Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Why artist can particularly benefit from networking!

Many of my current efforts with the Long Center for the Performing Arts and its emerging leadership group, Catalyst 8, involve my efforts to collaborate with other parts of the arts/creative community here in Austin. While part of this effort is with Catalyst 8 under Boost and Boostcamp, part is independent of my leadership role in Catalyst 8.

There are several very outgoing arts groups in Austin, who are really finding great ways to both engage their own constituencies and members, but also find ways to reach out to other groups. At the top of the pile are several stellar groups, which I name in no particular order: the Austin Music Foundation, Bootstrap, Reel Women, and the Network Austin Mixer (which is run by Steve Barcik and others). From the efforts of these groups, along with Catalyst 8, I believe that the Austin art scene is making great strides to network across all the creative community. However, those efforts definitely can and should be increased.

Why is this a very appropriate post for this Blog?

I think that many artists/creative personalities are less inclined to see the importance of networking - particularly in areas outside their own media, - often because artists are introverted and sensitive. Social networking often is much easier for extroverts, and those that are not too sensitive to rejection. Networking is all about a number's game - and part of that process is knowing for certain that there will be those that do not appreciate you. While sometimes the rejection in fact is very personal, it cannot be taken as such - and you have to focus on those who will be receptive to your efforts. For artists, such rejection is often hard to take - given that their lives have little protection from the world's wind and tides ... which is why they are so capable of expressing such raw emotions.

Even with those "performing" artists who might seem extroverted, often they are only playing a role of an extrovert, helped in part by the stage lights that make the crowds much less visible to its stage performer. While there are definitely extroverted artists, the nature of art often pulls people inside themselves at the highest points of creativity - making them very exposed. Some artist cope with the anxieties of such raw connections to people with drugs or alcohol, or some simply retreat from the public world.

Similarly, much of what extroverts must do is contrary to an artistic bent. Extroverts tend to limit their intimate connections to the people around them at any one moment, to any one person, and rather connect in a more limited state to more people. As an artist myself, I have found that my own muse and inspiration have quieted as I have become more extroverted. Some of that can be, in part, that I am no longer the "tortured" artist. When one's life is filled with contentment, rather than strong poignant glee, surrounded by misery and agony, some of extremes of the artistic view of life is lost.

It is true that artist are not always required to connect to the outside world for their art; artist often can live in solitude. The difficulty for artists and others in the creative community, however, is that often connections are either required for one's own emotional needs, or even absent that, often are required to be able to leave behind the proverbial "day job." Often the term "starving artist" is all too true, and for an artist to develop fans, customers, and success in their own life-time, they must develop the business side of their art. For these, collaborative efforts may increase their ability to achieve financial success.

Here is a basic example of how collaboration can occur.

Often live musicians may believe that they would have no need to connect to visual artists for the sake of their own art. Live musicians' ability to be noticed is, however, often impacted by their cover art. Also, many live musicians are not as artistically skilled in the visual media as they are with music. For such artists, they might be wise to partner with visual artists or photographers who can do their covers and other publicity art. Similarly, by partnering, the live musicians and the visual artists increase their likelihood of each becoming recognized, since if one breaks out, the other might also. Each artist's base of supporters can be used to support and spread the awareness of the other. Their contacts can be pooled into an alliance.

Another good example. Live musicians and filmmakers might collaborate more.

Local emerging filmmakers might consider finding local bands that had a good regional following, and approach them about putting one of their songs in their movie, or even have the band assist with the score. If the band has a good sound, that matches well with the tone of the movie, both the filmmaker (along with all others associated with making the film) and the band can pool their contacts into an alliance to promote the movie. If the film breaks out, it may well break the band out nationally, along with its director, producers, actors, etc. Similarly, a filmmaker can team up to make a music video for a band, which is essentially a film short. If the video breaks the band out to the next level, then the director may have new opportunities for his work.

While some of this happens now in Austin, many in the various art media agree that it doesn't happen as much as it should. Tom Schatz, the Executive Director of Burnt Orange Productions at the University of Texas, and Lance Keltner, an internationally known blues guitarist, agreed that much more can be done in Austin on this front at a recent Boostcamp event by Catalyst 8.

[Photo of panelists from Boostcamp No. 1: Launching your Art or Film Career to the Next Level, including panelists (from right to left) Tom Schatz, Amparo Garcia-Crow, Andrew Long, Lance Keltner, and John Bush. Feb. 6, 2008 at Mother Egan's in Austin.]

Why does this not happen more?

I think several things prevent more collaboration. As noted above, often because artists are introverted, they would rather work in silos than connect with people at all. Also, ironically enough, the creative community might not be as creative with ideas outside their own paint or script, such as with tools and vision of networking and business problem solving. Additionally, some artist might have ego and control issues associated with "teaming" up with others to find success. Some artists would rather maintain only their own sole "vision" of the art, rather than see that they are stronger with a team of artists producing something as a whole. While it is fine for any artist to be true to their art, such tendencies might prevent their ability to have a larger following and to be financially successful.

These same issues are equally true even within a particular media.

While some live musicians might be great singers, guitarists, pianists, songwriters and producers, many of them are not good at all these roles, let alone being good visual artists. I have seen cover art done by local musicians which is far less polished then their music. While some filmmakers may be great cinematographers, sound engineers, acting coaches, producers, and directors, many of them are not, and might also resist letting other artists participate in that vision, out of concern that it will some how corrupt it. As often with successful filmmakers, the final product is made by large team of professionals, from the actors, the producers, the sound engineers, the score composer, the live musicians making original songs, and all the others who win in separate categories at the Oscars. Yet, how many emerging filmmakers are conscientiously looking for professional sound engineers and other teammates to manage a portion of the film? Most likely not all. The well-known film professionals and up-and-coming filmmakers understand that teams win. Because of this, these artists will find success. Rarely does an artist find success truly as a solo act.

Another limitation for such collaboration might be that "I don't have the money to pay someone to do so I have to do it myself?" That may be true if the artist is not actively networking the remainder of the creative community in his area and elsewhere. However, often the emerging artists in various areas are equally wanting to find their own path to success. If the artists will network, find those contacts, cultivate the relationships and friendship from them, the artist might well find willing co-conspirators to a team vision. What is more, through a number's game, the artist might find those collaborators who share a strikingly similar view, and in fact such artists might not have to compromise their own vision much at all in doing their craft.

Finally, such collaboration is as much true of those parts of the art world that involve the "business" of art: legal and contract issues, accounting issues, marketing, the practical follow-through of various sorts. Many of those business people who are in close proximity to the art world, such as myself, are also artistically driven. Such individuals may have decided not to go the "artist" route, and only dabble in art as a hobby. Such individuals, however, may be great allies in managing the business of the art and may also be looking for that one great collaboration that will help them break their own professional careers out, as well.

The message I would leave artists is this: be as creative about how you view those areas outside your immediate art form, and look collaboratively at the world around you. To the extent that you know you have weak areas, find those people who will round them out and be a member of a successful team. While the final vision may not be only your vision, it might help you find the successful art career that will give you more freedom later on to explore that vision. It is probably not by accident that the band, Genesis, has had repeated successful albums at the same time that Mike Rutherford (Mike and the Mechanics) and Phil Collins have had successful solo efforts, as well. Compromise and collaboration is not automatically selling out your art - but can provide you the freedom to find it.


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