In Response: You’re an Artist AND an Entrepreneur

In Response: You’re an Artist AND an Entrepreneur


Since my How to Procrastinate Like a Pro manual tells me that it’s more fun to volley back to R. Andrew Lee’s essay “You’re an Artist, Not an Entrepreneur” rather than do any of the work looming in front of me, I’m responding in what I hope will be read as a good-natured manner.

The dictionary graphic at the head of his post informs that an entrepreneur is “a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, esp. a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.” I’d say these words precisely sum up any artist attempting to create income from their art.

The final sentence of Andrew’s essay states,

The problem is that, in pursuit of the empty promises of entrepreneurship, we seem to have forgotten who we are.

Alex, getting advice from the field.

Alex, getting advice from the field.

Uh-oh, you mean it’s either/or, and no one told me? Thanks to my driver’s license, the label on all those stupid catalogs stuffing my mailbox, and a cheap bathroom mirror I check daily, I have yet to forget who I am (though as age advances, I’m sure that day will be upon me soon). Even the IRS loves to remind me that they know who I am. How thoughtful of them.

But seriously: no authentic, talented artist—you included, Andrew—is ever going to forget the importance of the quality of the art that they create just because they wish to earn a living from it. A fine chef who opens a restaurant wouldn’t be accused of losing focus and creating lesser dishes. Indeed, knowing that the cuisine will be consumed by a paying public might inspire the chef to offer an even more sophisticated menu.

If I have achieved some success in music, it is all too easy to point to these things and say, “Aha! Entrepreneurship wins the day.” Let us not forget, however, that correlation does not equal causation. To describe me as an “arts entrepreneur” (or Chase, for that matter) is bad for everyone.[2] It seems to imply that business savvy is what defines me and ignores the plethora of other skills, artistic and practical, that have brought me to where I am.

I don’t know anyone would who chalk up your, or any able artist’s success merely to business savvy. (Sure, we all occassionally make snide remarks about a few “emperors without clothes,” but that’s to be expected and keeps us entertained.) Talent, and offering something that others want to experience, is the first and most essential part of the equation. Only once an artist has wrangled those ingredients can they attempt to monetize them. Should you, or Ms. Chase, or any other artist also be defined as an arts entrepreneur, that’s simply a nod to your capabilities. The E-Word is not a four-letter profanity, I promise!

We are not creating new industries or products, nor are we objectively improving on the past.

Google Glass, and the uses of wearable tech like MIDI gloves that control artistic outcome, are two of many examples of something new. Another is one of my own many income streams: webhearsals, in which a composer is Skyped into rehearsals and concerts all over the world to coach and speak about her or his music. That’s a new industry, using a new (as of maybe five years ago) product. One could argue that the ability to work with and inspire musicians around the world, in real time, “objectively improves on the past.”

Screenshot from a recent Skypehearsal

Screenshot from a recent Skypehearsal

As Aaron Gervais succinctly put it, “Art is infinitely scalable, communal, inherently subjective, and useless by design…

It makes me particularly sad when a talented musician chooses to think that what he does is not useful. Art is not “useless.” Now, some artists like me may be useless before our first cup of coffee, but at least we can enjoy knowing that our music is being used, in lots of wonderful ways.

If music didn’t serve an important purpose, there wouldn’t be thousands of years worth of the stuff. On a human level, music is exceedingly useful in keeping our collective mental health in check; just ask any teenager who can’t live without their mp3 stream of love and breakup songs, or any adult reliant on the radio to get them through the travails of drive-time rush hour. We rely on art to improve our lives. Humans do, indeed, need music—maybe not as immediately as water, food, and shelter, but then again, all the other things that might be placed into the “useful” category like a grocery cart, a shoe repair shop, and an excellent chocolate mousse recipe, don’t rank high up there with survival, either. And yet, they are considered useful. (Personally, I rank the mousse right up there with survival.)

As Anne Midgette reported in her recent article for The Washington Post, the U.S. government spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year on its military bands—which means paying for conductors, instrumentalists, and…composers! I guarantee you that if the government didn’t think music was useful, it would just continue to waste its money on $600 hammers instead (a 1980’s reference) and not on symphonies, fanfares, tone poems, and elegies that make people feel something emotionally.

To continue from the same Gervais quote,

…Entrepreneurship is scarcity-based, individualistic, inherently objective, and pragmatic by design.”

I certainly don’t adhere to the belief that it’s scarcity-based. Like many of my colleagues, I take the opposite approach, and do my best to share whatever information I come across if I think it’ll be helpful to my peers. This only seems to brighten my own career, not threaten it. And, entrepreneurship is not necessarily “pragmatic by design.” In fact, a very keen entrepreneur uses his or her creative mind to a tremendous degree in order to resist thinking pragmatically, and instead, to be able to be visionary and gaze far beyond the practical.

Another great promise of entrepreneurship in the 21st century is that technology allows everyone to be a content producer while the cost of distribution has been essentially reduced to zero.

Ooh, gotta be careful here, because this is a misleading statement. Let’s remember that there are many costs associated with creating content that is to be distributed, even if a cat can accomplish the act of slamming his paw on the UPLOAD key. (Um, yup, that’s actually happened to me.) In fact, we all know that it’s the false sense of “hey, music on the net should be free since it’s only in the air and doesn’t cost anything” that’s gotten our art into a pickle.

Whether it’s the undefinable cost of the creative time from the artist’s life, plus the cost of the instruments and computer gear needed to create and post the resulting music, or if it’s the more notable hard costs of all that, plus recording studio time, musician fees, music preparation, and printing services, there are potentially thousands and thousands of dollars worth of costs associated with getting our work out to the public. As I mentioned earlier, hey, just ask the IRS. Even if the artist is merely uploading a well-intoned post-IPA burp into their iPhone, there are still costs: the phone, the cell service, and of course, the beer [beellllch!].

So I would alter the following sentence,

…when anyone can produce and distribute content for free, it becomes difficult to convince anyone to pay for it.

To the even more damaging truth:

Despite how much money we invest in distributing our art to the public, it becomes difficult to convince anyone to pay for it.

And this is where entrepreneurship comes in: when we step outside of our private writing spaces and make ourselves relevant to audiences in any of a hundred different ways, that’s how we build an affinity that will be more successful at encouraging people to pay for what we create.

You’re absolutely right, Andrew: the marketplace isn’t beholden to artists, just as it’s not beholden to anyone else on any other career path. If we seek remuneration for our work (and it’s fine if we don’t), then each of us has to make an effort to reach the hearts and wallets—usually in that order—of those with whom we wish to connect. There’s no need for the doom-and-gloom thinking of “there’s too much classical music.” Like chocolate mousse for those who love dessert, there really can’t be enough of it. Our task is to find and cultivate the supportive gourmands around the world who’d love to try our recipe, if only they knew it existed. Bon appétit!


Alex Shapiro

Composer Alex Shapiro aligns note after note with the hope that at least a few of them might actually sound good next to each other. Her persistence at this activity, as well as at non-fiction writing, public speaking, wildlife photography, and the shameless instigation of insufferable puns on Facebook, has led to a happy life. Created from a broad musical palette that defies genre, Alex’s acoustic and electroacoustic works are performed and broadcast daily across the U.S. and internationally. Ms. Shapiro’s pieces are published by Activist Music, and can be found on over twenty commercially released recordings from around the world. She is the Symphonic and Concert writer representative on the ASCAP Board of Directors.

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.

38 thoughts on “In Response: You’re an Artist AND an Entrepreneur

  1. Pingback: Scherzo TV | In Response: You’re an Artist AND an Entrepreneur

  2. Jamie Whitmarsh

    Nailed it! An appropriately respectful response that furthers the discussion. Thank you for this post!

    1. Pierre-Arnaud

      Hi Alex,

      Just wanted to share with you a little Oscar Wilde about the “art is useless” thing. A contemporary of Wilde found his statement “All art is quite useless” (Picture of Dorian Gray) confusing and asked him to explain what he meant:

      My dear Sir,

      Art is useless because its aim is simply to create a mood. It is not meant to instruct, or to influence action in any way. It is superbly sterile, and the note of its pleasure is sterility. If the contemplation of a work of art is followed by activity of any kind, the work is either of a very second-rate order, or the spectator has failed to realise the complete artistic impression.

      A work of art is useless as a flower is useless. A flower blossoms for its own joy. We gain a moment of joy by looking at it. That is all that is to be said about our relations to flowers. Of course man may sell the flower, and so make it useful to him, but this has nothing to do with the flower. It is not part of its essence. It is accidental. It is a misuse. All this is I fear very obscure. But the subject is a long one.

      Truly yours,

      Oscar Wilde

      Art is useless by design — it has no practical use value and wasn’t design to have one. And that’s precisely the beauty of it, and probably why we need it so much.

    1. Alex Shapiro

      Thank you, Thomas! Andrew gave us lots to ponder in his provocative essay (to which composer Julie Harting replied with an especially insightful comment that echoes Andrew’s sentiments). It’s great to have the opportunity to have this open conversation among peers.

  3. Nickitas Demos

    A wonderful, thoughtful and very valuable response. For me, you really speak to the heart of the matter when you talk about stepping outside of our private writing spaces and _making ourselves relevant_. A GREAT observation. Though I run the risk of making them tired of hearing about you, this another of your posts that I will be sharing with my students and colleagues!!

    1. Alex Shapiro

      You are so sweet, Nick! You’re just gonna have to get me down to Georgia State to talk, where I can instantly dispel all the good impressions anyone there might have :-)

  4. Aaron Gervais

    This response is typical of the critiques I received to my original post on the (non-existence) of arts entrepreneurship. Nobody is arguing that artists can’t be entrepreneurs, but we need a more nuanced discussion of how art and entrepreneurship interface.

    The simplistic “be an arts entrepreneur!” (with obligato exclamation point) is not helpful, and in fact it overshadows the many important ways in which entrepreneurship and art-making are at odds with each other. Everyone has to earn a living, and the market is not beholden to anyone, but a successful career as an artist doesn’t involve entrepreneurship in any meaningful sense.

    Entrepreneurship is a very complex social construct with layers of ambiguity and contradiction. Vague, general-purpose dictionary definitions don’t tell us anything. If we want to build dynamic careers, we need to go beyond rah-rah optimism and figure out how things actually work.

    1. Alex Shapiro

      I completely agree with your last sentence, Aaron. We absolutely need to keep trying to “figure out how things actually work”– and of course the huge challenge for our generation is that the sands on which those discoveries lie are constantly shifting.

      I remain befuddled, though, by your [seemingly contradictory] insistence that despite the fact that entrepreneurism involves “a very complex social construct,” a successful career as an artist “doesn’t involve [that] in any meaningful sense.”

      I just can’t fathom how I would ever get my music out to listeners if I did not participate to some degree in that complex social construct. If you have found the GPS coordinates to a magic, music-transmitting cave from which an artist never needs to exit, please email me immediately! The best I can find is The MacDowell Colony, but they ask you to leave eventually :-)

  5. John C

    The original and response are good, one minor point: Lee specifically cited “the cost of distribution has essentially been reduced to zero.”

    Distribution itself has nothing to do with creation. One creates and then one distributes. Distribution is tied to how one finds and interacts with a product, where it can be found, and the mode with which it is delivered. Distribution has, in many cases, reached a near zero cost. The creation of a piece of music, including the recording, can be very high–from the time to write/create/program/ the art to the live performance (if needed) to the documentation (professional of DIY) can vary in cost from little (A quickly created guided improv for solo voice recorded using my computers built-in speaker–and yes I’m taking for granted that many people have computers already for non-business purposes) to a great deal (writing a full length opera for 100+ person orchestra, 10 main parts, large SSAATTBB chorus, and interactive electronics).

    However the distribution of that product, after the creation of the artifact (be it a score, audio recording, or video recording) is nearly free. Sites like Issuu, WordPress (or any other blogging turned web-site program such as Wix) allow easy distribution of PDFs for little to no price. Youtube, Vimeo, UStream, and even Twitch allow for easily uploading files for wide internet distribution with little to no cost. This can even include live streams of events. Soundcloud and personal websites (even on free servers like WordPress) allow the uploading of audio files w/o video–and it’s easy enough with free software to create a video that is just a picture (or a slideshow) and have the music underneath.

    That’s what’s meant by the cost of distribution. It is a separate cost than the costs you listed as your critique. The cost of the phone or computer is definitely not tied to distribution–those items are general “business” items. To go back to the IRS bit, unless your phone is used ONLY for business purposes, it is not a write-off. The same for your computer (or, if you have a savvy accountant, by percentage of work vs. home use).

    Yes, you are correct, there are costs, such as the computer, recording equipment, etc. but these are not tied specifically to any one step of the process. In fact, they are tied the least to distribution–the cost for a college student, for instance, could be $0 throughout by using public computer labs properly equipped (of which every school I have been associated with has available). For an independent artist, the cost of creation goes up, but the general cost of distribution is still near zero, assuming the artist already owns the items for creation . Yes, that is an assumption, but it’s an important one in parsing out the facts.

    And it’s important to understand the ubiquity of technology and free tools, as well as the issues this can cause. Should we assume most people have access to modern computers or a device (including phones) capable of simple recording? Should we assume that internet access allow for the upload of files is available? And what are the dangers of this assumption?

    And is there a difference, and even a need, for more advanced tools that do require more cost?

    I do agree with Andrew that entrepreneurship and the current rhetoric does influence people to take a independent attitude, playing into the US feeling of independence bordering of self-centeredness. And that’s why this conversations are so great–it brings the issues to a wider community, and, hopefully, can get the community to move in a positive direction.

    Thanks for a wonderfully civil and thoughtful post. And for adding to the conversation.

    1. Alex Shapiro

      My pleasure, John. And thank you for your detailed clarification, although I think it leads us down a rabbit hole with ragged copies of the classic novel Catch-22 lining the shelves. Because sure, the act of distribution may indeed be free on some occasions, but it cannot take place without something to distribute.

      And that “something” costs money, in one way or another, nearly 100 percent of the time.

      1. John C

        But wasn’t that the heart of Lee’s argument at that point of his essay–that, specifically, free distribution is one of the reasons for a glut of music.

        Think of it in these terms: it has always cost money to create music; it has also, until recently, cost money to distribute music. This is true whether it is a live performance or an artifact.

        What has changed is that distribution can be free, if the creator so chooses. One can stick to free avenues and even make money. This can be done using YouTube and joining in their ad program. Distribution can also be done for very low cost with a little (free) tech learning. Specifically, an artist could set-up an online store on their personal (free) website using PayPal buttons and (free) FTP set-ups. A simple paradigm of “Go to my site, stream this for free, if you want to buy, hit the PayPal button, I get the payment, you get an email link with X amount of time.” Yes, that is inefficient. Bandcamp’s basic service is also free to use, and makes selling incredibly easy.

        That is a major difference from the days of brick and mortar stores. There’s no need to work with a distribution company or be signed to a label. An artist can, rather easily and at a rate that is barely noticeable compared to the recent past, record an entire album and put it online.

        For instance, if I wanted to record an album of solo trombone I could conceivably do so for under $200. The easiest solution would be to purchase a simple handheld recorder of moderate quality–maybe a Zoom H2N for $150. All I’d need then is a decent space to set it up and record. In my last house in Kansas City, the living room was quite spacious and could function for a live room well enough…as long as no police went by on a take. I could then edit the entire thing using free software–Ardour, Audacity, or Reaper come to mind. I could even do it as a trombone and electronics recording, even with interactive audio using Pure Data.

        I could also create sheet music for free for the entire thing using MuseScore or Lilypond.

        Yes, there is the initial cost of the computer, but can I claim my computer as work? I could use my current laptop which is a very old Asus purchased for $150. So, let’s say I had to purchase the computer. Then I’ve spent $300.

        For $300 I could buy 2 pieces of equipment which will, with proper care, last indefinitely (I purchased this Asus 2.5 years ago and it is still perfectly fine. My Macbook Pro, which was a hefty purchase, was bought 7 years ago and is still usable). If we follow IRS ideas, you can write hardware off in a single year, or spread out over years (if it’s a small purchase, you usually do it in one year). But I could conceivably use that $300 investment to create albums (solo or even if I got a group together) for, let’s say at minimum 5 years. That means my $300 investment would be like spending a whopping $60 a year.

        That’s the sort of think Andrew Lee was pointing out. Yes, more expensive tools can be great. But a great many people are creating great music without those tools and freely distributing it.

        Also we need to take into account the amount of people attached to academia. How much of this conversation is for students? Music students at most (not all) universities have ease free access to even better tools. These tools can range from better recorders, to expensive mics, to a Steinway or Bosendorfer piano, and the free use of a recital hall (hey, no one was in there so I just went in and recorded!). And it’s these people that are creating a huge amount of music and posting it, freely, online: for free consumption, for purchase via a service like Bandcamp, or monetizing through streaming accounts–as well as making money from internet streaming via whatever performing rights organization they belong.

        Yes, there is a very human cost of time, the time to create, write, practice, etc. and that is not to be discounted, at all. But if time is the major limiting factor, then more and more can be put into the market. The market is being flooded.

        As a composer and cultural theorist, I have no issue with that. It is changing the very way we interact with music, how we learn about new music, and the types of opportunities afforded.

        The TL:DR–think of it in terms of what has changed in cost rather than fixed cost. It has always cost money to create–what’s changed is it no longer costs money to distribute. How is that actually affecting the music industry?

  6. Abbie Betinis

    Great response Alex! Whole-hearted agreement here, which I’ll try to summarize in two thoughts:
    1) “Only once an artist has wrangled those ingredients can they attempt to monetize them.” Bingo. And quite often I find in my own work that the better the ‘artistic wrangling’ the easier the monetization. In other words, it pays (literally) to start with a solid artistic product. But that does not mean art and entrepreneurship *necessarily* have to have an inverse relationship. They can go hand-in-hand, and — particularly in a digital environment where fans can so easily share what they love — a single entrepreneurial ‘seed’ planted in the right place can bloom over and over. Art is not a zero-sum business.

    2) If our entrepreneurship is scarcity-based in the 21st century we’re doing it wrong. Maybe my Minnesota is showing, but I just can’t shake the notion that, as artists, we’re all in this together. If I charge more for my sheet music, for instance, I’m raising the bar for you. If you charge more for a commission, you raise the bar for me and I can feel more confident asking for more next time. Scarcity models work when there’s competition to monetize an identical product. In Mr. Lee’s original article, that product is “classical music” and he sets up a scarcity model by competing for audience members for that product. It’s misleading and unfair to use a supply/demand argument to spell the demise of an “infinitely scalable” art form. (We can also have an infinite supply of love, does that mean we demand less of it?) As long as we each continue to have unique things to say through our art, I don’t understand why our business models should be be based on scarcity.

    1. Alex Shapiro

      What a fantastic reply, Abbie. I’m particularly happy that you addressed the “scarcity argument” head-on. The land of abundant thinking is a much happier and far more productive place for artists to live, and your own musical life is such a fine example of this.

  7. Paul H. Muller

    Good discussion on an important topic conducted with the civility and respect all viewpoints deserve. One assumption, however, might be worth testing: Why is it necessary to derive any revenue at all from art? Well, for the professional artist there is the obvious need for food, clothing and shelter. But why burden your art with the requirement that it support you financially? I know in our hyper-capitalistic consumer culture money is what we use to keep score: until money changes hands there is no ‘value’ to a thing. But I believe the assumption that art must be monetized to be successful needs to be challenged.

    1. Alex Shapiro

      You’re right, Paul, and I don’t think that anyone here is saying that it’s imperative to seek income from one’s art-making. Not at all. These particular discussions are geared to those of us who do wish to generate income from our efforts. Many, many fine creators choose not “to burden [their] art with the requirement that it support [them] financially,” and, if they aren’t independently well-off, they do something different to make a living. There is no wrong answer; it’s simply a matter of what feels right to each individual.

  8. Phil Fried

    As to nuance.
    Classical music is a big tent so its easy to overlook the choir and band world where entrepreneurship fits like a glove. On the other hand I think no one part of the tent can stand as a metaphor for all of it.

    That way leads to exclusion.

    No sonic prejudice

  9. David Froom

    I appreciate Alex’s response, as it said many things I wanted to say! I also would say that artists, historically, have ALWAYS needed their own version of an entrepreneurial spirit, though the rules change over time. There has always been the necessity of selling oneself, to convince a person with money to part with it in exchange for the art you can supply. There has always been fierce competition for the prizes (whatever they are, be it jobs, commissions, awards). It has never been easy for anyone. A few very lucky people have managed to work their way into a place where they can simply produce what they want for a hungry public, but only a few, and no one I’ve ever heard of or read about ever got there without seriously pushing for it (or, maybe, to have some dedicated patron do the pushing for them — but even then, how did they convince the patron?).

    I’ve met a lot of very successful musicians (and very successful people in other fields), and to a person, they have the entrepreneurship part down pat, to a fine science. How they do this varies from person to person, but the best at it have figured out a way to make it a natural extension of their own personality. And I have never begrudged the “emperors without any clothes,” mostly because I know how hard they worked to get there, and their example shows me that hard work pays off.

    I think it may have been unfair to refer to Claire Chase as entrepreneur-musician — unless every MacArthur award winner is also called entrepreneur-x. If it is read as a denigration of her artistry, I would be outraged, as she is a consummate artist. I hope it is in acknowledgement of the originality of her vision, and her unflagging energy in using her abilities in such a generous way (it would be nearly impossible to count the number of people she’s helped or inspired, directly or indirectly). On her webpage (the content of which I assume she controls), she is described as “soloist, collaborative artist, and cultural activist.” “Cultural activist” would have been a better term — but cultural activism such as hers would be impossible to achieve without serious entrepreneurial chops.

  10. Nicole Warner

    “Everyone has to earn a living, and the market is not beholden to anyone, but a successful career as an artist doesn’t involve entrepreneurship in any meaningful sense.
    Entrepreneurship is a very complex social construct with layers of ambiguity and contradiction. Vague, general-purpose dictionary definitions don’t tell us anything. If we want to build dynamic careers, we need to go beyond rah-rah optimism and figure out how things actually work.”

    Entrepreneurship is working by yourself or working, running your own company. The industry, in this case, is the arts. And if we didn’t run our artistic businesses as entrepreneurships, for better or for worse, the real meaning will indeed come from the IRS. ;-)

    I propose a re-write: “Art-making is a very complex social construct with layers of ambiguity and contradiction. Vague, general-purpose dictionary definitions don’t tell us anything. If we want to build dynamic art, we need to go beyond rah-rah optimism and figure out how things actually work.”

    What do you mean by “rah-rah optimism”? If by rah-rah optimism, you mean the mushroom cloud of businesses that people have created, selling positive thinking, you-can-do-it newsletters, “do what you love, the money will follow” (gag), “life coaching” and the like–we definitely need to go beyond that. Hands-down agreement here. No business really comes from sitting in a corner trying to manifest money through your positive affirmations.

    However, Mr. Gervais, since you are selling music, you are an entrepreneur whether you like it or not.

    And if you want to make art just to make it, then make it. But if you want it to be sold to make you money, please approach it as an entrepreneur and make it a viable business with multiple income streams and…oh, I’m going to say it: a profit! :-)

  11. Alex Shapiro

    Excellent points, Nicole. And for you kids keeping score here at the ballpark today, Nicole was quoting and responding to what Aaron Gervais posted further up this comments section.

  12. Alex Shapiro

    I think one of the problems that artists have with these sorts of discussions is with the word “entrepreneurship” itself. In reading in the various comments posted after both Andrew and my essays, I see conflicting definitions for, and opinions of, the term. It even makes some people angry. Sometimes specific words can be triggers that unintentionally derail us from common truths like these two:

    We all love art-making. We all have the right to seek remuneration for our efforts.

    It really doesn’t matter what we call the act of seeking. I enjoy the term “cultural activist” that David Froom mentioned above, in describing our talented colleague Clare Chase. Then there’s “self-starter” [maybe too arrogant], “go-getter” [sounds a little pushy], “initiative taker” [um, awkward] and lots of other phrases to describe every working artist attempting to generate income.

    On her blog, Creative Infrastructure, Linda Essig addresses another trigger word, Capitalism, and includes this wise statement:

    “By shifting the means/end relationship from “product-for-profit” to “revenue-for-art” we can reconcile our need to make art with our need to make money.”

    I’ll add,

    “Product” and “content” are viewed by some as harsh and offensive terms for what we create.
    So let’s call it “art.”

    “Profit” generated by “business” are also difficult words for some artists.
    So let’s call it “revenue.”

    Along these lines, I invite everyone to come up with other words and phrases to use instead of (or in addition to) the seemingly loaded term “entrepreneur” (one with which I have no problem). A fun game the whole family can play!

    1. Abbie Betinis

      “By shifting the means/end relationship from “product-for-profit” to “revenue-for-art” we can reconcile our need to make art with our need to make money.”

      Wow. Mind blown. Conscience happy. It really is a circular system anyway — at least in my business model: the more revenue I bring in = the more art I can make.

  13. Mike Olson

    What a fascinating discussion. Such interesting perspectives.

    Maybe this is just me, but a feel like I’m perceiving a tension between two potentially conflicting ideas. (Pardon the Kartisian dualism.) These are essentially motivations. What motivates a person to create their art, and does that motivation matter? In the simplest of terms, does one create art as a form of personal artistic expression or as a means of generating income. I KNOW IT’S NOT THAT SIMPLE. But isn’t that kind of behind a good portion of this discussion?

    Personally, I embrace both motivations to one degree or another, depending on the project. But I do make a distinction between work that I’m being paid to do and what I would call “personal” art music work. When I’m being paid to compose music, I do consider the expectations of the person who is paying me and the intended audience and the “function” of the music if there is a larger context, etc. However, if it’s a “personal” project, then I am my own client. And this is where I think I differ from how some of you seem to think. When I’m the client and it’s a personal project, I don’t consider what anyone else might think of the work, (except for some colleagues I have listen to my work in progress to check my sometime myopic perspective). In fact, I am the toughest client that I could ever have. I am completely emotionally invested in this work. I want it to be the purest personal expression of myself as I am capable of producing. I pour my whole heart and soul into every microsecond of it. It is truly “me”. So much so in fact, that I feel strange in a way I can’t explain when people compliment me on it.

    So, you can see by my rambling that for me at least, there is a real difference between art that I create with no element of commerce attached, and art I create as a job. I still love both and I do care deeply about the work I do for money. It’s just that the motivation is not the same, and I will say that for me, removing money from the equation changes how I approach the work and I do feel that my personal work is my best work.

  14. NFChase

    The issue is greatly confused in the United States where our icons aren’t Baudelaire, Debussy or Monet, or their contemporary equivalents (Boulez! Terminarias!), but Donald Trump and Paris Hilton. Shapiro, Lee et al miss the very important point that “successful” entrepreneurship (i.e. quantifiable return on capital venture) in contemporary business terms means 1) identifying a market and 2) developing a product that market will consume. What’s missing from the discourse on music is “who is your market?” which then can logically be followed by “how can I reach this market?” and “what original offering do I have for this market?”

    It’s an important question to face because the Cultural Climate pervading the US and emanating from Washington DC is that artists have no market. (See my blogpost about the pandemic here

    Meanwhile, as contemporary classical, or avant-garde music artists we are competing in real time, in real space, with the popular music industry which has an identified market and is able to pour loads of cash into the promotion of its product. Anecdotally I’ll share this to make my point: recently I was asked by a rock concert promoter (with some inflected derision) “what USE does your music have?”the implication being, “I make money promoting rock music. What do you gain from what you do?”

    For me the bottom line is that, through a kind of social attrition the perceived low-value of what I do has necessitated that I become an entrepreneur – rather MORE entrepreneurial in my endeavors, which means I am playing dual, triple, quadruple roles in my field. I am the composer, often the commisioner, the producer, recently the performer, and on top of that, yes, I have to run a good “business” in whatever form that may take. Add to that full-time—yes *full-time*—promoter. What I’m saying is that, I think we’ve seen a transformation of the artist-as-entrepreneur throughout history, but the issue we are facing today is the effectiveness of that model as it requires more and more and more attention from us as artists. It seems that the idea has become a convenient scapegoat for the handlers of Culture in the greater United States – it’s not essential for us to identify the evolution of Culture in this country: it’s an entrepreneurial endeavor that will succeed—or fail—on its own.

  15. Jennifer Higdon

    Alex, excellent response. I tend to think of all of this in simpler terms: by being an entrepreneur, I am buying more time in each day to make my art. The art always comes first. I would rather have 8 hours a day to compose as opposed to only 8 hours a week (because of an outside job). I have found that spending much more time in the creation of my art tends to make the end result better. And that makes this artist happy.

  16. Mark Samples

    As Alex said a couple of comments before, and as others have acknowledged in this comment stream, we are working with loaded terms here. It’s the same way in my research with the folk revival in the 1960s. But the term then was “commercialism.”

    As Mike Olson rightly points out, using these terms derogatorily ascribes motivation to an action. Commercial or entrepreneurial realities don’t have to mean that the those philosophies trump artistic sensibilities.

    Thanks Alex and R. Andrew Lee and the fantastic commenters here for a very civil and important discussion.

  17. Alex Shapiro

    Thanks Mark, and– Nick and Jennifer: you each make good points above. Pausing for a few moments of introspection and being honest with ourselves about “who’s the target instrumentalist/audience for what we love most to compose” is really important. And, so is the concept of using not only our business skills, but our compositional ones [golly!] to subsidize our happy penchant for writing more music. Some might believe that these are two opposing realities, but I disagree, and this aspect of the conversation has led me to write a short essay that I’ll share here soon. Stay tuned! Or at least, microtonal.

    1. NFChase

      Likewise Alex!
      I realize that my thought doesn’t end at “who’s your audience” but that’s a place to start. I don’t mean to suggest that we should taylor our work to please crowds, but that we should know where our work fits and how to reach those audiences!

      Also, none of us should forget that composers through history have been entrepreneurs – Beethoven one of the first to make a living without patronage. The sale of sheet music and royalties from sales is another composer invention and so on.

      While I think we (in music) are prone to feeling stunned at how quickly things move nowadays, and the prospects of making a living making our work, it’s my opinion that the business world should really look to us for new practices! Think of the wild hurdles we have to overcome, the invisible “markets” we have to discover, and the bizarre packaging our work comes in. Yet, the creation of new music continues undaunted, which tells us that, even if it’s not as booming as we’d individually like, as a collective, we’re doing something right..! Any other business venture would have failed in our shoes!

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