I’m listening to the entire back catalogue of Marc Maron’s “WTF?” podcast, because I’m too cheap for therapy, or too unwilling to admit a need for it. Either way, he is providing an invaluable service. Episode #141, January 17, 2011 with Kevin Smith is a great episode that touches on two important themes.
First, Success. Kevin said (paraphrasing) “The goal in life is to get paid for being you.” I’ve written elsewhere, maybe here in an earlier post, that my definition of success would be “To do what you love, and do it well enough that some people actually feel like paying for it, so that you can continue doing what you love.” Boom! So, there’s the affirming word of someone else assuring me that what I thought had some truth! Why is the vicarious affirmation through the mouth of a famous person relevant? I came up with that definition on my own. I suppose being vicariously thrilled over a famous person sharing a thought is better than being narcissistic enough to say, “That fucker stole my definition of success!”
Smith, Catholic and director of “Dogma” also spoke of a teenage thought I wrote in my memoir (in-utero), in a chapter about being an altar boy. He said, “I’m the type of Catholic who hears the priest say, “And you will see Jesus coming on clouds of glory” and I tittered through the rest of Mass.” Do I drop the joke now.. nah. It’s a universal experience for horny teen Catholics no doubt, and besides, I wrote that chapter 15-20 years ago.
But the second theme is: How do you get paid for being an artist in this world? (I make no claim to the title of “artist”, but I’d love to be paid enough for being me, doing the things I truly love doing, so I can continue spending time doing them.)
Content producers are being forced to do more of the work themselves, up front.
Smith said, in reference to the freedom of podcasting, “I know we’re not supposed to say this, but I feel like Howard Stern on my podcast.” Total freedom to do what he wants. Direct contact with the people willing to pay for him to be Kevin Smith. Now, this episode is from 2011. The freedom has shrunk.
Both Smith and Maron lament that they have to do all the marketing, merchandising, etc. This struck a chord as comments made by a freshly published author: “It never used to be like this. I feel a little like Willy Loman hawking my wares.” The publishing/distribution arm only gets involved when it knows it absolutely has a winner on its hands and then extracts the good-will generated between performer and audience. It’s the Spotification of electronic distribution.
The artist is asked to bear more of the effort of production and marketing and audience building, but is not compensated as much as in older models. Maybe it’s the same as it always has been: A stable industry gets shaken up by technological advance. A few new avenues are exploited by pioneers like Smith and Maron, but it doesn’t take long until the consolidating, toll-extracting forces of corporate distribution rediscover how to insert themselves into the stream of love between artist and audience, and suck it dry. The Chinese proverb “In Chaos there is Opportunity” applies here. The internet shook up media production and distribution on all levels, and those with the acumen (pronounced “evil genius”) to consolidate distribution at the expense of the producers have won again. What will our generation’s Ludlow Massacre be? Will isolated artists be able to unionize and insist on being fairly compensated? Can we keep our lizard over lords from controlling the choke points of distribution, and thus controlling how much we can earn? The battle goes on.