Marian Call is a smart, geeky musician I met in Anchorage and she’s part of a pioneering crowd of independent artist/entrepreneurs who are developing quality, creator-owned content and imaginative, dynamic business models. They’re lashing together raw instinct and bold hope with fiber optic cables, running up colorful flags and setting sail.
Marian sent me some great articles by Jonathan Coulton and Amanda F. Palmer detailing their evolving careers. It’s nice to see these successes and it’s nice to know the same stories also exist outside music, that people are making a living from webcomics and even soap.
All this has happened before, all this will happen again.
The thing is, none of this is new. I think we all know that but it’s exciting to think we’re discovering new land. Yes, to some extent we are, but it’s full of the same poisonous plants, wild animals and punji pits as whatever we just left behind.
Wm. Spear Design is headquartered upstairs from our office and carries a world class collection of enamel pins. Bill got started designing his pins well before I had a dial-up connection and his business model is similar to any Etsy success story: Create something wonderful and sell it to people who love your brand of wonderful.
It’s nothing new, it’s small business, but even Bill has made adjustments over the years. He was an early adopter of technology in the form of an online catalog, he had me make a little QuickTime movie starring some of his pins, and he even developed a widget when those were the rage. He’s flexible and smart and willing to experiment, it keeps him afloat.
Getting back to music, Dick Dale is probably my favorite case study, he offers up some great advice here for aspiring musicians and not a word about the Internet but it might as well be coming from JoCo.
So who the hell is Dick Dale? He’s the king of the surf guitar, probably best known for his song, “Miserlou,” featured in Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction.” He melts through guitar picks and is still kicking ass in his seventies. [Edit - The Ed Sullivan clip I previously embedded got pulled, so here's something more recent as an example of his work.]
The Internet is changing the world! As hopeful artists like myself delight and established businesses struggle to cope and we all flail around trying to understand what direction we’re heading, Barry Dallman points to the elephant sitting politely in the corner, “The reality in the music business now is the same as it’s always been – that most people don’t have successful careers in music because they’re not good enough.”
Amanda Palmer hits on another problem, artists asking for money, “People don’t like it.” Historically there’s been a layer of protection between artists and their income, the label or the manager take care of that part. People don’t like an artist looking for a handout, it tarnishes the experience. It’s uncomfortable, like a smelly hobo asking for change.
Palmer provides the solution in a very straightforward, A.F.P. way, “It’s time to destroy the myth that artists shouldn’t ask for money.”
Me Me Me Me and Meeeee!
So what does this all mean for me? I don’t really know, I’m working through it. I think it’s a little different for aimless filmmaker/cartoonist types than for musicians.
Aaron, Lou and I already tried firing all our clients and making a go of Alaska Robotics full-time but it didn’t last long.
If we were a band, we would have been the guys who had no bookings before we jumped in the van to tour. We had trouble meeting self-imposed deadlines. We had trouble producing work on a regular basis. We had trouble finding food. We had trouble building an audience. We had fun.
Lately we’ve been doing a lot of work-for-hire, still very independent and still succeeding as a business, but not doing exactly what I want as frequently as I want. This is where a little voice jumps in (I suspect it’s my mother) and she tells me that it’s selfish to expect to be able to do what I want all the time and get paid for it.
Yeah. OK. I can understand the sentiment but I’m pursuing a calling that isn’t hurting people and fits neatly into a social context. I’ve always been encouraged to follow my dreams by people I love and trust and even if there’s a little voice (maybe it’s not my mother) trying to convince me my pursuits are selfish or vain or futile, I’m here, typing, drawing, dancing, and doing whatever needs to be done to get there.
That brings me around to the final little piece of the puzzle.
This is a note for me. If you’ve read this far through my meandering, metaphor-laden post, you won’t have any trouble with perseverance.
Keep going. You can learn talent. You can learn business. It’s ok if you can’t build your boat while you’re underway. It’s ok to pull over and regroup after a storm.
Patch the holes, mend the sails and get back in the water.
I had about ten hours on the ground in Juneau after returning from two and a half weeks in Europe and then I jumped back on a plane and flew north.
I spent some time in Anchorage visiting old friends, making new ones, and then flapped on up to Kotzebue for the 2011 Emerging Leaders Dialogue. It sounded like it had potential to be a dry, crusty political event but it turned out to be an absolutely incredible experience. Formative, inspiring, educational.
The best part of the trip was drawing with all the kids along the way. I’ve never been very confident in my drawing skills, I’m still not, but it’s fun to push that fear aside and draw in front of people where all the mistakes and miracles happen out in the open.
I posted a big bundle of pictures on Flickr if you’d like to see more…
I think I may be emotionally unstable.. maybe it’s more accurate to say that I’ve been receptive to emotion because unstable has negative connotations. Whatever is happening to me, it sure involves a lot of crying.
Today a woman stopped by our office with a giant box of comics to donate. Her son, Daniel, was in my high school class and they both attended several of our film workshops and festivals over the years. Recently Daniel passed away, he had been carrying around a giant tumor in his gut.
I wasn’t a close friend but I liked Daniel an awful lot, he was one of those kids that just didn’t fit in and everyone loved him or hated him for it. I remember one of the guys on the basketball team constantly antagonized him, they drove each other batty but watching them over time you could see that it was a curmudgeonly sort of grumpy love. They got a lot out of humor and contact out of the sometimes gruff teasing and annoyance.
I thought about Daniel for a bit as I was tearing into the box of comics but at this point I was honestly getting swept up in the discovery of new treasure. What was in the box? Did it have value? Oh boy oh boy oh boy.. new comics!
When I opened the lid, a Superman comic was on the top of the pile and it broke my heart in all the right places.
To all my friends and family, I love you. I know we have a limited time together but it’s just been the best!
It’s official. We’re trundling off to Trondheim, Norway this May for the 2011 World Beard & Moustache Championships!
Aaron, Lou and I will be joined by the ham-loving Jamie Karnik and super best college buddy Eric Davis. Also along for the trip will be the slightly less beardy Alli and Jess. Our powers combined, we form Beard Team Alaska Robotics!
It’s going to be an epic adventure so stay tuned for coverage, we’ll be taking plenty of pictures, doing more experimental beard radio and filming mini-documentaries.
Here are a couple of our videos and a roundup of posts from the 2009 Anchorage trip to tide you over..
Ok ok ok. Maybe this is too much tinsel and corn syrup to be ladling on before Thanksgiving but I’m excited to see that our friend, Bill Sneed, did the lead character design work for the upcoming Christmas Special, “Yes, Virginia.”
The character will also appear in gigantic balloon form for the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade. That’s a pretttty cool thing for a designer to see their work floating through New York City streets.
Billy also dabbles in an occasional non-Christmas themed animation. I love this music video for “Ohio” by Outside Royalty.
It’s even better because the producer credit goes to Jody MacKinnon, one of my first and dearest childhood friends. Jody bolted from Juneau right after high school and people are always asking me what she’s been doing.. apparently producing amazing music videos!
We picked up a ton of footage when we attended the World Beard and Moustache Championships in Anchorage last year and always intended to cut together a few mini-docs with what we captured. This new one is a collection of some of the better portraits and closeups.
There were a few rounds of competition that we lost to a defective memory card as explained in the Alaskan Whaler mini-doc. Too bad. I wish we’d come home with more mutton chop.
There were several other film crews at the event and I’ve just seen a little of their footage so far. The trailer for “Beardo,” stands out as looking well crafted and I can’t wait to see if Aaron turns up in their feature.
Also, on a sadder, but equally bearded note, news came to us via Jamie Karnik that a man was forced to eat his own beard. Oh the humanity!