Does Art Have To Be Commercially Viable To Be Valuable?

In today's world of art and music, we've come to a point where we've essentially decided, "If it's isn't commercially viable, then it isn't valuable." Basically, art and music now gets funded because it has a commercial aspect to it. So if you can turn it into a product like a CD or TV show and people like it enough, then you can create it. If not, you're out of luck. But we have an opportunity to change that by becoming individual patrons of the arts. If we each give a little but we all do it, we can help to create amazing things.

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How An Unknown Band Helped Launch The Career Of Another Unknown

I just stumbled across my own Facebook post from January 9th about this Walk Off The Earth video. At the time, I noted that it had an amazing 4.5 million views. Now here we are, a little over three months later and the video has an astounding 93 MILLION views. And oddly enough, that's not even the biggest part of the story.

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3 Reasons Musicians Should Invest In Great Merch

A lot of artists see merch as just another way to try to make money on a tour. But merch isn't just a revenue stream, it's marketing. Hey, I know merch is tough – it's a lot of money. And, short-term, it's a bit of a gamble, especially for a new artist. But that is exactly why you shouldn't focus on getting the cheapest deals and selling for as much as possible. Invest in great design and well-made products. Take lower margins so you can sell more of stuff. Like everything else, there is no easy formula or magic answer that works for everyone. But take the time and figure out what appeals to people who come to your shows. Find a designer and manufacturer to help you do it the right way. With that, here are three reasons why you should invest in offering great merch to your fans:

  1. People aren't going to buy a shirt just because it has your name on it. Okay, so maybe a few people will, but when you're a new artist, people don't know you. They don't love you. That is why your merch has to be so cool that they want to wear it despite the fact that your name is on it. When you're starting out, you need to give every single person in the audience an excuse to buy your stuff. Great design can help convert the people who like you, but don't love you... yet. CLARIFICATION: I am NOT saying you shouldn't have your name on the merch. You have to. That's the point of merch. But think of it like a novelty tee at Lucky or Old Navy – you don't care about "Rockford Motorcycle Club" (maybe because it doesn't even exist), you buy the shirt because you like the design.
  2. The merch itself can actually deepen a fan's connection to you. When you have a t-shirt or hoodie or koozie that you love, some of those warm fuzzies get transferred to the artist or band whose name is silkscreened on the front of it. It isn't just "that blue shirt," or even "that awesome blue shirt." It's that "awesome Dave Barnes shirt." It keeps your name in front of their face and eventually, finds it's way into their brain, too.
  3. Every time they wear it, it’s a billboard with your name on it. It's a personal endorsement from that person to the people who know them and like them. It's powerful and it's real. Also, we like the familiar, even if we don't know why it's familiar. So seeing a name around makes us more likely to consider that artist or band when it comes back around.

So there you have it. Make cool stuff. Offer it at reasonable prices. Get it out there. Great merch is an ambassador for you. A trojan horse. Cheaping out now will cost you money, not save it.

Dissecting Taylor Swift

It would seem these days that the favorite game of the music business is trying to dissect what has made Taylor Swift so amazingly successful so that it can be replicated. But the dissection is pointless. And her success won't be replicated anytime soon – certainly not by copying. The fact is, Taylor has a unique and preternatural combination of talents and abilities. Is she the greatest vocalist in the world? No. But she is far from the pre-packaged Disney-esque commodity that most folks seem intent on labeling her as. Unlike the Miley Cyrus's and Hillary Duff's of the world, it is Taylor herself at the center of her success.

She is a gifted pop songwriter with an uncanny ear for musical and lyrical hooks. She's also a very strategic thinker, understanding that it doesn't just matter what she does and says, but how she does it and in what order – something most people don't get at fifty, much less at twenty. And lastly, not only is she amazingly self-aware and willing to risk sharing her personal life through her songs, but she has the ability to translate those deeply personal feelings and experiences into universal truths that her audience relates to in a hugely personal way.

It's easy to slip into analyzing the music instead of listening to it. I did it. It wasn't until my third or fourth time through the new record, Speak Now, that I really heard it. First time through, when I heard the song Never Grow Up, I thought, "Wow. She nailed the target with that song. Parents and kids will both love it." Then, on listen number four, when she sings about her first night alone in her new apartment, it hit me. "Oh, crap. I remember that night. That feeling." It's been FOREVER ago, but she brought it right back like it was yesterday.

So get the new music. Listen to the lonliness in that song. Or the unvarnished hurt in Dear John. Or the catty fun of Better Than Revenge and you'll start to see the core of what makes Taylor so successful. I'm not saying it's Shakespeare. But I don't think she would say that either. But it's her. And it's real. Good luck to anyone trying to fake that.