Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about artists and their money woes. It’s a stereotype that artists choose poverty – or else simply don’t understand how money works – and it’s a stereotype for a reason. My previous post reacting to Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk was intended to be my way of working that little demon out of my ears, but I’ve only been thinking about it more and more since having written it. And I suspect that one follow-up post will not satisfy my brain either, so instead of this being the follow-up, this is simply a follow-up. Everything else around me notwithstanding, my thoughts go like this:
One of AFP’s most important points is about connection and understanding. Her work is widely accessible, despite being described as a post-punk cabaret act (which sounds like it wouldn’t be widely accessible), and her work stands on its own, meaning a fan can sit in their room alone, holding the CD case and listening to AFP’s songs, and the audience is moved. However, the studio recordings played back by a machine are not the same as a live performance, or meeting her in person.
She has two things going really strongly for her: her live performance and her accessible songwriting. As an artist and as a human being, AFP connects with people. This is one core aspect that comprises her ask-don’t-force payment philosophy.
So the question now is how does this translate to bands? Or theatre companies? Or artist collectives? Or, really, any group of more than one artist contributing to the same work of art? Is every single member required to connect on a human level the way AFP does?
Not necessarily. I want to believe that the art is what sells itself, and all it takes then is one person to hold out one hand. But unity is important. Each individual really ought to be on the same page for this philosophy to work in actual real-world practice. Not every musician in the band needs to ask for money, but every musician needs to know where their money is coming from, because any disagreement on this spells automatic discord and possibly doom for the band.
Furthermore, “sales” in general is something that doesn’t just happen. Art doesn’t sell itself. You can convince an audience that your art is worth paying for, but the actual process of transferring money from audience to artist is, for some reason, avoided by artists. Sales also requires human interaction, especially if, like Amanda Palmer, you are literally accepting cash into the palm of your hand. Or into your hat. Or a credit card into that little slider device that plugs into your iPhone. Or anything. Sales is a tricky pickle, and it requires time and presence. And, like art, most of us are not instantly good at it. It’s a skill that takes time and practice, and the more you do it, the better you get.
There’s this amazing blog post from artofhustle.com, and I strongly recommend every single artist in the world to read it. It’s extremely important, and it hits the nail on the head.
The biggest takeaway is that artists need to realize their worth, and they need to not just understand their craft, but they also need to understand real-world finances.
I think coupling this punch-in-the-face message of “artists need to know they should get paid” with Amanda Palmer’s message of “allow your audience pay for the art they enjoy” will bring the happy medium artists need to stay artists in the long term. If this can be adopted on a large scale, it’s possible that as audiences, our society will place ever-higher value on art, both with money and with emotional connection.
Is it too soon to whisper, “Utopia?”