Anyone choosing to work in almost any area of arts and entertainment will inevitably be forced to recognize certain truths, and make choices based on their motivation for getting involved in the first place. Some of the forces that operate before our eyes and behind the scenes are on a national and even international level, while others operate on a local level. It’s up to you, the artist, the producer, the venue owners and operators, the elected officials, to decide what your goals are and how you’re going to get there.
The average artist has at least two jobs, the one they do for money, and the one they do for love. Many young artists, actors, painters, writers, get caught up in visions of fame and fortune, or simply making a career out of their creative expressions, but time tells the next part of that story. When an artistic generation reaches its thirties and forties, a very few have had commercial success, and a great many have changed professions. Many of those who quit were motivated to get rich and be famous, and moved on to find other ways to accomplish that. The hardcore artists, who hold fast through hard times, have found ways to reach out and make lasting connections. I’m not talking about boardroom connections, or the office couch. I’m talking about a web of community connections that make artistic activities viable.
The biggest, best paying venues for entertainment, that gain the largest share of a nightly audience, are increasingly homogenous, allowing for virtually no real freedom of expression, and rarely require the audience to leave their couch. The average singer can hope to win American Idol, or she can take off most of her clothes and pray for a record deal that may or may not work out to her benefit. Another alternative is to take matters into her own hands. An independent artist, (by choice or by force) finds venues on her own, works hard to promote her appearances, and builds a reputation based on professionalism. A crucial part of that equation is promotion, a piece to the puzzle that too many performing artists usually leave completely out of the equation.
It seems that even many veteran performing artists want to leave promotion up to the venues that book their appearances. They simply show up to play and hope that there will be an audience to listen to them. The reality is that a venue can only do so much to promote the acts that they book. It’s true that some people come to a venue simply based on its reputation, but if a musician or singer or poet never gains a following of their own, then they will eventually fall out of the existing circuit they want to join, because venues can’t afford to continually lose money. They will fail to create a viable circuit where none exists, while competing against overwhelming odds. These days, most musicians have already produced at least one CD on their own, so if for no other reason, it would be in their best interest to promote each appearance since it should translate into increased sales of the product they labored so hard to create.
Here in Vallejo, and in other cities surrounding us, we have a small and fragile performance circuit with great potential for growth. But everyone participating in the tremendous growth of our arts community will have to take matters into their own hands in order to reach out to that majority of people who still don’t know that a contemporary arts scene even exists here. That means getting out in the streets. That means putting flyers into peoples’ hands and talking to them one at a time. That means advertising in what local media exists, and creating a web page, and e-mail list and then still coming up with creative ways to get people?s attention and draw them into what you already know will be an enriching and empowering experience for them.
Listen & Be Heard Weekly is an example of taking matters into hand. So the Vallejo Times Herald will only do an article on our poetry activities once in awhile, and if they do a pre-show article they’ll never come back to write another article about what actually happened. So they rarely run an actual review of an exhibition or play or concert, or local restaurant. So KPFA Radio doesn’t get to Vallejo very often, and their producers don’t answer phone calls. The East Bay Express doesn’t cross the Carquinez Bridge, and the San Francisco Chronicle treats the burgeoning artistic community of Vallejo like a smelly second cousin with bad breath. We don’t have to wait around for someone else to talk about us in a positive light. We started doing it for ourselves. And from the very beginning the idea was not only to do it for ourselves, but to provide a means for other artists, arts organizations, and small businesses to do it for themselves on a scale that they can afford. That’s what it takes.
So we can’t afford to run television commercials to get people to come to Listen & Be Heard Poetry Caf?, but we can make post cards and flyers and get into the streets. We can provide a wealth of information on a website, and we can send press releases to the media and e-mails to our ever-growing e-mail list. The reality is that you have to spend some money. The advantage to an independent approach is that you will still own your work, still have control over how you are presented to the public, and if you play your cards right, your grandkids will be able to collect some royalties long after you’ve left the stage.
So the powers-that-be don’t think that you are “what people want.” You can reach out to the people that do want what you have, and prove to those who would exclude you that they are wrong. You can plan ahead to make sure you get your message out before it’s too late. You can even show them that you don’t even need them in the first place. You can organize your own event, or venue, or publication, or radio station, or television station even. You can become your own power base. What it takes is a plan and a commitment to promotion from all players.
Here at Listen & Be Heard it is our mission to help you to become and remain a success. Toward that end we are extending our ad design services to encompass a total promotional package for your event or business. Prepare in advance this time, and see for yourself the truth of what I am telling you. You can now get a four week ad in print and on the homepage of our website (http: //www.listenandbeheard.net), and 500 postcards, all with a unified look designed by us for you. We will hand you all the creative work on a disc so that you can go even further with it in other media outlets, all for the single price of $450. After that it will be up to you to put each of those post cards in the right hands, and of course deliver a quality product.
Here?s to wishing each and every one of you, and all of us together, success!