I’m angry and sad at the same time, this morning. I opened up facebook only to witness the spectacle of a promising young artist, with bags of potential and who could have a very long and successful career, in total meltdown and in tears. The pressure had finally gotten to her. She had been struggling for months to cope with the endless judgements, the insane schedule that paid scant attention to her human needs, the requirement to be perfect not only in how she performed, but how she looked, at all times, with precious little practical support to do so. Clearly she has been grafted onto a merciless marketing machine and her record company or her management is busy cooking the goose that lays the golden eggs.
I’ve said it before, but I will say it again. When art meets commerce, commerce consumes artists. The interest of a record company is in maximizing their return on investment as fast as they can. They don’t believe in their own ability to nurture and support an artist over the duration of a long career. They want to get what they can, while they can and if that means that the artist is collateral damage, then so be it.
It doesn’t have to be like this.
Every artist needs to manage their own artistic output, with authority. It’s all too easy to get run off your feet and to dance like a puppet to the arbitrary schedules put before you by the needs of commerce. The more that you do, the more they cram into your diary. Pretty soon what you become is a sales representative for your own art, but your art withers, displaced by the need to sell. This is a very dangerous time for every artist. Record companies and agents are only too willing to fill your head with fear and doubt, asserting that, unless you spend all of your time and energy promoting your record, it’s the discount rack for you. Oblivion. The public will turn.
It isn’t true.
What the public loves most and will come back for time and again, without being asked, are the quality, originality and freshness of your art. The huckstering doesn’t matter. We don’t regard an artist as a favourite because of the number of personal appearances they make, the number of filmed rehearsals broadcast or because of how their clothes and hair look on every occasion. What we care about is the music. The art. The art is what matters. What we, the paying public, want is for the artist to continue to develop and grow as an artist, so that they may continue to surprise and delight us. Record companies don’t get this. Managers and agents don’t understand this. Trying to tell it to a PR organization is not going to work. Their view of the art is that it is a product to be exploited. The artist is a mere accidental conduit for its production. You might as well be an assembly line worker, for all they care. The same is true for software engineers, incidentally, but that’s another story.
So, Sarah, this is for you. Take control. You are a fine artist. Take control of your art and your schedule. Carve out time not only to make your art, but to contemplate its creation in peace and quiet. You need to take that time. It’s important. Your art depends upon it. It’s vital.
Leave some time in your schedule for promotion, but when that allotted time is used up, too bad. Your commercial partners will have to deal with it. You will have to explain to them that unless there is art being made, with the time it takes to make your next piece even better than the last, then the whole enterprise is utterly pointless. If your record company, manager and agents won’t support you in that decision, well at least all the cards are on the table and you can act accordingly.
Somewhere there is a commercial arrangement that will support your career over the long term, which understands the need to concentrate on the quality of your art. If it isn’t these guys, that’s worth knowing now. In the short term, you are also entitled to some help and support in maintaining your wardrobe for personal appearances. Your down time should not be consumed by worries about doing your laundry, finding your underwear, dry cleaning your clothes and getting it done in time for the next insane round of personal appearances. A commercial organisation that won’t even stump up for that is predatory.
It is my dearest wish that every precious artist with a talent continues to enjoy the process of bringing their art to an audience and that the entire endeavour doesn’t become a misery and a source of inhuman levels of stress. We, as consumers, need to be more forgiving and merciful toward our artists. So should the commercial interests. Artists are only vulnerable humans, after all. They need to feel some of the love in return.