Category Archives: art

The Art Experience

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Art Experience Venice FloridaMy friend Ron Goulet has been telling me for months about a monthly community event he hosts in Venice, Florida, called “The Art Experience.” It goes like this. Each month, a group of aspiring artists are given a topic to paint. It could be anything. Last month, it was beer. Another month was sailing. This month, the topic was angels.

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It’s the music, too.

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A couple days ago, I referenced a post from music industry blogger Bob Lefsetz where he challenged Hollywood to re-focus on telling a great story versus filling a screen with special effects. (From his lips to God’s ears.) In a similar post, aptly entitled “Credibility,” Lefsetz warns musicians about obsessing over inking the record deal or getting airplay. Before long they lose site of the music itself.

My husband, Barry, just released a CD, so I understand the pressure to pay bills and realize a profit from your investment, but Lefsetz’s post confirmed a gut feeling Barry and I keep coming back to—

Enjoy this.

This is about sharing your passion. It’s about that sweet connection between musicians and audience when the rhythms and melodies turn perfect strangers into friends. It’s about doing what you love and inviting others to be part of it. And it’s about giving voice to other people’s deepest hopes, longings, joys, and sorrows in a way that they cannot themselves create—but they can enter, with full solidarity, into what you have created for yourself to make it their own.

Lefsetz provides thought-provoking tips on what musicians should do instead (excellent advice for other artists as well. Read it!). But I’d like to focus on a poignant response from Colin Hay, former front man for 80s mega-hit band, Men at Work.  Speaking from experience, Hay concurs with Lefsetz and writes about his life now—post-Top 40, MTV mega-stardom. He talks about rediscovering the music, along with the fans, who actually come because of the music versus the image.

He talks about his new CD, Gathering Mercury, and jokes about building his audience to a “massive 900 people or so in New York City, or Philadelphia, or slightly less in charming Clayton, NC.”  He expresses a rich appreciation for the fans he mingles with on tour. “When I got dropped by a major label, my live audience was all I had…They let me be myself. And isn’t that what we all want…to be who we are, and not who someone else wants us to be?” He goes on:

You are correct when you stress the importance of establishing a core audience… My old band had massive radio success and MTV exposure to the max, and when that went away, so did most of the audience. It’s like building a house with no foundations, you can’t.

…Last year I was sound checking at the Birchmere in Virginia, a delightful venue, and I was filled with an inexplicable euphoria. Its intensity lasted a few seconds but it was powerful. A simple experience, the wait staff was setting up tables for the night, the sound crew were twiddling knobs, and I realized that I was exactly where I should be, doing exactly what I should be doing, and all was well in my world.

Paris Musician

Paris Musician. Photo by Barry Johnson.

…I did make a big splash, I did descend into obscurity, and alcoholism. But, my salvation was, and still is, artistic expression, and a vague quest to strip away and reveal something essential, which is seductive, and ever elusive.

Best to you,
Colin

Wonderful food for thought.  And good advice for any of us.
There are people who connect with your deepest passions, whether you are an artist or a farmer.

Flamenco. Nerja, Spain. Photo by Barry Johnson.

Never overlook them because you want a bigger audience.  Play for them. They are listening.

Paris Metro Musician

Paris Metro Musician. Photo by Isaac Johnson.

It’s the art, stupid

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Musician

Musician Isaac Johnson. Photo by Barry Johnson

Artists live in two worlds. In one, they create. In the other, they market. The two could not be more opposite. One requires time, reflection, and solitude. The other requires diving into the fray to network, shake hands, blog, tweet, build a digital empire and land that ultimate publishing or record deal. In such chaotic noise, it is very easy to forget two essentials: 1) The art itself.  2) Your audience.  Without your craft or the people who appreciate its value, the rest is meaningless.

Bob Lefsetz, blogger and music industry analyst/commentator, recently addressed the 20% drop in ticket sales in the movie industry, despite predictions that movies were considered recession proof.

His take as to the cause? Simple. “The movies suck.”  Lefsetz argues that the movie industry has forgotten its “primary mission”—which is to tell stories. He goes on:

Every few years a blockbuster emerges from the fringe that costs almost nothing to produce.  And the real reason these flicks triumph is story…People need food.  They don’t need movies or music.  They can keep their wallets closed.  The challenge is to create something so compelling that people need to go, price ends up being secondary. Read his entire post here. I highly recommend it.

Lefsetz is right. Put your freshest energy into the story, the song, or the painting. Make it compelling. Make it something people have to see or hear or participate in. You do have to network, but begin by networking among those who already love and appreciate what you do.  Build slowly and be patient with the process. It is an exercise in trust.