How To Not Be A Starving Artist

In the previous post I mention an article from NPR: Silicon Valley vs. Hollywood. In that article they quote filmmaker Tim Chey as saying: “We do it for the art, we do it because we want to tell our stories, express our stories. I, as a filmmaker, am not in it for the money.”

Awesome! Then why are you complaining about piracy? You want people to hear your stories. You’re not in it for the money. Pirates are just enabling more people to see your movie that otherwise would play at two arthouse theaters on each coast and then be forgotten. What exactly is the problem?

However, somehow I feel he’s not being completely honest about not being in it for the money.

The biggest problem that most artists run into is that if they want to be even remotely successful, they need to look at themselves as a business. This kind of sucks. Most artists became artists because they didn’t want to think about marketing, business plans, how to accept credit cards, who they have to pay off to get in a gallery, etc. Sadly, that’s the hard, cold reality of it. Either you learn how to market yourself, you give up a good chunk of your earnings to someone that will market for you (like a gallery), or you starve. (or I suppose you can subsist in a coffee shop making pretty patterns in the latte foam of hipsters who go ‘Wow, that’s cool. You should be an artist!’)

I was at WPPI recently and I had a good discussion about this with a few photographers. We were talking about how much of their time goes into marketing/self promotion and it’s an immense portion of their time. It’s not enough to be a great photographer. You need to have a business plan. You need to master Facebook and find someone to SEO your web site. And, yeah, you need to have a great web site. The really lousy thing is that schools don’t teach this. The students don’t want to hear it and the schools, if they even think about it, don’t want to push it on the students because they might quit and stop paying their overpriced tuition.

But the fact remains. If you’re going to be successful in your career as an artist you need to market yourself. You can whine all you want about how much cameras cost and how you don’t want to think about business models… but it’s not going to get you where you want to go.

If you’re a filmmaker, you need to distribute your film the way your viewers want to see it. This does NOT mean it’s free. It just means you find a way to stream it to those people that want to do that and charge them. Otherwise, they’ll be knocking on the door of Pirate Bay. AND you use a facility to process your film that has good security so the 18 year old receptionist doesn’t upload your film to Pirate Bay before it’s released.

But there’s lessons in that for all artists. You have to do things and think about things that have nothing to do with art. Otherwise other people will do it for you. Of course, you may have to die before they do that but at least you didn’t have to debase yourself by doing marketing. So the choice is before you: Learn how (or hire someone) to build a web site and do some marketing… or die. (ok, ok… maybe working in a coffee shop isn’t exactly death, but…)

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