field.

He recently posted this YouTube video of a Russian sextet and choir performing Vivaldi at the Pantheon in Rome. It is a nice performance until about 5 minutes in when a female employee of the Pantheon stops another movement from beginning and announces, “The Pantheon is about to close. Please move towards the exit. The concert is over, because today the Pantheon closes at six o’clock.”

According to The Guardian, trade union rules under strict enforcement were to blame for ending the concert early despite audience protests and urges for the performers to continue playing. The whole affair was caught on video and is uncomfortable to watch.

However, this should not come as a major shock to those familiar with how Italy runs their cultural institutions and businesses. While spending a summer studying and performing in the city of Lucca, I announced to the gelato shop next to the concert venue I would be performing in that they could expect a large influx of customers after the event. The proprietor thanked me for the information, and told me he would be sure to close early so he would not have to work too late. I was flabbergasted. Most business owners look forward to making some extra cash. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that there is an opportunity cost to working for those who enjoy their leisure time more than most – but I was still surprised at this one.

Last year, when the Italian culture minister wished to improve the image and efficiency of Italian cultural sites, she brought on Mario Resca, who had previously introduced the McDonald’s franchise to Italy and could bring his private sector experience to the public sector. Arts administrators from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Louvre protested and signed petitions against Mr. Resca’s appointment, fearing he would commodify the arts in Italy. By all means, stifling bureaucracy will do far more good.

I think there is a middle ground between McPompeii and attempting to improve audience enjoyment at events and cultural sites. As Mr. Resca noted,

As a client of the Italian cultural system I am frustrated…the museum attendants don’t smile, they are depressed.  Some of the museums are not physically clean.  There is no signage, there is no communication…  (Rocca, 2009)

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