If artists are still starving in the digital age, they’re not trying hard enough. At DIY Days on Saturday, March 3, filmmakers, writers, performers, hackers, and other artists from 12 countries and 20 states gathered at The New School in New York City to brainstorm ideas on how to achieve a sustainable creative industry. The results were not large-scale solutions, but small steps individual artists can take to get their own projects off the ground.
Create a Network
A well-timed tweet, a personal email, and an ad on Craigslist are three ways to find collaborators online, although guest speaker Zeke Zelker pointed out that “Craigslist can be sketchy.” Zelker, a filmmaker who teaches creative entrepreneurism and transmedia classes at Lehigh University, keeps his contacts organized on an Excel spreadsheet.
Build an Audience
Twitter is good for spreading the word about new projects to strangers, while Facebook is more of a “walled garden” that’s limited to friends. But really, most speakers and attendees agreed that an old-fashioned mailing list is still the best way to keep fans in the loop. Zelker recommends the newsletter service MailChimp for sending targeted email campaigns to supporters and analyzing the results.
Kickstarter? More like Kickfinisher. It’s helpful to have a finished, or partially finished, product in hand before you start raising money to get it out to a wider audience. The Web series “Awkward Black Girl” was in the middle of its first season when its creator, Issa Rae, realized she needed more funding to complete the remaining episodes. She put the project on the microfunding site with the lofty goal of $30,000 to cover production costs. By then the series had so many fans that 1,960 backers pledged $56,259 to keep it going.
Filmmaker Ryan Koo emphasized the importance of community in launching a Kickstarter project. “It’s not one person on a soapbox shouting to the rest – it’s part of a whole conversation,” he said. Koo raised $125,100 for his narrative film project, “Man-Child,” and part of his success was in his generosity toward other artists looking for help with their films. Koo’s largest backer, who contributed $9,000 to his project, learned about him on his DIY filmmakers website, No Film School. To date, 3,785,585 people have visited the site. Audience members told Koo that his free eBook, “The DSLR Cinematography Guide” was No Film School’s biggest draw.
Build a Sustainable Business Model
“Artists fail for the same reason major brands fail – by not understanding the bigger vision you want to achieve,” said Ryan Aynes, vice president of digital strategy at Social@Ogilvy.
One way to understand the bigger vision is to pay attention to the videos that get the most comments, likes, and tweets from viewers, because these are signs that the content is resonating with the audience.
A conference attendee whose how-to videos draw tens of thousands of viewers every month also advised artists to be consistent with their posts, whether they go up every day or only once or twice a week. Once the audience is there, monetizing the operation will feel more natural and less, as one attendee put it, “slimy.”
“Always be that person who tries to figure out what an ROI is,” said Aynes. In a smaller room, a roundtable discussion on sustainable business models wasn’t having much success. There didn’t seem to be a cookie-cutter business model that will work for all independently created projects.
But there is an unusual example of a business model that worked for a self-published author. In Cape May, New Jersey, there is a local psychic named Craig McManus who turned his “Ghosts of Cape May” book series into a profitable business by partnering with the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts on a “Ghosts of Cape May” trolley tour and using his background as a sommelier to host “wine and spirits” evenings that combine wine tastings with seances. By establishing himself as a local expert, he was able to keep his books on the shelves at the local shops and draw plenty of ghost lovers to his website and Facebook page who wanted to keep in touch with him online.
Just remember that artists have always been able to create great films, plays, books, and other works of art without multimillion-dollar Hollywood budgets. And the tools for marketing and sustaining the works once they’re made don’t have to be expensive – or even all that high-tech – to be effective.
Image by Cienpies Design via Shutterstock.