There are two stories you hear about making a living as an artist in the digital age, and they are diametrically opposed.
One comes from Silicon Valley and its boosters in the media. There’s never been a better time to be an artist, it goes. If you’ve got a laptop, you’ve got a recording studio. If you’ve got an iPhone, you’ve got a movie camera. GarageBand, Final Cut Pro: all the tools are at your fingertips. And if production is cheap, distribution is free. It’s called the Internet: YouTube, Spotify, Instagram, Kindle Direct Publishing. Everyone’s an artist; just tap your creativity and put your stuff out there. Soon, you too can make a living doing what you love, just like all those viral stars you read about.
The other story comes from artists themselves, especially musicians but also writers, filmmakers, people who do comedy. Sure, it goes, you can put your stuff out there, but who is going to pay you for it? Digital content has been demonetised: music is free, writing is free, video is free, even images you put up on Facebook or Instagram are free, because people can (and do) just take them. Everyone is not an artist. Making art takes years of dedication, and that requires a means of support. If things don’t change, a lot of art will cease to be sustainable.
We welcome back Bill Deresiewicz, friend of the Innovation Show and author of “The Death of the Artist: How Creators Are Struggling to Survive in the Age of Billionaires and Big Tech” https://billderesiewicz.com/
Previous episode “Excellent Sheep”:
Bill is here: https://billderesiewicz.com/
William Deresiewicz Death of the Artist
[00:00:00] Steve Jobs: [00:00:00] Stay hungry, stay foolish.
[00:00:13] Aidan McCullen: [00:00:13] there are two stories you hear about making a living as an artist in the digital age, and they are diametrically opposed. One comes from Silicon Valley and it’s boosters in the media. There’s never been a better time to be an artist to ghost. If you’ve got a laptop, you’ve got a recording studio. If you’ve got an iPhone, you’ve got a movie camera, guards, bond, final cut pro all the tools are at your fingertips.
[00:00:39] And if production is cheap, distribution is free. It’s called the internet, YouTube, Spotify, Instagram Kindle, direct publishing. Everyone’s an artist. Just tap your creativity and put your stuff out there soon. You too can make a living doing what you love. Just like all those viral stars you read about [00:01:00] the other story comes from the artists themselves, especially musicians, but also writers, filmmakers, people who do comedy.
[00:01:10] Sure. It goes, you can put your stuff out there, but who’s going to pay for it. Digital content has been deemed monetized. Music is free. Writing is free. Radio is free. Even images you put up on Facebook or Instagram are free because people can and do just take them. Everyone is not an artist making art takes years of dedication.
[00:01:33] And that requires a means of support. If things don’t change, a lot of art will cease to be sustainable. That is the argument of today’s show. We welcome friend of the innovation show and author of the death of the artist, how creators are struggling to survive in the age of billionaires and big tech, build a resume.
[00:01:53] Welcome back to the show.
[00:01:55] Bill Deresiewicz: [00:01:55] Thanks. Thanks for having me back.
[00:01:57] Aidan McCullen: [00:01:57] It’s been three years months since you were last with us [00:02:00] when we covered excellent chief. So it’s really, really good to have your back on the show. And I thought I tee you up to introduce the overall argument with a paragraph where you say.
[00:02:11] Being an artist has always been hard, but there was hard. And then there’s hard. And how hard actually matters, how hard affects, how much you get out to do your art, as opposed to grinding at your day job and therefore how good you become as well as how much you were able to make, how hard affects, who gets to do it in the first place, the less you can earn from your art, the more you must rely on other sources of support like mommy and daddy.
[00:02:38] The last money there is in the arts overall, the more they become a rich kids game and wealth correlates with race and gender. If you care about diversity, you need to care about economics. The idea that people will do it anyway. Than if you’re a real artist, you’ll make art, no matter what can be the product of owning naivety or ignorance or [00:03:00] privilege.
[00:03:00] I’d love if we’d start here, because this is such an important argument.
[00:03:04] Bill Deresiewicz: [00:03:04] Yeah. Thank you. Thanks very much. I mean, I think you really, with that paragraph and the first two paragraphs that you read in the intro, you’ve really kind of framed the main thrust of the book and the main question of the book. To take the second thing you read first because that’s of course a response that I knew I would get and that I address very early, which is hasn’t it always been hard to be an artist.
[00:03:29] And the answer is yes, it’s always been hard, but it hasn’t been this hard. It hasn’t been as hard as it is now, since the internet came along and drove the price of content to zero or near zero. And we can talk about why it’s gotten hard and how that differs from the way it was before the internet, when it was still hard, but not like this, but also to go back to those dueling narratives that you laid out.
[00:03:57] And that’s exactly how I start the argument in the book, [00:04:00] because it’s also where I started. The process of writing the book. I wrote the book to answer a question that kind up out of those two narratives, like Silicon Valley saying there’s never been a better time. Tons of people still say this. I mean, including lots of people who run podcasts, I take it, not this one, but.
[00:04:19] You know, basically lots of podcasts that have the word creativity in it that are sort of pushing positivity that are pushing this kind of, you can do it message. And they point to the people, you know, these are the few, you know, Joe Rogan has a podcast and he’s making hundreds of millions of dollars from it.
[00:04:34] It’s like, yeah. And there are a million, literally a million other podcasts. So let’s not use him as a typical example. Uh, and so that’s that story. And then the story from the artist, which is like, You know, especially musicians ever since Napster, like we’re suffering out here because we’re making a fraction of what we used to, but that’s not the question that came out of those dueling narratives for me is like, not which one is right, because obviously the artists are right, [00:05:00] because they’re being honest and they, they know because their lives, but okay.
[00:05:05] It’s really hard. People are still doing it. And I really wanted to know how people are still doing it. They’re not only making art. But some people are still making a living or at least a significant chunk of a living plus day job or jobs, literally. How are they doing it? So that’s the subtitle, how creators are struggling to survive in the age of billionaires and big texts like they’re doing it.
[00:05:34] Let’s see how. Exactly how difficult it is and what are the means by which they’re doing it. The book is a really kind of detailed, granular investigation based mainly on a lot of interviews. I talked to like 140 people, long interviews where I asked them, you know, just break it down for me. How much money do you make?
[00:05:53] How much rent do you make? How much help do you get from your families? Like how do you, you know, scrape together a living as an [00:06:00] artist? And they told me, so I cover music and I cover writing and I covered. The visual arts and I cover film and television. And I talk about the good news and the bad news and all the different
[00:06:09] Aidan McCullen: [00:06:09] ways.
[00:06:10] It really spoke to me in so many ways that I was saying to you, offer that people often get in touch with me and ask for some advice about setting up a podcast. And often the first place they start is. So tell me about getting a sponsor and I’m like, please don’t even think about that because if your, why is not big enough, The reason you’re not doing it is not coming from a place of passion.
[00:06:34] You’re never going to sustain it. And that’s why we see a lot of podcasts started, or even a lot of creative endeavors started, but then finished because oftentimes the money does not come at all. So it has to be from a place of passion and there’s so much luck involved. And as you say, privilege, and I feel absolutely privileged to have a day job.
[00:06:54] That allows me even the mental space to be able to follow up and read the book [00:07:00] for the show each week. And I think that’s such an important point and I’m going to double that with something I saw the other day, I’ve been on a staycation for the last couple of weeks, and I usually put extra time into reading and stuff like that.
[00:07:14] But I said to myself, I’m going to give my mind a break. And I watched a bit of Netflix and I watched a mindless movie. Which had a very mindful element in it, which was this movie by Denzel Washington called the equalizer. Right. And very violent movie. But I happened to be reading your book at the time and there’s a young black kid and he has a dilemma and he’s an artist.
[00:07:38] And Denzel Washington is this vigilante, essentially any spots, the talent and the kid. And he’s like kid, you don’t become a drug dealer. You go after your passion and become an artist. And he looks at him and he says, but ours does not pay me. How the hell am I going to be an artist? And I went, that is exactly the point here because you need some [00:08:00] sustaining factor to be able to push you through and get you through there.
[00:08:04] And that limits the amount of artists that get to the top. And as you say, the cream does not always rise to the top. And that’s one of the harsh realities of all this.
[00:08:13] Bill Deresiewicz: [00:08:13] I’m glad that that character was allowed to say that in the movie, because I think a lot of times that reality isn’t even brought forward, but I would, so what I would say about what you just said is, you know, absolutely, but I, I don’t.
[00:08:26] I don’t want, I don’t want people to think that you have to have privilege. It’s just incredibly helpful. If you do, and privilege can take many forms. It can mean coming from affluenza could mean having a partner can support you. It could mean, and this may not be an element of privilege. It could be more luck or just, just you’ve worked for it.
[00:08:44] You could have a day job that allows you the space, you know, luck into a really great day job. That’s rare if you don’t have that privilege. And quite frankly, even if you do, because even if you do, it’s incredibly hard just to get good [00:09:00] just to make your work, what you need. And I found this consistently among the artists I talked to, and this was sort of one of the positive things, actually more than positive, inspiring.
[00:09:11] I mean, I talk to these people, these dozens of artists and. I saw, um, can sticks consistent quality character that were incredibly admirable, like an unbelievable work ethic. Contrary to what a lot of people think about artists is like lazy weirdos, an unbelievable work ethic, um, tremendous resilience and.
[00:09:34] And resilience in the face of rejection and failure, because I also have profiles of half a dozen artists in each of these categories. So two dozen artists, one is a writer who seems to have been quite successful, pretty young. I mean, she’s not sort of a big name, but she’s had success. And I asked her how she did it.
[00:09:51] And she said, Oh, let me send you my failure resume. She wrote a piece for the Washington post about this, but she created a spreadsheet of all of her [00:10:00] querying, an agent to represent her book, trying to get a piece published in a, in a, in a literary magazine, whatever it was. There were like 600 items and her success rate was 3%.
[00:10:13] So she had had 18 acceptances over a five year period out of 600 attempts roughly. And she was successful and she’s a successful person. Think about the resilience. It takes to be able to deal with a 97% failure rate. The dedication. You said you have to have a passion. You have to be incredibly dedicated.
[00:10:32] Single-minded focused the world. Maybe it’s we hear over on this side of the Atlantic, that things are different in Europe, but at least in America, people, when you tell people that you’re an artist that you want to be, they look at you, like you’re an idiot. Like you’re a fool. So you have to deal with the world’s discouragement, the world’s scorn, often your parents disappointment, but.
[00:10:53] You know, I was talking to people, mostly younger artists, right. I wanted to talk to younger ones because they’re actually the ones who are making their way [00:11:00] in this new world. So basically people 25 to 40, roughly, I also talked to a few older ones, but these younger ones were actually the ones, uh, or all of them were the ones who survive this winnowing process.
[00:11:13] Like I was of necessity talking to people who had had the resolve to persevere. Because many people drop off along the way. So you need so whatever your privilege or luck, or even your talent, which you need also, you need those qualities of character or you need to develop them fast because it’s a tough, tough business.
[00:11:37] Aidan McCullen: [00:11:37] One of the reasons I thought this show is so. So complimentary to the innovator or the change maker, because the same attributes are so essential to make change in the big organization or to be an innovator or an entrepreneur that exact same things, because you’re going to get rejected more than you’re going to be accepted.
[00:11:56] And then if you work in a big organization, you have to [00:12:00] realize that that if you’re going to actually back some change in some opportunities, most of them will fail. And I’m a huge fan of Thomas Edison enough for the. Top lines messages. You’re here with him, but he was dedicated to following the failure.
[00:12:16] And the way he saw it was every failure is a step towards success and he wouldn’t use the word failure. Even he saw them as learning opportunities. And I think that is a narrative. We need to even drill into our children and you know, these books, I see them so interlinked, excellent sheep, which we covered before and the data of the artist, because.
[00:12:39] They’re the same thing. They’re the same kind of resilience that needs to be there too, to drive us through. I see some real Venn diagram moments in the book and with innovators as well, but we’ll keep moving. Cause one of the things you mentioned there about how people consider artists and kind of look down their nose at the more, or discourage them in [00:13:00] some way, but then there’s, there’s the flip side of all that, which is the lack of money for so many artists, but then there’s also.
[00:13:08] The denial of art and money mixing, you dedicate a lot of time to this, which is important. And, you know, he pulled a, a line here. That’s spoke to me. It said poverty is authenticity. And authenticity is everything. Bonds will take limos photo shoots, where they dress up as Bohemian vagabond, and as for the art world.
[00:13:29] It is often commercial to be a commercial expressing anti-market values can add to one success in the market. And you say money isn’t absent in the arts. It is distinct.
[00:13:41] Bill Deresiewicz: [00:13:41] Yeah. This is the first chapter after the introduction, because I know I have to get this out of the way immediately. I’m writing a book about art and money.
[00:13:49] That’s the first sentence of the book. And, and I know that a lot of people recoil from that and I’ve even gotten, fortunately, not too much. I’ve gotten a little bit of hatred about [00:14:00] that since the book came out, people telling me that I’m an asshole. And I mean, I don’t engage with people, but that’s the attitude, you know what, it’s the attitude that I used to have.
[00:14:11] I, this book actually started with an article. I. Put out about five years ago. And even for just five years ago, I still kind of had that attitude. Like, you know, money may be, you know, a, an unfortunate necessity, but really ideally art and money shouldn’t have anything to do with each other. If you think about money as an artist, you know, sellout art should be pure art should refrain artists should refrain from the market.
[00:14:35] All that. All that inheritance of mythology that comes to us from, so the romantic age and last couple of hundred years of the artist is kind of this sort of solitary hero genius, rebel, blah, blah, blah. Very quickly. As I started to interview artists, I realized that, you know, my, my position needed to change very quickly and I needed to, it’s more like I needed to acknowledge things [00:15:00] that I didn’t want to acknowledge.
[00:15:02] Like. Of course art and money have to do with each other because we live in a society where you need to have money to do things. I mean, sure. We all want to live, or many of us want to live in a non-capitalist society, but we don’t. And as long as we do, you have to think about these things and there’s this tremendous bad face in the arts, because money is everywhere in the arts.
[00:15:24] Just like it’s everywhere in any economic sector, but you have to pretend that it isn’t. So, you know, you read a passage from a larger section where I go through all the ways that artists try to pretend that there’s no money there. Uh, this is also is especially true of artists who have family money and take great pains to lie about it at least by a bio mission.
[00:15:48] Um, we need to acknowledge this, especially because it hurts younger artists. A lot of younger artists have absorbed this message because they’ve been getting it relentlessly. [00:16:00] Um, Sometimes even from their teachers in art schools and it really handicaps their ability to make a living, uh, artists often feel guilty about taking money for their work.
[00:16:11] They feel guilty or even more about asking for money for their work. I can’t think of another profession where that’s true and it can really hurt people, especially at a time when a lot of people will ask you to do things for free because they think it’s okay, which it’s not. Um, I mean, you could ask people to do things for free if you’re in a profit or if, or if you’re a friend or whatever, but commercial enterprise is asking artists do things for no money when they would pay any other vendor.
[00:16:43] Uh, is unacceptable, but it’s become quite common. So it’s really, really important to talk about these things. And I should also say that these artists who talk to me about intimate details of their financial lives, which you’re not supposed to talk about, uh, your sir, you’re certainly not supposed to ask about a bunch [00:17:00] of them said to me, this is uncomfortable, but I’m doing it because I want other artists and especially artists starting out to hear the truth that I didn’t hear.
[00:17:11] When I was starting out and that really hurt me for not having heard
[00:17:15] Aidan McCullen: [00:17:15] the piece about being asked to work for free or routinely asked to work for free, or as you say, an inverted commas exposure as a synonym for no for nothing or for free, really hit a nerve with me because I see this all the time and I worked in legacy public organization.
[00:17:34] And one thing that used to really annoy me was they would often ask founders and startups to come in and speak to them. So do a talk and you know, you never know there may be a customer here or somebody may sign up for your service. So I thought about that and I was like, that is so unfair. Firstly, the startup who is struggling for money, probably sleeping on a couch somewhere, has to pay for a taxi to come all the way out to us.
[00:17:58] Speak to us, give up [00:18:00] half a day, prepared their talk. And then get a taxi all the way back and maybe think so, use up some bandwidth, the mental bandwidth to think that there was an opportunity there when there clearly wasn’t and oftentimes then they’re asked on top of all that to go well, on top of that, any chance of getting a free trial of your service, you never know we might use it.
[00:18:19] You mentioned as well that. You see this with artists where they’ll often be selling merchandise after the show. And oftentimes there’ll be asked, Oh, can I just take a CD if they even ask, sometimes they take the money away.
[00:18:32] Bill Deresiewicz: [00:18:32] Well, yeah, I mean, this is, this is the expectation. So what’s happened is that, so first Napster came along and basically made piracy wood theft.
[00:18:41] In other words, um, let’s not glamorize it, it made it possible. And then. You know, other, other, you know, Spotify came in and priced the content very low YouTube also. Well, YouTube also makes it possible to just listen to music for free and they pay artists very little. So at the [00:19:00] aggregation sites like Huffington post and Buzzfeed, especially in the early days where all they were was, you know, the news repackages clickbait.
[00:19:09] So they’re drawing traffic away from the journalists, the journalistic organizations that actually put in the money to create this news. So what that did in the office was create an expectation of free create this idea of that content can and should be headed for nothing that you have a right to free music.
[00:19:29] You have a right to free journalism. You have a right to free images, free video. There are hidden costs to all of these things. And we can talk about that more and we can talk about the money behind the venture capital money that makes a lot of this stuff free, but that expectation has now kind of bled out even beyond digital content, into something like a CT, which obviously costs money to produce or something like, you know, a service like doing work, right.
[00:19:57] Can’t you just do this for free. You actually gave me a [00:20:00] chance to correct something. I said, In passing before, which is that, you know, if it’s a non or you’re doing something for a friend it’s different. Yeah. I actually shouldn’t exempt nonprofits. A lot of times nonprofits are a problem, especially nonprofits they’re themselves in the arts, like museums expecting artists to provide educational content for free talks and panels and stuff like that.
[00:20:23] And artists as sort of independent entities, independent contractors have very little leverage, unless they’re famous. You have very little leverage in this situation and you know, there’s this and this sort of feeling like, well, this is the norm. This is what I should do. I should just work for free. And it’s really important that we not let organizations get away with that.
[00:20:48] And I know it can be difficult, but if you’re in an organization, that’s doing something like that and you feel like you can, you should call them on it, you know? [00:21:00] Cause it’s it’s wrong.
[00:21:01] Aidan McCullen: [00:21:01] Cause the more people that do the better,
[00:21:02] Bill Deresiewicz: [00:21:02] the more people that do that, the better and it’s wrong. It’s just as wrong as asking an employee.
[00:21:08] To work for nothing.
[00:21:09] Aidan McCullen: [00:21:09] I loved here. You mentioned a cartoon, a famous cartoon that I often quote, which is Sidney Harris, this famous cartoonist, and he has two scientists, Dunning, a Blackboard, and they’re contemplating a scientific formula and it’s all this complicated jargon. And then in the middle it says a bunch of stuff happens here and there a miracle happens, but that’s a lot of what we’re led to believe here.
[00:21:33] And you said a lot, a lot of people are sold these kinds of moon beams. Without the reality. And I think this is an important aspect of the book because you’re not being negative here because we’re gonna, we’re gonna flip to solutions here in a second to the way you see a way to make it here, to do your best, to do, to stack the odds in your favor.
[00:21:52] But I thought I’d share something. They call the evil suits argument,
[00:21:56] Bill Deresiewicz: [00:21:56] right? I mean, You know, this is, I’m sort [00:22:00] of running down sort of the arguments that, that Silicon Valley and the people who align themselves with Silicon Valley are giving for why things are actually great. Now, despite what everybody’s clearly experiencing.
[00:22:12] And one of those arguments is well, They’re definitely better than they used to be. When you have to rely on evil suits, you know, people, you know, the suits, that’s like a phrase in music, especially, right. It’s like the guys at the labels. And of course they’re evil because they work for labels and musicians.
[00:22:28] They’re supposed to be, you know, these free, these free creative spirits, uh, and the suits are making them, you know, sign contracts that, you know, it’s like a contract with the devil and there’s this whole mythology around it. And it’s certainly true that the labels haven’t always been, you know, Great in their behavior.
[00:22:47] Uh, and then in publishing, you know, they’re also suits in publishing and their suits in Hollywood, but it’s also a lot of it is also a myth. It’s also this kind of bullshit, which is, you know, first of all, [00:23:00] Uh, despite what people want to believe the suits do a lot of really good things for artists. I mean, the suits include producers who can make your music sound great.
[00:23:08] Who can help you discover your sound editors who can help you figure out what you want to say in a book. Also really importantly, the reason we have suits is that they not provide the financing. They for people to make art, they give musicians and writers, advances, they give, uh, you know, uh, deals, um, development deals with people, you know, in film and television, you know, that’s really important.
[00:23:35] And, uh, and of course they handle a lot of the stuff that artists. Generally don’t want to do. And usually can’t do like a publicity and marketing and distribution and all that stuff. So yeah, there definitely were problems with the old system and those problems continue in the new system in so far as the evil suits still exist.
[00:23:58] But this idea that we’ve moved from [00:24:00] this, you know, terrible situation of exploitation to this wonderful world where everybody can just do what they want because the internet has magically made it possible for you to reach an audience on your own is at best a simplistic half story that we can’t. We cannot sort of swallow that story hole.
[00:24:21] Aidan McCullen: [00:24:21] One of the places that sounds like a suit is. The idea of the universities and the universities are sometimes seen as a villain, but they’re very key to the arts in a way, because a lot of artists end up getting university placements or, and get the opportunity to teach their art and that in a way funds there are,
[00:24:43] Bill Deresiewicz: [00:24:43] Oh, this is huge.
[00:24:44] I mean, my sense is that it’s even bigger in the United States than it is in Europe, but it’s, it’s really important. That one of the ways that we’ve, we’ve supported artists, basically since world war two, increasingly is through university employment. The problem is, and this [00:25:00] is part of the crisis. Again, at least in the United States, that those positions that used to be full time, secure positions, tenured positions are more and more part-time adjunct positions.
[00:25:13] So you’re getting just a few thousand dollars per course. Again, we’ve gone from like a middle class. Kind of income or standard of living to a working class kind of precarious standard of living where you’re just making a few thousand dollars at bat for lots of lots of different things. So yeah, there, there are still lots of artists that, you know, again, visual artists and writers, novelists poets who teach at American universities, they’re just not making very much.
[00:25:40] So that old solution is now just another problem.
[00:25:44] Aidan McCullen: [00:25:44] And you mentioned. Founder of Ted Chris Anderson author of the long tail and free. And he, and many other tech utopians had hoped it wouldn’t pan out like this. And you mentioned this and I loved how you phrased this in the age of thriller, the great [00:26:00] blockbusting album of the early 1980s, 80% of the revenue in the music business went to the top 20% of content.
[00:26:07] Now it only goes to the top 1% and this is Anderson’s long tail and it’s getting longer. But what he didn’t know was it was get pinner. So what he had hoped on many tech you’d hope, things had hoped it would get thicker that the long tail would get longer and thicker, and that there would be more revenue available for everybody.
[00:26:26] But only what’s happened is it’s fragmented even further.
[00:26:30] Bill Deresiewicz: [00:26:30] Right. Right. I mean, this is what they call the blockbuster effect. The biggest movies are getting bigger. The bestselling novels sell even more and more, same thing with music. And as you just said, And less and less goes to everybody else. And there are more and more people in the everybody else there.
[00:26:48] More and more people in the long tail, this, this kind of comes from the very architecture of the internet. So if you’re looking at it from the internet side, I think the term is network effects. [00:27:00] Basically network effects mean that the big gets bigger and the small get smaller. We see this most obviously in tech companies themselves, right?
[00:27:08] Facebook is the dominant. Player in social media, essentially the only player in its form of social media, just as Google is essentially the only player in search because. Um, everybody’s on Facebook because everybody’s on Facebook, right? It’s, it’s self reinforcing. The size of the big things are self-reinforcing they get bigger and bigger and bigger and they consume more and more.
[00:27:30] And it’s the same thing for individual artists. So, I mean, think about it. You know, we, we consider dreadful inequality in the general economy in this country, in the United States to be 25% or 23% of income goes to the top 1%, much more than it used to be. But in music it’s like 60 or 80%, depending on what we’re talking about.
[00:27:51] So it’s this extreme inequality and, and again, it’s, it’s something that people don’t tell you that people don’t talk about when they’re talking about how, Oh yes, [00:28:00] you can do it, right? Yes. You can do it, but everyone else is doing it too. Like there are literally a million books that are self published, more than a million books are self published each year, more than a million.
[00:28:12] And. I’m sure. Every one of those million people thinks that their book is going to be the one that’s kind of becomes the next breakout. John Rohit, you know, it’s going to become 50 shades of gray, which was initially self published or the Martian, which was initially self-published and it’s, you know, basically you’re buying a lottery ticket.
[00:28:31] Aidan McCullen: [00:28:31] It’s a really important point, I think, because I saw such a correlation. Between what you’re talking about, about the positive fact of this. So how we can flip it and make it work for us and how a normal job has gone. So how an industry job has gone, how a consultant has gone in the gig economy. People need to be more and more brands in their own, right?
[00:28:55] And actually publicize themselves more and more in their own, right. In order to make this new [00:29:00] system work for us. And I think this is a nice departure for that the positive side, because while you paint a picture and you get that out of the way, Then you flip onto solutions and you’ve mentioned about all these great people that you interviewed, they share what actually works.
[00:29:13] And then you share that in turn on. Let’s turn our attention there now and finish on that kind of side of things.
[00:29:20] Bill Deresiewicz: [00:29:20] Sure. For sure. And I mean, I should say that these, you know, two dozen case studies that I present, there’s a whole range. They’re all, they’re all make, they’re all managing to stay afloat. Some of them are doing quite well.
[00:29:31] Some of them are just barely scraping by, but you’re right. Each one gives a picture of.
[00:30:20] [00:30:00] Uh, you get to keep a hundred percent of what you sell, which means that you meet a need a much smaller audience. As long as your audience is really dedicated and wants to buy the things that you want to sell them. You need a thousand true fans. Now people have said to me, you know what, it’s probably more like 10,000 true fans, but still, if you can find a niche, build an audience and aggregate the term is aggregating an audience, gathering audience by putting your stuff out there, putting your music out there.
[00:30:49] You can then find ways if you’re creative and you work hard and you’re willing to do this, you can find ways to make money. The term is monetize your audience, and that [00:31:00] can take a lot of different forms. I mean, first of all, let’s recognize that if digital content is free or. Too cheap to talk or worth talking to be worth talking about.
[00:31:11] Um, the things that can’t be digitized, that means physical objects and experiences are the things that you can sell. So physical objects, like most obviously is merge. We were talking about merge musicians. Why do musicians always go to the merchant table after a concert? Because that’s how they making their money posters.
[00:31:28] T-shirts, uh, you know, CDs themselves essentially have become a form of emerge. Um, and, and the music and the show that the musician just played is alive. Experience, live experiences. Can’t be replicated and people in the age of neural staring at our screens value, live experiences, more and more. So actually ticket prices have gotten much higher and musicians can make a lot more from playing shows than they used to be able to make.
[00:31:54] And it goes all the way across, even art that doesn’t seem to be performative. Authors make a lot of [00:32:00] their money. Now, giving talks, giving workshops, there are all kinds of different creative people who now do cruises work on cruises, or maybe they do corporate events. Um, another big. Sort of category is crowdfunding.
[00:32:17] Crowdfunding has become really important specifically Kickstarter, which gives you basically the equivalent of an advance that you would have gotten from the suits and Patrion, which is kind of like a, an, you know, sort of a steady income because people are paying you monthly. Um, most, I would say of the young creators I’ve talked to do Kickstarter and or Patriot.
[00:32:41] Now the media has presented those sometimes as a panacea, like this has now solved all our problems. The truth is that even under the best of circumstances, you’re only going to make part of what you need from crowdfunding. And a lot of people do crowdfunding projects that don’t make anything at all.
[00:32:58] You know, Kickstarter, if you don’t meet your [00:33:00] goal, you’ll get nothing. And it takes a lot of work and you can actually lose money doing it, but that’s becoming an another important piece. So they’re definitely, uh, there definitely ways of piecing together a living, I would say sort of two things about that.
[00:33:16] One is almost invariably, you are piecing together living. It’s not like there’s one thing, you know, you do Patriot and it’s going to pay for everything. It doesn’t work like that. You do lots of different things. And the other thing to say is that everybody has a different configuration. Everybody does it in, it has a different mix of how they managed to piece together that living.
[00:33:38] So that’s why I present these case studies because everybody’s a little different and you need to be creative and look at yourself and figure out what’s going to
[00:33:46] Aidan McCullen: [00:33:46] work for you. This really spoke to me bill, because I see the, exactly the same as innovation within an organization. If you put all your eggs in the one business model basket, Say, for example, you buy [00:34:00] several different organizations and you all have them running the same business model.
[00:34:04] And then that business model comes under threat. They’re all going to topple. So you need to vary your business model in organizations, but equally as a person,
[00:34:13] Bill Deresiewicz: [00:34:13] you need to vary
[00:34:14] Aidan McCullen: [00:34:14] your business model. There may be one common thread between them all. Because when I read this, this really jumped out to me. For me, for example, having the show is education.
[00:34:25] I learn from great people like you every week. I transmit that learning, but also that feeds my lecturing in college. It also feeds my day job, which is corporate education, essentially. And then I emcee at events, which is essentially what you are on as a host of a show is a common thread between the mall, but they all have different income streams.
[00:34:48] And it’s one of the things I wanted to share and I thought was so important from your book because it goes way beyond the creative endeavors. It goes into the actual, very essence of a society [00:35:00] today that we need to start thinking about this. And your book is so important from that respect. And if you read it from that helicopter view of.
[00:35:08] Actually, this goes way beyond the creative pursuits on the arts. It goes into every aspect of society and the gig economy. We need to be our own bronze. And maybe that’s another thing you might share is how these people that you’re interviewed had these artists, you interviewed how they created those tribes of their own.
[00:35:26] Bill Deresiewicz: [00:35:26] Right. I mean, there are all kinds of different ways. And, and, and let me, let me say that, what you said about being a brand is absolutely incredibly important. I mean, I, I. Quite frankly, hate the term. It just sounds so soulless to me, I feel like the word brand is what we, the word we used to use was identity.
[00:35:44] Like people used to have identities and now they of brands, but, uh, be that as it may it’s necessary. Um, so first of all, we should say that the way to have a brand speaking is to have a niche, right? So that’s.
[00:36:27] [00:36:00] In as many years, basically, and her niche was like geek culture, right? She writes songs about science fiction shows and she writes, you know, songs about kind of being a nerd, being a geek. She writes songs about space travel and the things that geeks are into. I mean, it came naturally or that’s the person she is too.
[00:36:47] And she does it really well. So the people who are into that, who are. Geek culture, uh, you know, star Wars and star Trek and Battlestar and all that stuff. Um, they found her because she’s [00:37:00] good because she’s very productive and because she was very smart about how she gathered her audience, a lot of it has to do with engagement.
[00:37:08] That’s another Holy word. And all this audiences don’t want to be passive. They want to be engaged. I talk about the fan, this new. Entity. I mean, we’ve had fans for a long time and the Beatles had fans. But think about the typical Beatles fan was that girl who was sort of helplessly and thrall, weeping and screaming.
[00:37:30] The fan is now the one who’s empowered, right? The fan because of the tools that the internet places at the disposal of fans, it’s like the fans are in the driver’s seat and they want to be engaged. So the same, her name is Marianne call. She did a jukebox.
[00:38:12] [00:38:00] And the venues were selected. The cities were select, they were house shows, but the cities were selected by her fans. So her fans were engaged. Her fans were participating. Fans want to think that they are part of it. They want to kind of have a vicarious experience of creation. They want to feel like they are essential to your success, which quite frankly,
[00:38:34] Aidan McCullen: [00:38:34] one thing that dawned on me, bill, you were saying was, say, for example, your.
[00:38:39] Giving away the digital to sell the physical and, and, uh, you know, I often think about this as artists were like actual musical artists that they cleverly at the, in the early days with the, with the labels.
[00:39:42] [00:39:00] Real passion, where people through a screen, a digital screen and in a way there’s an echo of that that happens because of COVID. And it’s had a huge impact on artists and artists are out there. They’re really struggling at the moment.
[00:39:55] Bill Deresiewicz: [00:39:55] It’s horrible. It is horrible. I mean, things were so bad [00:40:00] even before.
[00:40:01] And like, you know, like we’ve been saying, artists have been told, you know, it’s gotta be live events. It’s gotta be in person events. Musicians typically are expected to tour or expect themselves to play 200 dates a year. I mean, this is also physically unsustainable, but people were doing it. And now the, the main thing that people have been told to do, they can’t do.
[00:40:22] And as you say, it’s no substitute. It’s, it’s, it’s the, it’s the energy, it’s the immediacy. It’s the physical presence. It’s the chance to, you know, go up to the merch table and say, I love your work. Could you sign this poster? Can I take a selfie? It’s the literally the physical contact. I give a lot of talks, especially at universities and.
[00:40:42] You know this for me and for the audience, there’s no substitute for, you know, after the talk is over after the formal Q and a is over then, there’s a bunch of students who especially want to hear, you know, want to hear even more. So we sort of stand in a little, not for another 20 minutes and I get to shake their hand and I get to ask their names and we get to look each other in the [00:41:00] face.
[00:41:00] None of that stuff can happen. So artists are incredibly resourceful. And nimble and resilient. So they are trying, they’re immediately started to figure out work arounds, online concerts and people were getting better and figuring out how to do online concerts and comedians. How had to do standup sets online.
[00:41:18] But of course it’s no substitute. As you say the value is much less. And that also means that the financial value is much less. It’s not clear how much those online concepts are paying, if anything, and they’re certainly not going to pay what an in person event used to be able to pay.
[00:41:34] Aidan McCullen: [00:41:34] That’s a huge thing.
[00:41:35] It really is.
[00:41:36] Bill Deresiewicz: [00:41:36] And it’s a huge, huge thing.
[00:41:38] Aidan McCullen: [00:41:38] One thing I wanted to ask you was if, say, for example, my kid came to me now and was like, dad, I want to be an artist. And I had. One line to give them one phrase or one little opportunity to give them a message. What would be that message from you? If that was you?
[00:41:58] And I went actually talk to [00:42:00] bill, bill, bill, will you give them a minute? Tell him what it is. What, what would you say?
[00:42:05] Bill Deresiewicz: [00:42:05] Oh, absolutely. I, I do, I do have a specific, I do have an answer for that. Let me say before I tell you what it is. I did not write the book to discourage anybody. Um, I have tremendous admiration for artists.
[00:42:17] I think it totally sucks that young artists, that kids who say I want to be an artist are generally discouraged. Um, I think, you know, the arts are incredibly valuable to all of us, even if we don’t actually put an adequate financial value on them. So, um, and I, you know, and I have just generally just tremendous affection for people who are trying to do something meaningful and serious.
[00:42:40] Um, When so many other people are running around just trying to make a quick buck, quite frankly. So here’s what I would say. Take a shot, give yourself a chance. Go for it. You should go for it because if you don’t, you may well regret it your whole life. And you may be bitter at the people who you feel have been discouraging.
[00:42:59] You, you may hate [00:43:00] your parents 30 years from now because you felt that they didn’t give you a chance to be a musician, to be a painter, whatever it is that you feel called to do. But you have to recognize, first of all, how hard it’s going to be. Your daydreams of quick success are not going to come true.
[00:43:19] You’re not going to be showing your movie at Sundance by the time you’re 25. You’re not going to be writing a bestselling novel by the time you’re 30. You need to understand that you have to be in this for the long haul and that at a certain point. And I, a lot of people talk to me about this. I, I have a section in the book about this.
[00:43:40] You reach a point typically sometime in your thirties, mid thirties, late thirties, where you have to kind of look at yourself in the mirror and say, maybe this isn’t working out. I still feel talented. I still feel like I’m doing good work. Maybe I’ve even gotten some recognition, but [00:44:00] financially I have not reached the point where this is sustainable.
[00:44:02] And I’m 35 or 37, and maybe I want to have a kid. Maybe I just did have a kid. Maybe my partner’s telling me that the numbers don’t add up for us at the end of the month and I need to do something else. And at that point you have to be prepared to do something else because you gave it your shot. The important thing is that you gave it your shot, but now don’t sink the rest of your life into this dream.
[00:44:29] It looks like it isn’t going to come true. And the choice to not be an artist can be as valid and as difficult as the choice to become an artist in the first place. So there’s a lot of shame involved in dropping out, especially if your parents told you that it was never a good idea in the first place, but you have to put that aside and do the sensible thing for yourself.
[00:44:55] Aidan McCullen: [00:44:55] Beautiful. Well it’s so like innovation it’s so like innovation projects don’t costs [00:45:00] so much is involved in letting go of things and letting go of the businesses that used to be and embracing it as, as it should be in the future, because sometimes the market shifts and everything shifts, and it’s the same for the individuals who work in those organizations.
[00:45:13] I see it as exactly the same thing in a different realm. And I want to thank you for writing the book because it’s so important and. Those people they interviewed are essentially talking to themselves as their 18 year old selves and going, this is what you should know for the future. And I think that is such an admirable thing to do.
[00:45:31] So thank you from people who love putting things out there. Thank you bill. Where can people find out more about you and the books, et cetera?
[00:45:40] Bill Deresiewicz: [00:45:40] My website is build to resume.com. I know that you have to spell Dureza it’s to be able to figure that out. But, uh, you, you know, you see my name on, on this podcast builder, as it wits.com, the book is available.
[00:45:54] Anywhere books are sold. I have buy buttons on my website, [00:46:00] so you don’t have to go necessarily to Amazon, which of course I would. I probably shouldn’t say this, but it’s better if you don’t buy your books from Amazon because they are monopolistic predators in the book market, but anywhere you can get a book, you can, you can get this book
[00:46:16] Aidan McCullen: [00:46:16] bill.
[00:46:17] It’s been an absolute pleasure as always speaking to you, I will put up links to the previous show, which was three years ago. Excellent sheep, which is still such a brilliant read. So relevant. So thank you to author of that, that of the artist, how creators are struggling to survive in the age of billionaires and big tech.
[00:46:35] Build a resume. Thank you for joining us.
[00:46:38] Bill Deresiewicz: [00:46:38] Thank you so much for having me on.