Innovating Through Artistry

The DIY Artist

In Entrepreneurial Tool Box, Interesting Articles, The Idea on September 26, 2008 at 3:30 am

Written by Kamal Sinclair

Kamal Sinclair is a professional artist and consultant, who works to balance the creation and business of art. Currently, she is the Executive Director of Strategic Arts Consulting and is working with Fractured Atlas on the expansion of their Professional Development Program. She is interested in empowering artists and arts organizations with business knowledge through entrepreneurship seminars, business planning workshops, situational analysis, and strategic planning.

As we have all witnessed, the world has been “re-created” by the exponential growth of the web and technology. The Internet has fundamentally changed how we conduct business, socialize, and manage our lives. Rapid advancement and exponential increases in global communication have created an entirely new competitive environment for most industries. Older companies are restructuring to remain competitive and newer companies are emerging to meet the unprecedented demands of the “information age” customer. The cost of producing and distributing products and services has decreased so dramatically in some industries that traditional supply chains have shorten or rerouted through new intermediaries. Artists and arts organizations have not escaped these changes.

Traditionally, artists were tasked with developing their craft, then “auditioning” or “presenting” for an intermediary such as a film studio, theater company, record label or gallery. The intermediary would often invest in the continued development of the artist’s work, prepare it for the marketplace, expose it to an audience and sell it for a profit. The same model persists in the not-for-profit arts sector, except that raw talent is cultivated by organizations that received philanthropic funding or government support. Regardless of whether the middle man is for-profit or not-for-profit, they both operated a supply chain in which artists audition for their “big break.”

However, the advent of new technology is creating a paradigm shift, a change in the power dynamic. ProTools, Garageband, Finalcut Pro, digital cameras, downloadable content, eCommerce, YouTube, MySpace, Napster, and other social networking sites have allowed artists to cheaply produce, market and distribute their work. They do not have to rely on the resources of the “middle man” to reach their audiences or realize financial returns. In fact, in some ways they are better position in the new economy then the big conglomerate or major institution, because they have little overhead. They don’t have to hit the mass market, they can make money marketing to small niche segments of the global village.

Some examples of what D.I.Y artists are doing:

Photographers are finding that the Internet and improved data management programs are making it easier to market directly to their customers, increasing opportunities for self-employment and decreasing reliance on stock photo agencies.
Musicians are selling downloads over the internet, filming their own low budget videos for YouTube, offering free downloads to spur ticket sells for gigs, manufacturing their own merchandise and creating profit sharing programs so fans will solicit sales from friends.
Actors are producing their own films/plays, using social networks to bring in audiences, and broadcasting work across the globe via the Internet.
Writers are self-publishing and growing their fan base via blogging/interactive media.
Visual Artists are selling their prints through e-gallery spaces and getting more active in mix media that can reach virtual audiences.
Filmmakers are making a name for themselves via YouTube and creating work for premium content websites.
Another major reason why the traditional career model is changing is that traditional firms and organizations are experiencing budget crunches. Traditional firms have been losing money on the decline of legacy products (i.e. DVD’s and CDs) and the decline in philanthropic funding. This has forced them to be more selective about whom they “hire.” They no longer want raw talent they can mold; they want artists to “audition” with proven profitability. They want the artists to come to the “table” with an audience, as measured by MySpace hits, downloads, user-generated website testimonials, positive reviews from citizen journalist, Google results, and viral-marketing based fame.

Although there are still opportunities to succeed using the traditional career development model, artists are increasingly competing on the principals of entrepreneurship. For example, one of the artist consultants (and working artist) we interviewed told us the story of why she started consulting. Early in her career she was struggling to launch a painting career in Northern California by submitting her portfolio to galleries and curators. She was very frustrated with her career’s lack of progress when she read a newspaper article that changed her approach. The article told of a corporate woman who gave up her corporate career in pursuit of an artistic career. With the aid of a business consultant, she created a fully researched business plan that targeted the underserved market of northern Californian wineries. Within a year she sold $100,000 worth of paintings.

This shift from dependant to independent artist, from employee to entrepreneur, has left a number of artists confused about how to approach their career development. The Internet continues to give rise to revenue streams that turn traditional business models upside down and provide numerous options for artists to market their work. However, they are finding an equal number of obstacles in differentiating their work from peers and attracting the attention of a critical mass of people. All these factors leave artists feeling overwhelmed by (and under trained for) the new DIY environment.

Fractured Atlas aims to use its core competence in technology and its ability to create strong networks to connect artists with experts, resources, services, and information that can help them navigate this new terrain.

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