The arts is a business, much like any other business. It may be
a lot more fun, but always remember that it is still just a business.
And, like all businesses, success depends on building and maintaining
relationships with others.
In this article, I have chosen to look at the independent artist
who has a product to launch or promote where at least a portion
of this promotion focuses on a performance. This may apply to
independent recording artists or bands, self-published authors,
painters and other visual artists, and even some forms of multimedia
Any artist who achieves a degree of success in their field, is
certainly not working in isolation. To be successful, an artist
must be part of a team. No matter how big or small the project
is, the artist must work with others to achieve success.
Some of the members of this "team" are made up of: a
producer, the artist, promotion and publicity, distribution, equipment
handlers, sponsors, and volunteers. There may be many more people
involved, since the size of the team is somewhat dictated by the
scope of the project and its budget.
The producer is the person in charge or the boss of the project.
There are many different kinds of producers, but the basic producer
team is responsible for the assembly of the project's "key
people" as outlined below. For any project to be successful,
the producer must be very organized, be a great judge of character,
and must have a clear idea of how the overall project is going
to take shape. The right person must be matched to the right job
in order for things to run smoothly. Nothing can ruin a project
faster than squabbling over details or the incompetence of key
The artist is responsible for the "artistic" portion
of the show. This may sound obvious, but it is the artist who
will ultimately decide what the shape of the product will be.
If a performance is involved, the artist will be heading up rehearsals
and deciding who else is needed for the show. A rehearsal schedule
must be drafted as well as a list of equipment and other needs
for the project.
Generally, there is no point in completing a project if there
is no product to sell. The distribution person must be in contact
with the manufacturers and retail outlets. The manufacturer must
have the product ready in advance of the project in order to get
the product to the retailers on time. The distribution person
must make sure that the product is stocked in sufficient quantity
and displayed properly in the retail outlets. The staff at the
shops must also be aware that the product is in their store so
that they can direct customers to the product.
Those who are directly involved with handling equipment where
there is to be a performance or exhibit must be aware of any pieces
of equipment they will be required to set up and take down. They
must also be briefed as to the operation of such equipment, if
Sponsors are the companies and institutions who are actually going
to pay for the project. "Payment" can take many different
forms with the two most basic being: cash and goods/services.
Sponsorship can be a wonderful thing, if it is handled correctly.
The ideal here is to have a mutually beneficial relationship between
the project and the sponsor. The project is there to direct as
much business as it can toward the sponsor. If this is successful,
the sponsor will likely be more than willing to keep sponsoring
for future projects. The key is that you are getting something
from the sponsor, but you also have to give something back, namely,
Promotion and publicity people let the public know about the project
through the media (newspapers, magazines, television) as well
as promoting the event in other ways such as through the Internet,
posters, retail displays, etc.
There are many others who could possibly make up an artists' team.
Often, the real backbone of an independent artists' business depends
heavily on volunteers. For example, I have asked for volunteers'
help in numerous areas from faxing out press releases to putting
up posters, to hauling around heavy music equipment. These people
have been willing to work as a volunteer for various reasons,
but more often than not, I am able to provide them with a great
job reference. I also have volunteers who help out just because
they want to be involved in a certain project and want to be part
of the team. These people are really "gold." If you
are able to use volunteers on your project, remember to treat
them well. A thank you party or small gift is a welcome gesture
that demonstrates your appreciation to these people.
When putting together a project, allow yourself enough time to
follow through on all of the things that need doing. This usually
means estimating the lead time it will take to put together the
project and adding a cushion of time to that total. You will be
very thankful for this cushion because inevitably there will be
delays of some sort along the way and that extra time is essential.
I mentioned the word "budget" earlier in this article.
I cannot stress enough that in order to put together any kind
of decent project, it is going to cost money. Some costs can be
defrayed through goods/services sponsorships, but no matter how
many sponsors are brought on board, there is no getting around
the fact that some things are simply going to require cold, hard,
cash. Leave yourself enough of a budget to complete the project.
If you don't have all the funds, hold off until the funding is
in place. There is nothing sadder than putting so much heart and
soul into a project and then having to abandon it because the
funds to complete it were not available. This factor is also important
when sponsorship is involved. The sponsors are acting in the good
faith that you will provide the exposure promised. Should this
exposure not materialize, you can bet they are not going to be
The team that is behind every successful artist can be an important
motivation for the artist to serve as a reminder that the arts
truly is a business. The degree to which this business is a success
often dictates the ability of the artist to continue their art.
While I'm dishing out advice, I have a few words for those of
you who are artists. If you seriously call yourself an artist,
you really must continue to work on your art. This sounds so obvious,
but I have met so many "artists" who continue creating
new works, but never take the time to seriously study the artistic
works of others. The works of peers as well as those who are "masters"
in the field should be studied. In order to grow as an artist,
one must continue to learn more.
If you are just starting out, I would advise that often the best
way to start learning is to become a patron of the particular
art form you would like to master.
As an example, I will use the case that you want to become a professional
musician. There are numerous ways to be a patron of music and
it doesn't have to cost you a fortune. Visit your local record
store or library and have a listen to a variety of recordings.
Decide for yourself what kinds of music you do and do not like
to hear. Attend musical performances, whether they are the local
symphony or an alternative rock band debuting their new CD in
a local club. Build up your own personal collection of music.
Request a song from your favorite local band's CD to be played
on the radio. These are only some of the ways one could patronize
Continue your musical education and network with other musicians.
Try joining a local music organization, an Internet discussion
group, or going to a music conference. These put you in some prime
locations in order to meet people who have similar interests to
yourself. You need to be on the lookout for people who could likely
be on your "team" that I talked about in Part I.
Never underestimate the value of research. It is as important
to look at the "masters" in your genre and learn about
their lives as it is to learn about those that are perhaps a step
or two ahead of you in the business. When you do your research,
try to read "between the lines" and to sort out the
hype from the facts. In this way, you can hopefully put together
the route you will follow to success and avoid some of the mistakes
made by others who have traveled the road before you.
Finally, I wish you much luck in your creative efforts and on
your road to success. But hopefully by now you will have seen
that luck has very little to do with an artists' success.
All the best!