Wednesday, May 7, 2014

"General Observations on the Industry" or "When Can An Indie Artist Become Their Own Worst Enemy"

So, most who know me (or even those who don't really know me personally but know some of my thoughts and feelings toward things displayed on my sites, social networks, etc) can tell you that it's no secret that I am an advocate for the independent art world.  I would sooner support an indie artist before seeing a major Hollywood film.  Not to say Hollywood doesn't put work out that I like, but if I have my choice, I make the indie and local artist a priority.

With that said, I will also point out some things about independent artists that do frustrate me and where I also feel they can be their own worst enemy.  I've made a short list along with explanations of why I feel these things can sometimes hinder instead of help an indie artist's potential success.

1.) Throwing a project together with little to no thought and putting it out "just to get it out there"
Ok, we've all heard the saying "everyone has to start somewhere" and that's true.  Plus, most indie filmmakers, writers/authors, and musicians working on their very first project are probably going to have very little as far as resources go for the project.  So yes, sometimes you do have just work with and do the very best with what you have, learn from the project, and work toward making the next one even better as you network in the industry and make more connections.  But to make a great project on limited resources?  One really has to know what they are doing, and if they don't know what they are doing?  Then find someone who is experienced to either help you or at least maybe give you some advice on how to go about things.  Modern technology has been great in allowing more artistic types to see their dreams become reality, and also doing it without the pressure to conform to the rules of a major studio, label, or publishing house. But the negative side is that it's also made way for really anyone to say "hey I can do that" when actually, they have no clue what they are doing, or the amount of workload required for what they are embarking on. I'm sure we've all seen 'that movie' that looks like it was made by a group with nothing better to do with their time, so they bought/borrowed a cheap camera, ran down to the supermarket and bought some red food coloring (for the blood), got some friends together and just decided to make a movie in their backyard with no real script.
Now what's wrong with that, you ask?  Nothing if the individuals in question took the time to plan and research how to go about the project.  If you're just looking to have fun with friends and have no one else but you, those friends, and perhaps family members see the film?  Then that on a whim approach is fine.  But if you are looking for something to put out, get some recognition, and maybe get some investors involved in your next project, well...remember that once the finished product (whether it's a book, film, CD, etc.) is completed, it is immortalized forever and how you will be remembered, whether by millions or a handful of people. You have to ask yourself the question of how you want others in the industry and consumers to view you and your product.
Of course, not everyone is going to enjoy or get what you do, and some projects will turn out better than others.  But each needs to be done with a considerable amount of planning, research, and care.  If you don't care enough to put time and effort into making your project the best it can be, why should anybody else care enough to spend their own time and money on it?  I will note that I have seen "done on a whim" projects that did turn out very well, but that seldom works.  If you really want to do that "experimental improv" project, most should wait until they have experience under their belt before attempting something like that.

2.) Floating down the river called denial when it comes to their limitations
A movie about a space odyssey in the tradition of Aliens and Star Wars complete with flying, bloodsucking extraterrestrial creatures may look great on paper, but can it be pulled off?  In some cases, yes it can.  But if you are a first time filmmaker with no budget and very limited resources, chances are it's not going to work; at least not in the sense to where it can be effectively pulled off.  Am I saying you should give up all hope of making that dream project?  Absolutely not.  But should you approach each project realistically?  Most definitely.
When embarking on a project, much consideration must be done on what you have and don't have.  You also have to consider what you would like the end result to be, your target audience, among other things.  I'm sure many of us familiar with indie filmmaking have seen a film begin with good intentions but end an abysmal disaster because the filmmakers didn't take heed of what they did and didn't have to work with while considering the end result.  An alien space odyssey can look amazing if done with the right equipment, crew, actors, stunts, special fx, budget, editing, etc.  But without the resources needed for said amazing end result, it can end with alot of frustration.
I actually had a learning experience with this in making my own film, "Driving Nowhere."  A fight scene was involved and I actually made the error of originally writing that fight scene to be way beyond our resources and the resources of the stunt coordinators.  After conferring with the stunt coordinators, I rewrote the scene to be more doable.  It's simpler, but more doable and will still be effective when all is said and done.
The point is to keep it simple with those first projects if your resources are limited.  It's alot easier to make something simple look amazing than it is to try and fudge something elaborate that would have required more time and resources.  If you are actually going for the Ed Wood "Plan 9 From Outer Space" approach with your space odyssey film?  Then go ahead and make it on the most limited resources you have while having a fun time doing it.  But if you want to make something that'll make George Lucas stand up and take notice?  I'd say save the space odyssey for after you have a portfolio, more resources (from the years of networking) and more experience under your belt.


3.) Negative attitude and approach toward themselves and the industry
Now we all, myself included, have discussed and even bitched about the state of the industry.  Of course, many of us pay attention to what's happening and we have to.  It is important to look at the state of the industry and form your game plan based around it.  And yes, it is important to know your limitations and find a way to work with them instead of against them.  But when is it being realistic and when is it being just plain negative?
A couple years ago, I received a mailing from CDBaby, one of my music distributors, and one of the subjects in the mailing was Amanda Palmer's notoriously successful Kickstarter campaign designed to raise money from fans for her new album. Now say what you will about Amanda Palmer (people seem to either love her or hate her...I personally love her work with Dresden Dolls), but having used project funding sites myself, it was great to see someone have a great success with that. But then I looked at the comments and was floored by the amount of negativity. Not from fans, mind you, but from other musicians. "Well, she already has a devoted fan base so of course this will work for her", "No one cares about my projects", and "It's ridiculous asking your fans to contribute to funding your project...if you don't have the money, you shouldn't be doing it" where generally the comments.
This all coming from musicians who obviously viewed themselves as being down on their luck. Instead of supporting a fellow musician and cheering them on (hey, you never know when that successful artist may somehow be able to help you sometime down the road), all you're doing is putting yourself on display as someone bitter, spiteful, and unsuccessful.  Who cares if she already has a following???  Isn't that what alot of us are going for anyway?  So instead of showing spite toward those with success, maybe look to see what they are doing right and how you can maybe alter your own game plan.  I may ruffle some feathers with this, but here goes:

"Well, she already has a devoted fan base so of course this will work for her."

Um...yeah...that's usually how it works. The more people know about you and become fans of your work, the more merch sales you have, larger attendance at shows, more hits on the internet, etc.  In other words, people familiar with you and enjoy your work want to support you. It's always been that way, so why is that even being brought up as an issue?  It really should not be that shocking.

"No one cares about my projects."
*violin begins to play*
So why are you still in the game?  Why waste your time and money if that's honestly how you feel?
Again, if you're really putting out that attitude, why should potential fans care?  Publicly stating that puts a negative light on you and your project whether you realize it or not. Every artist goes through frustrating periods where they feel at a stand-still or career plateaus (and yes, we all need to vent sometimes), but it's what you do from there and how you handle yourself in those situations that can either take you from your rut or keep you inside. If you put out the "no on cares about me and my projects, so everyone can go screw themselves" attitude, then you are right. No one will care.
Humor me for a moment and think about your favorite artist/filmmaker/author and reading/watching interviews with them.  Does it reaffirm why you are a fan if the artist projects positivity in the interview? Are you put off if he or she excretes negativity?  What about real life?  Do you enjoy being around negative people?
I've said before that it is important to be realistic about limitations and to have realistic game plans based on the industry and where you are at. But you also have to be mindful of when that realism crosses over into just being plain bitter and spiteful. While I'm not saying that a positive attitude will move you a million units of your project, it's easier to move forward in a brighter light than it is to be standing still and moping in the dark.

"It's ridiculous asking your fans to contribute to funding your project.  If you don't have the money you shouldn't be doing it"
Ok, then I guess you won't be asking fans to purchase your next project once it's finished either?  When it comes to fan funding sites like Indiegogo, Kickstarter, and the like I see them as being no different than asking fans to buy your completed product as you are giving the funders "perks" for helping fund the project (which normally includes the finished DVD/CD/book and other merch related to the project).  As for sales of the finished product: doesn't at least some of it normally go toward funding your next project? Either way, you are asking fans to help fund your habit.
While some fans may be resistant when it comes to funding an artist's project, there are those who jump at the chance to say they were part of their favorite artists' latest project.  Plus, you never know until you try.  Another advantage of the funding campaigns is that it is another way to help spread the word of you and your project.  And if you can get a little extra funding to enhance the quality of the project?  Then great!  Your first one may not even hit goal.  But the point is to keep at it, alter your game plan when needed, see what works and doesn't work.
Many who are successful have had years of trial and error before they discovered what worked and kept people engaged.  It doesn't happen overnight and if you really are feeling hopeless and thinking you should give up (as one commenter stated under the Palmer success story), maybe it is time to step back and reassess why you are doing this in the first place and maybe even look at your game plan and see what may not be working.  This brings me to my next point:

4.) Neglecting the business end of the industry
 "But I'm an artist!  I can't be a business person!" so many have said.
Understandable, but sadly the entertainment industry is 80% business and 20% art.  Most artists who have had some degree of success in the industry have either been business savvy themselves or have had someone close to them who was good at handling business for them.  Either way, handling business is a must if you want to move forward.  If you aren't business savvy, I would strongly suggest taking a business course or finding sources that teach handling business (particularly in the entertainment field), come up with business strategies on a budget, etc.  And if that idea is out of the question and makes you cringe, then find someone you trust to handle the business for you (of course that person not only needs to be trustworthy but good at handling records and such).  Without proper management of the business end, I can almost guarantee that you won't get very far, and you may be in for some financial and emotional strains down the road.

5.) Treating your fellow artists as competitors and nothing more (in other words, having an ego the size of Russia)
Now, this one can be difficult.  When you release that first project, you are proud of your accomplishment.  Sometimes so proud of it that it can alter how you view yourself and those around you.  It's easy to get caught up in hype and view fellow artists as competitors who are out to get you. It's also easy to get caught up in putting on the rockstar persona and keeping friends and fans at an arms' length.
Well, first it's fine to be proud of your project. Second, yes you do need to be mindful that not everyone you meet has your best interest at heart. Third, once a public figure on any level, one must be mindful of that potential "crazed stalker." But it's like life. If you put too much of a wall up, you may ruin helpful connections before you even make them or ruin a shot at a potential fan supporting your work.
This is a situation in which wisdom comes from experience; sometimes you may need to run into a few duds before starting to make some really good connections. Sometimes you may need to handle a crazed stalker while maintaining a gracious approach to your other fans. If you see your fellow artists as nothing more than competitors out to get you and view yourself as being "too good" for anyone's help, well, you'll likely find yourself a few years down the road no further along than you are today. And if you do find a dud who screws with you in some way? Once again, it's part of life.  Deal with it, learn from it, and move on.
A huge part of achieving goals and success in the industry is by developing relationships and business connections. The last thing you want is a reputation for being aloof and egotistical. Such a thing may be fine for Spielberg, but when you are trying to carve a name for yourself, killing relationships and networking contacts before they even exist can be career suicide.

The point of this article (or any entry I post here) is not to discourage people.  The point is to follow your dream but have a realistic approach in doing so. You may not be the next Brad Pitt, but if you take the time to really assess what you are doing, how you are doing it, and maybe fixing things that aren't working, it will be alot easier to move forward in reaching goals and achieving some degree of success.

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Don't forget you can still download my newest Horror/Fantasy short, Dusk to Dawn for free from Smashwords until May 9 (this Friday):

Dusk to Dawn on Smashwords
Use the coupon code XW45M at checkout. :)


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My stories, "The Cemetery by the Lake" and "Dusk to Dawn" are available at Smashwords and Barnes & Noble NOOK. More retailers will follow, but Smashwords is pretty compatible with most e-reader and PC formats.
and Amazon
"The Cemetery by the Lake" at Smashwords and Barnes & Noble NOOK
"Dusk to Dawn" at Smashwords
Tiffany on Goodreads
My music is also available at CDBaby
Support great authors and independent bookstores at Smashwords and Indiebound

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