February 25, 2014
The art of making enough good art - Mouthzoff column
This is my seventh column for Mouthzoff magazine. It was published in October. This one aims to help reassure artists that they are already good enough and that they simply need to get there stuff out into the market, seek feedback and grow from there
Last edition we discussed the fundamental differences in approach between flat-fee services and percentage services. Flat-fees work best for independent musicians when they apply to once-only expenses like a specific marketing campaign or a artwork design. When it comes down to longer-term expenses like digital distribution, it's important to run the numbers of sales vs the fixed fees over each release's whole product life-cycle.
This is especially important for an artist's back catalogue of material, which is something a new artist should look to build up as quickly as possible. The reason is simple: when a new fan finds the latest releases, they will probably be interested in the earlier stuff. The more of this an artist has, the more opportunities people have to support that artist.
This poses a difficult question for an artist - especially a new artist. How good is good enough? Some artists are perfectionists - they obsess over every small detail and focus all of their energies on making the best art they can possibly make before releasing it to the public. Others just release whatever they can easily make and try to improve with each next effort. Most fall somewhere in between these extremes.
There is no right or wrong answer to this question, but there are consequences for either position and the best solution will depend on the abilities of the artist and the artist's network of supporter. The tendency to release everything can put people off when the great releases get lost in a cloud of stuff not many people like. Not releasing often enough runs the risk that when the release arrives, not enough people will relate to it to provide adequate support for the next release.
Essentially, a career can be built either by producing a great volume of mediocrity or rare releases of brilliance. It's most likely that a new artist will begin with the former as the career builds. Preferably, the artist releases a constant stream of ever-improving work leading up to a masterpiece or two.
That's a great approach because it means the artist will have a growing fan base who will trace the themes of development back through the artist's career. It's extra-ordinarily rare for an artist's initial release to be mind-blowingly classic and when it does, it's come on the back of a heap of unreleased testing and refinement through feedback - usually hard work playing live and building a following.
This is not to say an artist should release any old garbage they feel like making off the cuff. Always make every release the best it can be. Constantly release the best work possible, playing it or promoting it in front of existing fans and asking for feedback is a great way to grow a loyal fan base.
The lesson? Musos should start their career by releasing early and releasing often, always seeking feedback and learning from the experience. Of course, this growing fan base will include peers and industry colleagues whose well-intentioned advice can compromise an artist's independence - but that's a topic for another column.