This year has been crazy for bands. Not just my bands, but the music industry and the larger arts industry as a whole. Only one album went platinum – Taylor Swift’s 1989. Scandals abounded with Lena Dunham and Oprah asking artists and entertainers to provide their services for free at their events(while ticket prices for these events were very high). Rumours abound that Katy Perry had to buy on to perform at the Superbowl halftime.
Making a living in the arts is next to impossible right now; I know, I’m a musician on constant tour. Constantly touring is the only way our band can generate income and we can continue to build a fanbase, however we still lose money. Our way of life is not sustainable, even with sleeping on floors (that whole Pomplamoose scandal notwithstanding). We’ve been on our US tour for four months now and it’s hard not to get downtrodden sometimes. Even at our most successful we’re still scraping by. Even video games and movies just use the same tired old songs that belong to the already rich. Nobody wants to take a chance on an unknown artist and help them make a few dollars. Profit? What’s that?
I’m writing this post because as a person who works in the industry (as a booking agent) and also as an artist trying to make a go of it, myself and many of my friends who are managers, agents, promoters and artists are getting to the point of feeling like giving up. Many times I’ve asked myself on this tour, “whats the point?” Where do we go from here? I know I’m not alone in this feeling; in an era where mega-famous people are making pennies from Spotify and Pandora, what hope does an independent band like us have to sell 10,000+ albums? And until we sell that many albums (who can even afford to have that many albums manufactured?!), no label or “greater power” who can help us in our journey to become recognized artists are interested. We, like many other bands, seem to be stuck between a rock and a hard place. Despite our years of touring, self-releasing albums and self-producing videos, gaining a social media following slowly but surely, it’s never enough.
This is the climate that has got so many of my amazing friends who work in all aspects of the industry down. Promoters are losing money hand over fist; it’s harder and harder to get people to find value in paying $5-10 for a live show when the weather’s nasty and you can just stay home and watch Netflix. This doesn’t even take into account that in 1992, the cost of a live show was $5; in 2014, its still $5. The cost of everything, the VALUE of everything else has gone up, but not art/music. Without the ability to pack a room, bands don’t gain much of a following, they have nothing to offer labels, venues and bars have no incentive to pay bands because simply having live music has no value in itself to a business. I know; I’m a booking agent. Many times have I spoken to a venue that doesn’t do live music because why spend the money if not necessary? The result is that artists and musicians like myself are fighting harder and harder for a smaller piece of the pie – for scraps. Not only money-wise, but even in trying to get the public’s attention. Agents like myself fight harder and harder to get fewer and fewer worthwhile gigs for great artists who SHOULD be heard and valued.
I’ll get to the point quickly, but let me share with you a short personal story first. Many of you know that earlier this year, shortly before our Canadian tour, I suffered an ectopic pregnancy, causing me to be hospitalized and not to be able to keep the pregnancy. We found out later in the year that this would be my only natural pregnancy and that should I want to have a family, I would either have to go through the lengthy and VERY expensive process of in-vitro fertilization, or settle down with a regular job, get a house, attend training and set up my life in such a way as to be a suitable adoptive parent, subject to scrutiny by child and family services. Obviously, neither of these is possible in my current situation. My husband and bass player and I promised to take a break from the relentless, stressful exhaustion that is touring and take each other to Disneyland for Christmas (a rare indulgence). We had a great time. As the sun set and we watched the fireworks display, I turned to him and asked if he ever thought about the fact that if I hadn’t lost my pregnancy, that we would have a 3 month old baby by now? We looked around at all the happy families with disposable income and asked ourselves, what are we doing? Why are we doing this?
If I have to give up my dream to have a family, I have nothing to teach my children. I don’t want to raise kids in a world where dreams can’t come true. And I’m not alone. There are authors, actors, artists, painters, musicians and people working behind the scenes to make art happen who feel exactly as I do. But we currently live in a climate where art is not worth dollars. Sure we can share stuff on social media and give bland “online” support, but if your butt isn’t at the show, or the gallery, or buying the album or the book, you just aren’t helping enough. We need to remember that art is the heart of our culture. That our lives are boring and bland and meaningless without music, art, the written word. That the things that bring us so much enjoyment ARE WORTH PAYING FOR.
Because of this, I declare 2015 the Year of the Artist.
I will not give into despair. I will not quit. I will not turn my back on my dream. I propose that we change our culture and our value toward art. We all have just as much disposable income as we ever did; we just choose to spend it differently. When you spend your money, what do you buy for yourself? How do you treat yourself? Why not make buying art, seeing art, supporting art, the way that you do that? You not only enrich your own life experience, but you help create our culture and allow the most creative minds the ability to keep doing what they do best.
By the end of 2015, I want people’s attitudes toward art of all kind to have shifted so much that artists CAN make a living plying their trade. Nobody is asking for hot tubs and BMWs. We just want to be able to make ends meet, and it’s not happening. It’s not going to happen if people don’t get off their butts. We can’t expect the “industry” to save us. Record labels, publishers, etc – these people don’t care and they can’t care. We have to save ourselves. Artists and creators have to come together to support each other and help build community, rather than fighting jealously over scraps. By the end of 2015, I want to see a reverse of what I’m seeing at the end of 2014. Rather than seeing an attitude of desperation and hopelessness in my arts community, I want the end of 2015 to be marked by excitement, opportunity, and prosperity. I believe it can happen.
What does this mean?
In 2015, I challenge you to make supporting art part of your life. I’ve created a few challenges that we can all participate in that will make a noticeable difference in our culture. Check out what I’ve written below, follow @yearoftheartist on Twitter, www.facebook.com/2015yearoftheartist and share #yearoftheartist #savemusic #saveart. Turn this blog into a grassroots movement for art. Share, enjoy, pay for your art. Choose one of the following suggestions below and do one a month – just one a month! Make this year a fun amazing year of discovery in the arts and help us #saveart and #savemusic.
TAKE THE 2015 YEAR OF THE ARTIST CHALLENGE!
Pick one a month and do it!
1. Discover a new contemporary author or poet, buy their work, and share with your friends!
2. Go see a play. Tell your friends or bring your friends!
3. Go see a touring band. Buy their merch. Bring your friends, and tell your friends about it after!
4. Follow a music or art blog of your choice. Share it!
5. Go to your city’s International Film Festival. Bring your friends, or tell your friends!
6. Go to a smaller, local film festival in your city. Bring your friends, and tell your friends!
7. Go to a major music festival like NXNE or Sled Island. Tell your friends which artists you liked best!
8. Go to a smaller indie festival in your city like Music Waste in Vancouver or Fattal Fest in Montreal. Bring your friends. Tell your friends about the awesome bands you saw!
9. Go see a comedy show of local comedians. Bring your friends. Tell your friends!
10. Buy a piece of art for your home. Share about it online!
11. Discover a new graphic novel or comic. Buy it. Share it with your friends!
12. Go to an art gallery. Take your friends, and tell your friends!
On top of that, here are some more monthly challenges that I encourage you to do with your friends and tell your friends about:
APRIL is #CANADIANMUSICFORCOFFEE month. Instead of that $2-3 you spend every day on a cup of coffee, buy a track online of a Canadian musician (even if you’re American! We have amazing musicians too!). Canadian musicians NEED your support desperately! Create a whole new play list of 30 awesome songs. Share and compare your playlist with your friends and encourage them to take the challenge too!
CHRISTMAS/BIRTHDAYS: instead of spending your money at some corporate box store like Wal-Mart, buy all your gifts for your loved ones off etsy.com – you can spend the same amount. You may get less/something smaller, but you’re getting something handmade, unique, valuable and something that actually creates a living for a hard working artist.
NOVEMBER IS NOVEL WRITING MONTH: art is for everyone! Participate in November Novel Writing month. Write a novel! Read your friend’s novels! Rediscover your passion for reading and then extend it to buying the works of contemporary authors.
TEACH A TEEN TO LOVE AND VALUE MUSIC. Teens more than anyone live in the social media world. It’s amazing. But when we were kids, we went to record stores and CD stores to buy pieces of plastic that cost $10-20. We read inserts, we looked at pictures. Teach a teen in your life that live music is something to go see, and worth buying. Some cities have amazing all ages scenes, but I’ve noticed that in Canada we really don’t have the same thing. All ages spaces and promoters are few and far between. Teenagers are the next generation of music lovers. Help create a better Canadian all ages scene by imbuing a love of music and a sense o the value of music in the lives of young people.
2015 is the Year of the Artist.
2015 is the Year of Creating Cultural Capital.
2015 is the Year of Community Among Artists.
2015 is the Year of Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is.
We can do this. We can make being an artist a liveable dream. We can enrich our own lives through art and music.
#yearoftheartist #saveart #savemusic make it happen!