Tuesday, 1 September 2015

The Value of Art

You can't always choose the people in your life. You can and you can't.
You can choose to not call back that person with whom the sex wasn't so great after all, and then you can't really choose the people you work your dayjob with. 
I have to spend 40hrs of my week with someone who, a few months ago, discovered that YouTube videos could be converted into mp3s. "Did you know you could do that, Alex?", he told me, thrilled. "I'm never buying music again!"
And everytime I hear him share these news with someone, and everytime I hear him say he's downloaded another 50 albums for free, well, I just can't believe that someone who knows me and spends so much of their time with me would talk about this with such pride. And my stomach turns a little, everytime. 
I've gotta face it. 
In this day and age, it is a struggle for artists, real authentic artists, to be respected, and valued, for the mastery of their craft. And the value of Art had become very low indeed.
I wonder why is it so hard for people to pay for art. And I wonder where artists have failed at valuing themselves?
Some people will only ever consider music as a hobby. I remember a conversation I had a few years ago with someone who said “I’m not making music to make money, I’m happy playing in pubs for free every once in a while, and I’m happy to give my album to whoever wants it”. Which is fine for him, if that’s how he views making music in his life. But for other people, like me, and thousands of other artists with the same frame of mind as my own, making music is a career goal -just as learning languages can be a hobby for some people, while others are learning languages to become translators, or interpreters.
Are people like him the reason why people like me end up struggling so much to get hired/paid for gigs, and having to sell our albums at ridiculously low prices, because others just put their music out there for free? Of course, as far as I'm concerned. In dealing with people like that, I’ve always chosen to move forward, and keep searching for, and finding, like-minded musicians to play shows with. We settle for a door deal, share profits, and set up our merch for sale. I choose to respect people and what they believe in, yet move on and team up with people who believe in the same things I do.
To me, the amount of time, energy and money I invest in my art is of value, as is the quality of the performances I put up, and the songs you’ll hear on my album, down to the polishing of my image with every new step, and every merch item I put out there. I can compare this to someone in a gallery or a museum, looking at a painting. You can sit there, and stare at the painting for hours, reveling in its beauty, message and glory -in the same way you can find a song on a streming service, and want to listen to it again and again. Well, at some point, the museum or gallery will close, and if you want to keep staring at the painting, you buy it. Why wouldn’t you buy the album the song is off of, or at least the song itself? Then you can listen to it over and over again, anytime, without having to go on the streaming site all the time.
Onto these streaming websites, which are more and more of a hot topic within the music community. The main argument they hold is that of exposure. 
Of course, exposure is crucial for any artist -but at what price?
My own experience of streaming websites has not been lucrative at all, so far. When my first album came out, I payed 50$ to CD Baby, so they could put it up on ITunes, Pandora, Spotify, and some other places. These are all websites where you have to reach a certain amount of hits before you touch any money, and then your music is there for anyone to listen to over and over again, for free. Some people are paying maybe 9$ or 10$ a year, or as the only subscription fee, and think "Well I’ve paid to get on this website, everything is covered". NO. The owners of the websites, and maybe their employees, are covered. Not the artists. Maybe the top 5 major artists on the top 3 major labels are. But that’s a whole other story. 
Coming back to us, the independent artists, and going back to my personal story, I can say that I’ve never had anyone come up to me saying they’re at my show because they found me on Spotify. And though 2 people have so far bought my album on iTunes, I haven’t touched any of that money yet, because I need to sell for a minimum amount before Apple gives me my dues.
Needless to say I’m not putting my second album on ITunes. Bandcamp is where it’s at for me. Many people have found my first album on there, and after a few listens, have purchased 1339 Crowder’s End, more often at a higher price than the one I ask for. And Bandcamp sales go straight into my PayPal account, which I link straight up with my bank account. Thank you Bandcamp, for making it simple, and direct.
More about those streaming websites now. In recent conversation with a fellow musician friend, he pointed out to me how people’s perspective of entertainment is being twisted by the mere presence of these websites and what they deliver. TV shows and movies cannot be compared to music at all. When a TV show is made available for free streaming, every cast and crew member has already been paid. Everyone who has invested time and energy and money has gained it back already. When an independent musician releases music, they are finding an outlet for people to discover their art, fall in love with it, and choose to support it. The independent musician has invested thousands and thousands of dollars for the album to breathe life, and is still investing more money into producing videos, live performances, merch, and getting new gear or fine tuning what they already own, to make sure their performances are as perfect as they can be, so as to keep the fans happy and proud to be supporting his or her art. In short, when we’re putting our music out there, we’re still waiting to get paid for what we do, what we’ve done.
As I grow and evolve as an artist, always reaching another level of expertise with every show I perform, I’m happy to say I’m more and more confident about giving myself value. I’ve never performed for free, but I’m more and more comfortable in asking to get paid for what I do. The amount of time and energy and money I put into every performance is worth every dollar I can get for it. Some people will try to argue "But when you’re making music, you’re having fun, so it’s not a job, it’s not real life, it’s just like a party"… 
Those who say this have no idea what they’re talking about, especially if they’re talking to an independent musician like me, who not only does the whole art aspect by herself, but also handles all the business aspect by herself. When I was on tour last year, not only did I make a point of delivering the best of the best performance I could every night, for every single person in the venue (beginning with putting on my stage makeup and costume properly, down to making sure I sang and played and danced as perfectly as I could), but when the show was over, I’d be sitting in the van counting profits, evaluating costs from one city to the next, and making sure promotion what up and strong for the show the next day. Oh, and I’d be the one at the door and the merch table every night, before and after the gig. I had started planning that tour 6 months before, and anyone who knew me then would keep remarking on how exhausted I was during that whole period. The amount of time put into it was extreme - and that’s why it was such a success for me. I gave the Spider Grooves Tour my all, and it came back to me. 
I digressed a bit here to fully prove the point that to me, music is a job, it IS my real life. I could go on further about the amount of time, energy and money I had put into Crowder’s End (a production process of 2 years in a studio, with 17 musicians performing on the record, and everyone involved in the artwork and visual aspect of the album), and how much more of that is being put into my second album, Original Game. I could go on, but I’m writing this blog post to bring a point across: the same amount of time and energy and money can be put by someone on studying math, or trees, or animal biology. At some point, this person will end up with a job in his or her domain -and that’s their real life. Being a vet is just as valuable of a job as being a musician is, and if this person followed what rang true in his or her heart, well, that person will be very happy to get up and go to work everyday. If this person loves animals, and passionately cares for them, then that person can only be respected and valued for all the investments he or she chose to do to be able to pursue that passion and have it become a career.
And honestly, if you’re not making your life be about what makes you happy, if you’re not making the core of who you are and what drives you to wake up everyday the core of your own life, then you’ve clearly missed out on what makes life such an incredible experience.
I am aware of the choice I made to be a self-made artist, and what it means. I write my own songs, dress up the way I want to, and share with my fans whatever please me -and them. I am lucky to be able to touch people with my art, and whenever a friend or fan tells me that my music, my art or my words made them feel good, and happy to be alive, well, I know I’m doing the right thing. It’s not the easiest road, and it’s not the wealthiest road either, but it’s the path I chose, and I accept every challenge fearlessly. As an independent artist, I know I have to take it upon myself to re-educate people on the value of art. We live in ruthless times, and the Money-City-Coorporate-Machines are seemingly so strong, but as long as we are there to fight, and educate, and as long as independent, like-minded artists choose to stand strong together, we can still believe in the Art we make, and its value -and what it means for society, and the children.

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