“…I went down to the crossroads, fell down on my knees…” – Robert Johnson
For me, the whole crazy enterprise of making a living as an independent artist essentially boils down to two primary questions:
One: How do you make the best art you can possibly make?
Two: How do you get your art out there in a way which gives the most value and is commercially viable?
So far, I have mostly written about the first question. Today I will offer my thoughts on the second; the unholy, dark and gelatinous underworld of marketing.
And, right up front, I should say that: I believe the answer to that second question is a choice between one of two approaches: Finding Your Tribe, or resorting to Dirty Black Magic…
What do I mean by this?
Well, I’m not so much interested in selling a gazillion albums, as I am in having a long and productive life making art. I love making music and art, it is the place where I can be most truthful, most honest. So it makes sense that I want a sustainable career. The golden question for me is: How Do You Do That? And the answer is: you Find Your Tribe.
Fundamentally, I believe that: if you make something great and expose it to enough people then it will find it’s audience; and that this audience exists in the world already. They are out there now, moving around, drinking coffee, talking, listening to music and making love. How do I justify this viewpoint? Well, mostly with feedback from people who have heard my music.
The more people I expose my music to, the more people connect with it. Don’t misunderstand me here, not everybody does. In a big crowd there will usually be a number who are ambivalent, a few who don’t get it, and some folk who connect with it really hard. Those are my people. They are part of my Tribe, and I love them fiercely.
It stands to reason that, if there is a ratio of people (no matter how small) who truly get value from what you do, then the game becomes: expose as many people as possible to your thing, and see who naturally resonates. This would have been challenging in the past, when the means of distribution and advertising were all locked up but, well, nowadays there’s this thing called the internet y’all… ;-)
What happens when you connect with people who are really in your tribe is: you begin to forge a genuine relationship with them, founded on the real and true exchange of value. This harkens back to the old arrangement between patron and artist. One person gets value from the thing you do, and so provides the resource for you to carry on doing that thing. It’s literally that simple. This is the model that the modern world of art and commerce is moving towards, I call it: Direct Transparent Patronage.
What is the alternative to this?
In short, it is to extract value from people thru manipulation and coercion. That’s an ugly sentence, but it is an ugly approach.
When businesses have the acquisition of money as their bottom line and (to all intents and purposes) sole consideration, their central question becomes: ‘what is the fastest way to get the most money?’ And the answer is: to control people; to jedi mind-fuck them into giving up their cash by implying that they will get equal to or greater than value thru their product whether it is true or not. Not only do I believe this to be unethical, it is a strategy based on coercion which:
A) only works in the short term, and
B) only works whilst pressure is applied.
Once someone realizes that they have been lied to once, they are not going to come back to be lied to again. Taking this fact into consideration, it becomes plain that, coercion is not only an unethical approach, it is also bad long-term business strategy.
Note: I am not for a second demonizing the acquisition of money here. I believe the acquisition of money is: necessary, well and good. My point is: that when that becomes the sole concern of an individual or organization (or government), well, things can get a little screwy.
So, what is my point?
My point is simply that, I believe that it is better to create relationships founded on the real exchange of value, relationships that enhance both parties, than relationships which enhance one party at the expense of the other. This is what I mean by the choice between Finding Your Tribe and Dirty Black Magic.
(Caveat: The implication with this approach is that you are making good art. That is: art that truly adds value to peoples lives. If you have a dog-shit product, then I guess you had better make with the pentagram and start running…).
My name is James Radcliffe and I am a 100% audience supported independent artist. If you like what I do (and can afford it) then please consider buying some of my music. Each purchase really makes a big difference to me and 10% of every sale goes to a charity which: houses, feeds, clothes, and educates orphaned children in Nepal.
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