The Art of the Business

A blog dedicated to artists who are serious about their business.

“Crowdsourcing” Your Next Production October 8, 2010

Crowdsourcing is not a new concept.

According to Wikipedia, Crowd Sourcing is

the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to a large group of people or community (a crowd), through an open call.

The term has become popular with businesses, authors, and journalists as shorthand for the trend of leveraging the mass collaboration enabled by Web 2.0 technologies to achieve business goals.

Basically, artists, in these days of dwindling funding, are turning to crowdsourcing as an option to fund their projects. Crowdsourcing engines like Kickstarter are based on the concept that many small donations can add up to a lot of money. People pledge what they can, and ONLY if the project meets its entire goal within a specified time frame, does the company get all the money. If they don’t make their goal, no one donates.

I’ve been interested in exploring this idea as a funding concept, but crowdsourcing engines like Kickstarter in the States or Fundbreak in Australia have not been available in Canada until recently. A new crowdsourcing engine called IdeaVibes has just come online.

I recently interviewed Kathryn Jones, a #2amt colleague from NYC. They have recently hit their goal with Kickstarter, and are moving on to produce their project.

RC: Can you tell me a bit about your project?

KJ: Better Left Unsaid is the first of its kind, interactive live streamed play.  A cross between a play, an online video and a live streamed event, Better Left Unsaid will be shot with multiple cameras, mixed in real time, and streamed live to the internet so that anyone, anywhere in the world with a computer can watch the show and interact with it.

The play itself is  a complex roadmap of a play that begins in Central Park on a strangely warm, foggy day in November. We follow eight characters as their paths twist and turn in unexpected ways. Better Left Unsaid is a story about how our lives are affected by the pieces of information that we choose to withhold from the people we love. Sometimes the same secret that protects one person damages another.

Better Left Unsaid.  8 LIves.  8 Secrets.  How well do you know the people that you love?

RC: Why did you decide to go the Kickstarter route to get it produced?

KJ: I have been working in online video and social media for more than four years so I have been aware of Kickstarter since the time that it launched although initially projects seemed to be raising a few thousand dollars.  I thought the idea was wonderful, but the projects I was developing required more money than it seemed feasible to raise on Kickstarter.  This  past spring, however, I noticed that people were  beginning to raise significant amounts of money on Kickstarter.  When Joey and I began discussing live streaming her play Better Left Unsaid- using Kickstarter seemed like a great way to initiate our fundraising campaign.

RC: How does using a crowdsourcing engine like Kickstarter affect the amount of work you have to do to fundraise? Does it make it easier, or harder?

KJ: Fundraising is a ton of work and crowd sourcing didn’t lighten the load, but it did provide a platform from which to launch our campaign and stay in touch with our backers.  In addition, Kickstarter’s all or nothing policy added a level of urgency to our campaign and ignited our audience with a certain level of suspense as to whether or not we would make it or not. There were a lot of people checking our Kickstarter page the last few days to see how we were doing, and a few even upped their donations as the campaign neared it’s deadline.  While I don’t think we could have possibly have raised so much money in such a short period of time without Kickstarter, as the deadline to our campaign approached fundraising is basically all we did, day and night!

RC: What kind of “marketing” materials did you create for your Kickstarter campaign?

KJ: The first thing we did was build a web site so that people who visited us on Kickstarter could get more information if they wanted it.  Then we built our facebook fan page to which we add content on a pretty regular basis.  Then we created a video for our kickstarter campaign.  We also created a press release and a one sheet- and used all of these materials in various ways as our campaign progressed.

Our video is also on youtube, and can be found here…

RC: To what do you attribute your successful campaign?

KJ: I can’t point to any one thing that made our campaign successful, except for our determination!  We used every tool (except for snail mail) at our disposal, from  twitter, to personal facebook profiles, to our facebook fan page, to facebook notes, to facebook events, to phone calls, to personal emails, to mass emails, to a fund raising event at my partners house (we consolidated the donations and had one person contribute the money to our kickstarter campaign) to networking and one on one drinks.  No one method was a silver bullet.

Even when it started to feel impossible, we would go back to our kickstarter page and see that 40, then 70 then 100 then 120 people had backed us and we were determined not to let all those people down, until finally we closed with 161 backers.

RC: Thanks, Kathryn! Very exciting project–keep us in the loop of when the project airs, and we’ll be watching!

I have an interview request into IdeaVibes, but at the time of publiciation, they hadn’t yet responded to my questions. Perhaps for a future blog post.

H/T to Kate Foy.

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No Starving Artists August 20, 2010

Filed under: Attitude,Business of Arts,Cash flow,Finances,interview,Success — Rebecca Coleman @ 6:32 am
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A little while back, I was having an email conversation with my friend Paul. Now, I’ve known Paul since the time we shared a tent at a cabin on Mayne Island during our younger days, but in the past few years, I have become very proud of his accomplishments.

Paul, a former Registered Massage Therapist, started a business where he sells well-researched and written articles to folks who are trying to take more responsibility for their health. His business is called SaveYourself.ca, and it’s doing pretty well. So well, in fact, that Paul retired from the massage business as of January 1, 2010, and now writes for a living.

Our discussion was around getting paid to write. After all, if we are writers, don’t we get intrinsic value from writing? So should we always be getting paid for it?

Paul’s response stopped me in my tracks:

“Cold hard cash” value has been waaaay more satisfying for me than the “intrinsic” value thing (which I did in an impoverished way for 15 years). I’m particularly fond of the cash-generating approach since it’s now inevitable that I will soon be able to turn my attention to full-time creative writing.

Plus I found subject matter that I find personally interesting AND profitable to write about. 😉 That’s probably the real win: I wouldn’t be happy just writing anything I could sell. The challenge is to focus the writing on something that is both relevant to your bottom line AND your heart.

I asked him if we could continue the conversation for you, on my blog, and he said yes.

RC: For me, this whole debate we’ve been having is about values. The value of money versus the value of artistic expression/creativity. We live, as artists, in a world that believes that choosing the artistic or creative lifestyle means also choosing a life of poverty. Even more so, if you do become successful as an artist, you are often branded as a “sell out.” However, I would like to believe that I can be artistically fulfilled, and not have to live in a hovel and eat Kraft Dinner every day. Call me crazy. What are your thoughts on this?

PI: Life’s a tough place. A lot of humans don’t have clean water or a life expectancy much better than a poodle’s. I really believe that the idealistic artist lifestyle — both rewarding and remunerated — is a fantasy. It’s a healthy fantasy, but just an impossible goal for most people, even in rich nations.

It’s not just “the world” that believes that doing art means surviving on Kraft dinner: a whole lot of impoverished artists believe it too. I know dozens of impoverished artists, and many who quit because of it. And of the few successful artists I know, most are successful in large part because they had some major economic advantage to start with. It’s a hell of a lot easier to write a great book when you don’t have to worry about paying the rent!

It’s not impossible to make art pay, of course, just terribly difficult. Any individual artist has the potential to pull it off. But the pie is just not large enough for all of us, and most will fail to get more than a nibble. The few who start poor but get a satisfying bite in the end have got some serious game: not just craft, but exceptional perseverance and business savvy. And nearly all of them compromise.

In short, nearly all rags-to-riches artist success stories are achieved by diluting the purity of a dream with smart compromises and entrepreneurship. That’s certainly my story.

RC: Okay, I’ll bite. What’s your story?

PI: I guess I have a “success” story, which I’m starting to enjoy and still getting used to.

I started out as a creative writer, but I got weary of poverty and decided to get more entrepreneurial and started picking projects with some profit potential. About six years later, I write almost exclusively about health science (in a creative way), and I publish online and make a decent living selling e-book guides for patients about common pain problems. But the amount of money is not the best part. What really makes it a success story is the residuals. I have an stable and unusually passive income — my ebooks sell automatically, with basically no day-to-day work required. I’m not in a high tax bracket, but I have more income security than a Hollywood divorce lawyer, and more holidays. With a little updating now and then, my books will pay my rent for the rest of my life.

So I’m not yet 40, but I actually don’t really have to work any more. Sure, I’m still pounding away at my business, but mainly because I like it and I want to buy a few more toys, and maybe a house someday.

RC: Is what I’m hearing you say is, find a way to make your art business profitable, commercial? And then do the “fine” art, whatever that is, for yourself?

PI: I don’t really want to do “fine” art and creative writing “for me” — I want to do it for an audience. I want to succeed as an idealistic artist just as much as I did when I was 18, gunning for commercial success and critical acclaim. The difference is that now I can afford to pour myself into writing novels and short stories, thanks to the compromises I’ve made for the last ten years — which just don’t feel much like compromises now that they’ve paid off!

Should every artist do it this way? Probably not. There’s wiggle room depending on your goals and how much Kraft dinner you can stand eating. If you can you live with the odds being seriously stacked against you, then great, take that “high” road.

But few artists are really up for that. Most want to eat better and have a robust career. If that’s what you want, find the common ground between idealistic goals and what’s actually marketable and practical. Do that vend diagram! And then get to work in the overlap. Most artists won’t do it because entrepreneurship is too alien, because the compromises seem too extreme, and the pay-off is too distant. But that’s just what it takes … and the alternative is to NEVER have the time or resources to do what you really want to do.

RC: Thanks, Paul!

Both Paul and I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Go!

Paul Ingraham blogs sassily about pain and injury science at SaveYourself.ca (twitter, facebook). A former Registered Massage Therapist, he now calls himself a science journalist. Most of his passive income comes from a pair of best-selling ebooks, one about muscle knots (trigger points), and the other about a nasty knee problem that runners get, iliotibial band syndrome. It’s worth visiting those pages just to see an example of a profitable ebook presentation. Paul works in a downtown Vancouver home office with his wife and an editor cat.

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The Beast of Bottomless Lake July 9, 2010

Filed under: Arts Marketing,Business of Arts,Life,Local Shows,Success — Rebecca Coleman @ 6:31 am
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I don’t usually talk about projects that I’m doing publicity for, but this one is different.

The Beast of Bottomless Lake is a feature film that I have been involved with for about four years, now. It has finally been finished, and in January, we held a cast and crew screening.

I’m very happy to report that other people (not just those of us involved) also think that the film is something special. To date, The Beast has been accepted into two film festivals: the Mississauga Independent Film Festival, and the Oakanagan International Film Festival.

MIFF opened Wednesday, and our film screens there July 10. The Beast is only one of 5 feature films to screen at MIFF.  If you’re in the GTA, check it out.

Okanagan… well, here’s the thing: it was the first film fest we were offered, and we felt like that was so fitting–the film reads like a love letter to the Okanagan, after all. OIFF, where we hold the honour of being the opening night gala film, is our true World Premiere. It’s our chance to say thanks to all the great folks up there that really helped to get this film made.

The Beast screens July 21, and I’ll be there, along with Craig and Kennedy, Janet and Keith’s parents.

If you’re near the Okanagan, come and see it.

And here’s hoping that these two festivals are the beginning of the snowball…

UPDATE, JULY 11: The film screened at MIFF last night as planned. I just recieved word that The Beast of Bottomless Lake won Best Feature Film at the 2010 Mississauga Film Festival!! Congratulations everyone!

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Becoming a better blogger June 25, 2010

Things have been a bit nutty in my life, lately. I like to get up on the weekends, Saturday or Sunday morning, and bang out 2-3 blog posts for the week over my morning coffee. It’s a method that’s worked well for me over the past few months.

Lately, I’ve gotten off track, mostly because my life was quite disrupted by moving house. But the pile of boxes in my living room is shrinking, and I am starting to feel like I have a handle on it, so it’s back to my blogging schedule.

Recently, to get me “back into the swing,” I read a book called Blog Blazers. It’s written by a blogger, Stephane Grenier, and it is, essentially, a book of interviews with top bloggers like Seth Godin and Penelope Trunk. Stephane asked each of the bloggers the same set of questions, and you would be shocked how many of them had exactly the same answers.

I wanted to share some of the commonalities  and tips that I picked up with you.

What makes a successful blog?

For some people, it’s straight-up stats: how many hits you get per day, how many people subscribe to your RSS feed. For some people it’s money, and for others, it’s influence. Truth is, no one can tell you you are a successful blogger. If you set goals for yourself at the beginning, before you start, and you reach those goals, whatever they are, you are a success. For me, success is a slippery critter. Once I reach one goal, I set a new one. And given that most blogs are abandoned within a few months, just keeping it up could be considered to be success.

What should I write about?

Penelope Trunk said it best: “Find a very popular topic and then write at the very edge of that topic. If you write in the centre, that’s where everyone else is and it will be hard to present something that is unique. If you write at the edge and throw in stuff not totally related to your topic area, then both you and your readers will find surprises in that intersection of the new stuff and your topic.”

In addition, make sure you pick a topic that you are, at the very least, passionate about. And that you have some knowledge of. I don’t consider myself to be a social media expert, but I like to do research, and try to stay one step ahead. Also, write for the reader, not for yourself.

This great article on 25 Styles of Blogging is a great place to start if you are stuck.

Make sure you take lots of time to read other blogs in your niche before you begin, and also spend time going through the archives of some of the great blogs for beginners I’ll list below.

How often do I post?

While everyone agrees that, to build an audience, the more posts, the quicker you go up in Google Search rankings, you have to be realistic. Some bloggers said five times a day (!), and others only post once or twice a week. Post at whatever frequency you feel like you can keep up.

How do I make money from my blog?

A lot of the people in this book make a living from blogging, some into 6 figures. But they all agreed that getting into blogging thinking that you are going to become an instant millionaire is a mistake. I have a big problem with blogs that have pop-ups and lots of flashy ads. Many of the bloggers recommended reading John Chow’s blog. But, honestly, it’s such a turn-off to me that I can’t get past the front page. Whether or not you monetize your blog is up to you–there are certainly pros and cons to both sides. For me, I’d rather have my blog be what it is, and if I can sell a couple of e-books, or book a workshop or a publicity gig from it, it’s fully worth it.

The importance of a good headline

Headlines are incredibly important: in our fast-paced world, a catchy headline could draw someone in over all the others. So, think about keywords when writing your headlines, and you might want to wait to write it until you are done writing the post, so that it better reflects the post.

Top blogs to read for beginning bloggers

Resolutions:

All right, you’re all witnesses. I’ve been blogging now at Art of the Biz since October of 2008, and for a year before that as a guest on The Next Stage Magazine. Reading this book gave me lots of great ideas that I need to implement to improve my blog. So here are my goals:

  • to migrate my blog from WordPress-hosted to self-hosted (I have a meeting with my webdesigner set up!)
  • to integrate more images, and to chunk my posts more. I realize that I have been lazy in that respect, and it sometimes makes my blog hard to read.
  • to integrate more mixed media (vlogs, podcasts) into my blog, so that it’s not all straight text.
  • to implement more strategies to grow my readership (after I’ve moved to self-hosted)
  • More value-added stuff: contests and giveaways.

What’s your best blogging tip?

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Why we need award shows like the Jessies June 23, 2010

Monday night, here in Vancouver, we celebrated The 28th Annual Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Vancouver cultural landscape, The Jessies are our answer to Toronto’s Doras or Broadway’s Tony Awards. They honour theatre excellence over the past year.

You can say what you like about awards shows: that they don’t really mean anything, that they are shallow, that the same people are nominated and win every year.

But what I witnessed Monday night was none of those things.

What I witnessed was unbelievable support for each other, and rallying in the face of some really, really dark and difficult times. I saw a lot of love. I saw a note of glamor in our otherwise “I wear Stage Manager’s blacks” lives. I saw us not take ourselves too seriously.

@SMLois and I clean up pretty good!

Let’s face it, since the first round of arts cuts in August last year, our community has been reeling. A conversation I had with Bill Millerd, Artistic Managing Director of The Arts Club, indicated that they may need to turn to programming smaller shows: 2-3 handers, instead of the bigger-cast, bigger-budget stuff they have been doing. Deb Pickman of the Shameless Hussys joked (seriously) that they can only afford to do one-woman shows from here in, and Ruby Slippers Theatre has put a list of shows that have been canceled on their blog.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned this year from these arts cuts, it’s that we have the ability to come together and make a lot of noise as a community. Our whole is indeed greater than the sum of our parts. And part of what the Jessies are about are celebrating that community and the strength we have when we get together.

We only really get to do this once a year. All the other times, we see each other in our shows, on stage, or at openings or workshops. But this one night of the year, we get to come together and not work and hang out and laugh and celebrate.

For me, the acceptance speech of the night belonged to Anthony F. Ingram, for Shameless Hussy’s Frozen. “I’d like to dedicate this to my dad Gary who fought so hard for me not to do this, and over the last few years has become one of my biggest supporters. He thanked me for showing him that theatre can open your eyes to the world.” He added, “This is not a community–it’s an industry. Maybe if we start calling it an industry, the government will listen to us.”

The full list of the nights winners can be found on the Jessie Awards website.

I’d like to especially congratulate the producers of the shows I got to work on: Touchstone Theatre, Presentation House, and Leaky Heaven Circus.

You can read  Miss604’s LiveBlog of the event here.

And, remember a couple of weeks ago when I said that Laara Sadiq was my favorite in the best actress, small theatre category? Well, she won.

Here is her acceptance speech:

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Being and artist and a parent June 9, 2010

At Babz’ memorial service a couple of weeks ago, it was mentioned many, many times how, “her kids were her life.” Babz had three children: Aviv, Orpheo and Jordana, and I think, at times, their lives were a little crazy. Babz was a singer with a band, and her kids went with her.

Babz' family at the memorial service. Wendy D photo

It started me thinking about those of us that choose to be artists and parents. What we sacrifice for our kids, and what we can’t…

I have a deep admiration for Christine Willes. I first worked with this talented actress a few years back when she directed a production of Metamorphoses that took place at Pacific Theatre. I was very happy to hear that Christine is going to be in a production that I am doing publicity for that opens Friday at the PTC Studio: Herr Beckmann’s People. When I first met Christine, I was adjusting to my new status as a single parent, and we had some really great conversations about parenting solo and being an artist. Christine made the choice to continue in the arts and to raise her two children. And she did it–by securing quirky character roles in cult series like Dead Like Me and Reaper. Her kids are now grown, but she is a real inspiration.

I am also very inspired by Rachael Chatoor, someone that I met through Babz, but have become friends with on another, deeper level. Rachael is a singer, performer and mother of two children, 6 and 10. Rachael says:

Rachael Chatoor

My life changed when I had a child because I was no longer living for myself.

I did sacrifice for a few years, and as my children grew as I spent every waking moment seeing to them, but later, I learned that I could honour them best by also living my best, most creative life, by chasing my own dreams and leading by example. I do feel that we may sacrifice too much when we only live to serve our children. If we don’t stop doing this then once they are grown and are out on their own, they will wonder “Why isn’t the world serving me”? and they may not be fully able to chase their dreams. If they are never left alone to fill their own time you rob them of the need to create, they just sit there waiting to be told what to do.

How does she manage as a single parent who is out gigging on weekend nights?
I have a great village, there is one free room in my house and I have given it away to a room mate who exchanges child care for it. I also am lucky to have lots of family who will take the kids if I have out of town shows.
For a slightly different (ie: male!) perspective, I talked to my old friend Bart Anderson. Bart is an instructor in the acting program at VFS, and will star with his old Ryerson buddy, Eric McCormack, in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Arts Club opening July 22. He is also dad to Louisa, and his wife, Hillary, who also works at VFS, is pregnant with their second child. Congratulations, Bart and Hillary!
Here’s what Bart says about parenthood and being an actor:
Life has changed dramatically since Louisa was born… to the degree that I’ve forgotten almost all of it!! Gone are those Friday nights home alone, exfoliating, snackin’ on Doritos, watching a movie and wondering when I’d meet that special gal. My life was ready for an overhaul and I welcomed all of it!!
The struggle to keep alive, financially has amplified, and the focus quickly shifted to creating stability (or the illusion anyway). And the love… there is so much joy and love in my life. That changed how I see it all: a bit more compassion and clarity of purpose.
I don’t do as much of the non-paying work I used to before having a family. I would get involved in things knowing there was no money, for all the reasons we do as actors. I’m more selective now. I love collaborating with friends and the students at VFS, I do these kinds of projects when there is time. Hilary is an actor, director and works in wardrobe as well. and we make sure we continue to do projects we feel passionate about.
How do they juggle childcare? Creatively!
We have Louisa in daycare Monday to Wednesday. Hilary has Thursday off, and I get Friday  off from VFS… we have our weekends and our weeknights to play!!
It can be tough being an artist and having kids. But every single person I spoke to echoed the same sentiment: it’s worth it.
How about you? For those of you out there that pursue an artistic life and have kids, how do you manage it? What have you sacrificed? Do you have regrets?

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It’s Jessie Time! May 31, 2010

Filed under: Local Shows,Success — Rebecca Coleman @ 3:13 am

I love this time of year: the weather is getting warmer, all my skirts are out from their winter hibernation, and flip-flops are  heavy in the shoe rotation.

And the Jessie nominations are announced!

For those of you not from Vancouver, The Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards are Vancouver’s answer to the Tonys. Or the Toronto Doras. The Jessies celebrate excellence in Vancouver theatre.

This happens to me very rarely, but I actually saw all five shows in one category this year: Performance by a Leading Actress, Small Theatre (this is partly because I did publicity for four of them).

The nominees are:
Diane Brown, A Beautiful View, Ruby Slippers Theatre
Tamara Podemski, The Edward Curtis Project, Presentation House Theatre
Gabrielle Rose, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Blackbird Theatre
Laara Sadiq, Palace of the End, Touchstone Theatre/Felix Culpa/Horseshoes & Hand Grenades Theatre
Christina Schild, A Picasso, Presentation House Theatre

I was really excited to work on A Beautiful View, because, well, Daniel MacIvor has been my hero for a very long time. Diane’s portrayal of the naieve Mitch was super fun. You can see a clip of Diane talking about the show here.

The Edward Curtis Project has been in development for several years, so I was excited to see them honoured with 7 nominations!

When I saw the cast for Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolfe? I knew I had to see it. I very seldom buy tickets to the theatre–I often get offered comps–but I bought tickets to this one, and was not dissapointed. Gabrielle did a great job, and this nomination is well-deserved.

I can honestly say that I have not been emotionally affected by a performance in the theatre like the way I was by Palace of the End, specifically Laara’s, in a long time. I was sobbing throughout her monologue. I think she might be my favorite for this category.

Finally, I’m very happy for Christina Schild. A Picasso was a really great show, and Christina is an emerging artist. Her portrayal of the Nazi administrator with a soft spot for Picasso was nuanced and powerful, with a hint of sexy thrown in.

Congratulations to all the nominees! You can see the full list here. Best of luck on June 21.

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