Archive for June, 2010

What Would The Grateful Dead Do?

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Grateful Dead

Photo by noquarter — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

If only more artists were fans of The Grateful Dead.

Of course, it might be hard to imagine not using a soundtrack of the Dead for many of life’s dramas and celebrations. But, it is even more startling how many artists ignore the business lessons of The Grateful Dead.

Before Facebook, they knew how to generate a community of fans.
Before YouTube, they knew how to capitalize on user-generated recordings of their shows.
Before Twitter, they knew how to create a social network.

Too often artists and their organizations, especially outside of music, turn to their marketing departments to purchase services from web developers and turn to the interns to figure how best to communicate their “message” through online social networks. Ugh.

How did The Dead succeed where so many continue to waste money and fail?

The artists who made The Grateful Dead were intimately involved in the business of The Grateful Dead. Their goal was to drive fans to the live event.

The Grateful Dead probably played more free concerts than any other band in the history of rock ‘n roll.

The band made sure each performance was a one-of-a-kind — not only changing set lists, but never playing the same song the same way.

Perhaps most importantly, The Grateful Dead encouraged fans not only to record their shows, but to disseminate the recordings for free. They even set up a dedicated taping section so that all the individual microphones did not interfere with the band’s PA system. Often they would allow those who were recording to tap right into the sound system for a better recording.

That’s how to play smart.

Of their 2,340 live performances, apparently around 2,200 were taped by members of the audience. This user generated content created one of the most determined fan bases in the history of the arts — one that not only bought tickets, but also Dead merchandise. (The Grateful Dead did keep control of that kind of copyright and license.)

Last March, Joshua Green of The Atlantic wrote about the academic study of The Dead’s business model. Green also spoke to the former Dead lyricist, John Perry Barlow, who went on to become not only a rancher but a critical thinker about the internet, including his position with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Two examples of Barlow’s words of wisdom to propel your art: “The best way to raise demand for your product is to give it away”; and, “Familiarity has more value than security.”

If you lead an arts group or band and you think business and social networks are for the managers and the interns, then you should probably get out of the business of the arts.

It’s not about the latest social network. It’s not about the latest graduate student research into how the arts use the web. It’s not about the latest intern who has so many friends, followers, and FourSquare badges. It’s about driving audiences to the live event. It’s about the business lessons from The Grateful Dead.

Sometimes, the light’s all shining on me.
Other times, I can barely see.
Lately, it occurs to me - what a long, strange trip it’s been.

Just keep truckin’ on.

- Bill Reichblum

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Theatre’s Words for Actions

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Triptych

When theatre artists talk, they like to act.

One of the world’s great theatre and art cities, Chicago, hosted the Theatre Communications Group (TCG) national conference this past weekend. Unlike many other conferences, TCG puts the focus squarely on its own members: America’s not-for-profit theatre artists and workers. The majority of sessions featured TCG’s constituents and provided the opportunity to maximize participation.

KadmusArts had the chance to present our way of deepening the connection to current audiences and reaching new audiences for live performance. What came out of that discussion was a clear consensus that too often artistic directors leave the theatre’s online space to their marketing staffs. What takes place online is not only an opportunity to brand their theatre, but also becomes an extension of their theater’s creative work for the audience. The engine that drives the music industry should also drive the theatre industry: digital material compels audiences to the live event.

(We also might have provided a TCG first: beginning the talk with a large photograph of Ronald Reagan. Although his governmental policies were not friendly to the arts in general and artists in particular, he does represent one kind of way theatres think about developing their online presence: we call it waiting for the “trickle-down messiah” who will come in and solve all problems. The other two ways are the Kim Jong-Il approach, which is to ignore the modern world and pretend online apps don’t exist; or, the Will.i.am approach which is to maximize sponsorship, mash-ups, and creative work. If interested, you can see more here.)

TCG’s magazine, American Theatre, will provide extensive coverage of the gathering in a coming issue. In the meantime, thanks to fellow twitter posts and eavesdroppers, here is a representation of voices from the corridors and the rooms:

Chicago theatre did not grow by placing a large cultural center in the middle of town, as in other cities. The theatre community developed not from a trickle down but a bubble up from below. (Richard Christiansen, former chief critic of Chicago’s main newspaper, the Chicago Tribune)

No mistake that theatre and democracy began around the same time.

How can we get theatre goers to EMBRACE the creativity of that failure?

Theatre is the most visceral form of empathy.

Artists have the same right to experiment and fail as a scientist does.

If artists need to respond rapidly to the needs of communities, how can cities respond rapidly to needs of artists?

Some organizations claim to engage their communities, but listening is more than just waiting to speak.

It’s not just playwrights who need prizes. Prizes need prizes, too. (Alex Kilgore of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize on accepting the National Funder Award.)

Producers should create the circumstances where the artists can take the necessary risks. (Bernard Gersten on accepting an award.)

Inclusion and kindness make for a better process, and a better process makes for better art. (Bill Rauch of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival on accepting an award.)

I couldn’t bear to go home and tell my children I couldn’t face the issues of my time.

And, a perfect exit line:

Everything’s all right in the end, and if it’s not all right, it’s not the end.

- Bill Reichblum

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24-Hour Lobby

Monday, June 14th, 2010

T-Shirt

In the old days (from 3000 b.c.e. until the late 1990’s), “interactive” wasn’t about new media and marketing techniques, but about the interaction between artists and audiences.

Maybe it’s time for the live arts to leap from today’s technology to recapture the leading role in driving interactive possibilities and engagement.

This week, the Theatre Communications Group (TCG) will be holding its national conference in Chicago. The gathering brings together America’s not-for-profit theatres — the institutions, the boards, the artistic and management staffs, and the individual artists. (TCG is the central organization for the non-commercial theatre world in America. The organization publishes plays and books, a great magazine, collects data on trends and resources, and also hosts the International Theatre Institute’s USA office and outreach.)

In preparation for leading a session at the conference, KadmusArts put together a presentation on everything-we-think-we-know about web development, data, and how the arts tell their story online. (All in a few slides!) And, we’ve been thinking a lot about how the live arts can deepen the connection to their current audience and reach new audiences.

Clearly, innovations across technology, business and the arts are propelling new online opportunities to connect, exchange and inspire. Yet, how often are arts companies chasing the latest technology, social network, or mobile app instead of letting their content determine the tools? And, why is the conversation about online tools so often about marketing as opposed to being an extension of the creative work itself? In other words, who leads: the biz or the art?

In speaking with a playwright, the great director Harold Clurman said: “I can’t turn your shit into gold, but I can turn your gold into shit.” In other words, he knew that at the center was the creative work itself.

KadmusArts.com began as a simple link between the live stage and audiences all around the world. (Right now we are up to representing every kind of dance, music and theatre festival in 154 countries!) As we’ve watched the site grow (and thank you for its amazing growth!) and created online content packages for other arts, media and entertainment companies, we’ve seen the possibilities in what it means to be in the lobby, as it were, between the artists on stage and the audiences coming in.

The reason the best producers and artists hang out in the lobby is to be able to listen to what the audience has to say. The reason audiences like to hang-out in the lobby is to be able to contribute to the discussion, to the work itself. Everyone is trading stories. Don’t you think this is exactly how online engagement works at its best? And when it does, isn’t it the best way to maximize an audience connection today and develop the audiences of tomorrow?

Unlike the theatre lobby, the online space is open 24/7 as a gathering place for artists, management, and audiences. Once you fully appreciate that the lobby is always open and accessible, it becomes clear that the choice of tools and how to use them must change for the audience and artist interaction.

What do you think should be in the online 24/7 “lobby”? What’s your ideal online platform to propel not just the audiences but the artistic work, as well? How do you answer the question, “What if?”

- Bill Reichblum

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Revolution 10: Evolution

Monday, June 7th, 2010

Silvio Rodriguez - Carnegie Hall

Artistic diplomacy works. So does the freedom to transform a revolution.

KadmusArts’ Culture News feed featured a story this week of America welcoming back one of Cuba’s iconic singers, Silvio Rodríguez. In fact, we’ve been following the life of Rodríguez for the past couple of months.

KadmusArts’ guest blogger, Harald Himsel, has been writing about his project to capture the world of Silvio Rodríguez, Cuba’s “Bob Dylan”. Himsel’s three blog posts, In Search of Silvio Rodríguez, Coffee with Fidel, and Ay la Vida: A Hippie in Communism track the career, legacy, and impact of Rodríguez’s music and Nueva Trova movement.

Rodríguez’s American tour is clearly part of the diplomatic process of relations between Cuba and the United States. Bloomberg News reported the reaction of Christopher Sabatini, policy director at the Council of the Americas, “The fact that we’re willing to grant a visa to Silvio Rodríguez, an icon of the [Cuban] revolution, the bard of the revolution, demonstrates that the Cold War dynamic, the fear, the isolation, the retribution, we’re past that,” Sabatini said. Needless to say, that’s good news.

Even better news is Rodríguez’s political self-examination process. In one of his new songs, Rodríguez sings about “transcending the ‘r’ in revolution.” As he told the Associated Press, “I hope evolution takes us, as the angel in the song says, right up to the crossroads where we made the wrong decision and we rectify that.” That’s a new tune from the sound of experience-earned wisdom and with a note of hope.

Rodríguez is sixty-three years old and has lived through becoming the leading voice of a new generation, a political insider as a member of parliament, and world traveler as an “official” Cuban artist. Of course, no one can deny that there were, and are, other artists who never did and do not have the chance to sing for a new generation, to participate in the government, or to travel outside of Cuba.

One of Rodríguez’s songs was dedicated to five Cubans convicted of spying and imprisoned in America. There was no such dedication to any political prisoners being held in Cuba.

Still, this is a start: America allows a genuine dissident voice to come to perform and promote Cuba; Cuba allows Rodríguez to begin to stretch the envelope of new political thinking; and, everyone benefits from openly engaging an artist, his ideas, and his music.

In the sixties, when Silvio Rodríguez was finding his voice, it was forbidden in Cuba to listen to the Beatles, and for the past forty-seven years, America has enforced a travel ban and trade embargo with Cuba. This year, the American congress may have the opportunity to vote for the end of the travel ban and Cuba has survived even with a Beatles soundtrack.

Genuine leadership and legitimate government will always support the freedom of travel and the freedom of expression. It may be naive, but it’s true: all citizens have the opportunity to live a better life when ever and where ever artists are free to think, create, and perform.

As Rodríguez said himself at his open American press conference, “We have to get along well, sooner or later.”

Now, that’s something to sing about.

- Bill Reichblum

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