Friday, January 25, 2008

an alternative business model for the arts...?

What to do if...

- you are passionate about your art (whether music, visual art, or whatever kind of "form") and wish you could spend more time at it (and even wonder about deriving some income from it)?

- you want to take your art more seriously and "get it out there" to more people, but you don't really see yourself going "full-time," or even necessarily "part-time," in an "employment/income-generating" kind of way?

- you would like to "take the plunge" and try to pursue your art on a part-time or full-time basis, but you wonder if there's an economically viable way to do it?

- your gifts have been affirmed by others who say they would like to support your artistic vocation but aren't sure how?

- you have a real drive to explore or pursue your artistic vocation, but sense a disconnect between your own values, goals, and priorities and the kind of lifestyle and assumptions (eg: "tour! tour! tour! sell! sell! sell!") that seem to be expected/required if you want to be "serious" about "making a go of it" with your art?

As I've wrestled with these questions I keep finding more and more people who wrestle with them too. As you can see on the sidebar of this blog, I am blessed to have friends and colleagues who are pursuing their musical/artistic vocations in a host of creative ways that are as varied and interesting and dynamic as the people themselves. Thankfully there is no "one way" to do this - any more than there is "one way" for any of us to do our art. I have learned and continue to learn a great deal from these co-conspirators... and I've been curious if the approach that I've been developing might be of interest to others as well.

There are a bunch of different models/metaphors that can help describe the approach that I'm taking (which some have taken to calling "Community Supported Music"). In many ways it's a web-based 21st century spin on some very old ways of structuring economic relationships. See which one (if any) of these metaphors resonates best with you:

1) Community Supported Music (CSM, or CSArts - see my last post and an earlier, more whimsical description) is like a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm - redefining the relationship between "producer" and "consumer" to be a partnership in the growing and consuming of food. The CSA model offers the opportunity to have a direct relationship (and the possibility of direct participation/involvement) with the person and the place and the process that is growing your food - locally, organically, sustainably. In the same way, Community Supported Music offers the opportunity to have a direct relationship with the person who is "growing music" (or paintings or dramas or whatever) for you (and, quite possibly, motivating you to try your hand at it as well).

2) CSM (or CSArts) is like a decentralized and democratized way of "commissioning" art. Instead of a single wealthy benefactor (or agency or entity) financing/supporting the artist, there is a community of people that sees its role as supporting a particular artist, benefitting from the art, and helping to bring that art to the world.

3) CSM/CSArts is in some ways like a pastor-congregation relationship. A community decides that it is important to call someone and charge him or her with the functions (among others) of living in the community and paying attention to what is going on, spending time in prayer and Scripture study, and preparing something (eg: a sermon) to share with the community on a regular basis for the "building up of the body of Christ." There will be weeks when the pastor (or the congregation) feels that sermon was particularly "inspired" and other weeks not, but that doesn't change the fact that this person has been called (and is financially supported) to carry out this particular function in the community. In many ways this is how I tend to see my role as songwriter. And the CSM system is a way, again, to "decentralize" that function so that the "local, supporting community" can be made up of people from all over the place.

4) The artist in a CSM/CSArts system is like the medieval "town fiddler" (or the "community flute players" that played at Jeremy and WuYan's wedding in China a few weeks ago - see photo above). This is a local person who is bi-vocational and does not typically "make a living" exclusively with music, but everybody knows that when it's time for the party (or the wedding), the "town fiddler" (or "flute players") can be counted on to be there, fulfilling their social function and helping the community to do its thing.

And on and on it goes... I'm sure you could add to this list.

While each metaphor is different, and teases out different aspects of the relationship between the "artist" and the "community," it seems to me that they have a great deal in common:

- relationship and community based
- small-scale and "local"
- more about the "process" (and the social function in the community) than about a "product"
- an economic structure that is "in proportion" with the life and values of the community

While I'm still in the beginning stages, already I'm finding this approach to be a better "fit" with my values and goals and priorities than many of the mainstream assumptions that I hear about what it means to "make it" and "succeed" in "the music business." I see this approach as a way to value long-term sustainability and health over "making it big"; a sense of "enough" over unfettered ambition; a strengthening of relationships in the living out of artistic vocation rather than a sacrificing of relationships in the pursuit of "success."

What do you think? Can you see an adapted form of this model working for you? Could this kind of approach help you to explore and live out your sense of artistic vocation? Is it a mechanism that could help you support someone else's...?

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At 9:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Bryan - Good on you for trying something new and demonstratng leadership that is uniquely different from the music industry status quo. Still I probably have as many questions about this model as you do. If I do some mental gymnasitcs, I wonder/comment about the following:

1) Music and the performance of it is so relational. For example, I'd love to rub shoulders and jam with some of my favourite artists. The reality is I'll likely only ever get to do that by jamming with one of their recordings. Cudos to you for deconstructing the travel/eco imprint and trying to stay at home more by using the internet. But, when will we get to jam?

2) Being that music and performing is so relational, do you anticipate a time when you will have saturated your local 'fan' (i.e. support) base by staying only or mostly in your local area? After all, motivation for the traditional model of tour-tour-tour is to get known; no fans, no CD sales is the usual mantra. That said, I have purchased some recorded music on line on the basis of having heard that artist on a place like - but I am much more likely to buy an album at a concert. I suspect there is something to the visceral, passion of the moment impulsive buying thing going on in my heart and head at concerts...

3) What would happen if all the local artists in a region used the CSM model (admittedly unlikely), and each one saturated their local fan base? Unlike tomatoes or poatatoes, consumers don't need CSM to survive the winter (though it would be nice if great music should become dietary staple!)

4)You have the benefit of having lived in many places and have built many networks, and that will work in your favour. Other artists though, may not have that advantage so (and I think you'd agree) that the CSM model may not work for some folks.

All in all, I commend your solid thinking on this, for challenging the status quo, and for defining for yourself what "enough" actually is.


At 2:29 PM, Blogger Bryan Moyer Suderman said...

Thanks, Dan, for your comments. I think you're right on. I agree wholeheartedly that music and the performance of it is profoundly relational, that there are a variety of reasons why the "CSM" model may be a good "fit" (and perhaps uniquely so) for who I am and what I do, and that this approach is not for everyone.

A few more thoughts and questions, though...

First of all, just to clarify - I love to travel, I love to "tour" and do music with different people in different places. I think there has always been - and always will be - "itinerant musicians," and this is a profoundly good thing for a whole host of reasons (including but not limited to the ones you mention). I find travel and connecting with different people in different places to be profoundly life-giving, and frankly I don't know what I would do or how I could be healthy - or even survive - without that kind of connectedness with the "broader body" of which I am a part.

I am not suggesting that musicians never travel - I am suggesting that we find ways to keep travel within limits that are more sustainable (ecologically and otherwise).

That said, I think it's also true that we are in for a "reality check" as the age of readily available and cheap oil comes to an end and it becomes increasingly obvious (if it isn't already) that many of our lifestyle assumptions over the past 60 years are simply unsustainable and will change - and change dramatically - whether we like it or not.

In this way, I see it a bit like the "100 Mile Diet" question. There has always been long-distance travel and trade, even in the most remote pre-historic times. So I'm not convinced by arguments that say "what if everybody ONLY ate what was produced in a 100 mile radius?" (or "what if NOBODY travelled anymore and only "performed locally"?). There has always been long-distance trade, including some foodstuffs, and that will continue... But it also used to be clear that those long-distance products (eg: think of the spice trade) were more expensive and "exotic," and that a local population would need to be sustained, to a significant degree, by the productive capacity of its own bio-region. In our present situation it seems pretty clear to me that even though we're not going to ONLY consume food grown locally, it is a good and important idea that we regain a sense of the capacity and condition of our local bioregion, and that we begin with the assumption that THAT is where most of our basic foodstuffs will be coming from.

Similarly, I don't think it will ever be a problem that "all the local artists in a region used the CSM model and saturated their local fan base" - there always have been and always will be "itinerant minstrels" among us, and "big names" that are much more broadly known. We're never going to "get" all of the music (or other art forms) that we need/enjoy from purely "local" sources (or people that we know first-hand). Nor should we.

But that doesn't change the fact, it seems to me, that it would be a good and important idea to develop a better sense (and care for) of the "capacity and condition of our local bioregion" in terms of the arts... to explore and foster some different ways (financially and otherwise) for "artist" and "community" to relate to one another... recognizing that "new media" does expand the possibilities of what "local" can mean and how something "small-scale" can function...

What if "subscribing" to the work of a few "local" artists (songwriter, painter, photographer) was as common and assumed as "subscribing" to various cable channels and phone features...? Hmmm...

Because one way or another, art ("great music" and otherwise) is something that I don't think we could "survive the winter" without...!

Thanks again for your thoughts... looking forward to continuing the conversation...


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