"Transaction" is not a dirty word
Wow. What a crazy couple of weeks this has been.
I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m going through all five stages of grief at the same time: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance (still working on that last one). We are not just in the wake of a shock, we are caught up in a tidal wave of change. Scratch that, we're caught in a SHARK-NADO of change, and it’s very difficult to predict how things are going to turn out. A huge portion of the population is suddenly out of work, and we artists are one of the hardest-hit groups.
The doors have been slammed shut on our industry, and we have no idea when they will open again. Not only that, but the thing that we’ve spent our whole lives preparing for—performing for large groups of people, often in large venues—is perhaps the most dangerous thing to do in the context of a pandemic. Large arts and sporting events will likely be some of the last things to be reinstated.
And how do artists react? We respond with immediate and overwhelming generosity, knowing that our art is probably more important now than at any other point in our lifetimes. Collectively we are producing a veritable storm of content and pushing it out online, racing to see who can do the most good, who can inspire the most love, who can create the most beautiful expression of how we're all feeling right now.
It started with small offerings, individual artists posting #SongsOfComfort and #100DaysOfPractice videos, singing arias from their balconies. Days later, the larger organizations jumped on board. The Berlin Philharmonic made its Digital Concert Hall available for free. The Metropolitan Opera is now streaming an opera for free every day (and also firing their upcoming guest artists, laying off their salaried artists and staff for the foreseeable future, and sending an urgent request for donations to their partrons, along with many of the artists who were just fired). Museums around the world are offering free virtual tours. Musicians from The Toronto Symphony, Calgary Philharmonic, and Edmonton Symphony produced inspiring performances of orchestral repertoire using iPhones, iPads, editing software, and hours of free labour. The NAC is offering free live stream concerts several times a day. My Facebook feed is exploding with free, unbelievably high-quality content.
I am thoroughly inspired by the generosity my community is showing at this time. I’m also not surprised by artists’ desire to keep giving. It’s what we do. We build; we don’t destroy. We think about our communities, not how we can take advantage of a horrible situation.
We also look into the future and panic. We panic because this new situation is not sustainable. During the first few days of canceled work , I’m sure I wasn’t alone in thinking this would be a two-week hiatus, and that we would be back to work soon enough. “What a great opportunity to do all those things I didn’t have time for,” I thought. Now, all we know is that the future of live performance is under serious threat and that it will probably be a very long time before things are “back to normal,” whatever that means.
We’re shaken, we’re frightened, and many of us are strapped for cash. We want to keep creating, but we’re not sure how. We keep practicing (maybe with less focus than usual), but we don’t know when we’ll be able to play for a live audience again.
We need a new paradigm, and we need it fast.
I don’t know exactly what the new systems will look like, or how we’ll arrive at a new normal. I don't think anyone can at this point, unless they bought the How to Survive a Shark-nado Handbook back in 2017.* But I believe we all need to start thinking hard about how to steer things in the right direction. Suddenly, whether we like it or not, we are all entrepreneurs, and I believe we have more power than we realize.
As a freelance musician and concert presenter, I’ve been thinking a lot about money and art, not just this week, but over the past few years. Why do people pay for art? Why should people pay for art? It’s pretty simple. Art has value. As artists, we know this to be true. At this time of turmoil, the value of our work is being brought into the fore. So why are we so bad at asking for compensation?
The need for compensation is pretty obvious. The money you earn from your art allows you to pay your rent and buy groceries, to keep the lights on. But there’s more to it than that. It also allows you to continue producing art. When someone pays you for your performance, they make it possible to keep creating beautiful things for them.
In my experience, most people are happy to offer their money in exchange for a meaningful experience. It’s a way to thank the artist for making their lives better. It’s a way to say, “Yes! More of this, please!” Paying money for art makes it into a transaction. Yes, a transaction. An exchange that goes in both directions. Like a conversation, or a hug, or a game of catch. It’s a way to invite audiences to participate in the production of art, rather than just consuming it. A transaction strengthens the sense of connection between both parties, because it means the giving goes both ways.
We’re already creating beautiful things that are really important to people right now. Let’s give people the opportunity to help us, just as we’re helping them.
Thanks for reading,
Violist and Co-director of Pocket Concerts
*The How to Survive a Shark-nado Handbook is not a real book. Do not try to order it on Amazon.
P.S. If you’re curious about how to ask, at Pocket Concerts we’ve been using this line for our upcoming live stream concert this Monday: “charging for tickets allows us to continue producing concerts for you, and allows us to pay our beloved artists.” And yes, we’re still selling tickets.
Here's a link to our event page if you want to check it out.
P.P.S. If you're looking for a simple way to monetize an online performance, try this:
1) Set up a "virtual concert" event on a standard ticketing platform like Eventbrite or Brown Paper Tickets, the same way you would for a live event.
2) Using Google Chrome as your browser, go to YouTube and open your account. If your YouTube account isn't verified, you'll have to verify it to go live.
3) Click the video camera icon in the upper right and select "Go live."
4) Set up your broadcast and give it a title. Under the title, you'll see the word "Public." Click this to open the dropdown menu and switch to "Unlisted." This means that only people with the link will be able to watch your live stream. The simplest way to broadcast is to use the "Webcam" option, not the "Stream" option.
5) Share the link with ticket holders and go for it on performance day! Be sure to do a test run of your streaming set-up before you go live.
What you charge is up to you. You can set up your event as "pay-what-you-can" or have several tiers of pricing.
If you don't have Chrome or a YouTube account, they're free and easy to set up. When in doubt, Google it. That's how we learned!