Figuring out the online/in-person balance
Building a career in the arts in an interesting business.
When I joined Hope Writers in 2017, the industry advice for a writer was to blog, write consistently to a targeted audience with fairly consistent topics that point the reader to the book you plan to write, guest author for others, grow that email list and keep on offering quality to increase the audience. Growing the audience, and this meant specifically the email list, rather than likes, follows, or shares, was the number publishers were most interested in. If it reached a certain threshold, your carefully crafted book proposal and appealing sample chapters were enough to support laying that contract on the table.
I tried it; I really did. Ultimately, I learned that much of the online work was soul-sucking for me.
What Makes Your Soul Sing?
Through newspaper reporting, I met people, heard their stories, and celebrated their successes. It isn’t online. I can’t measure the eyeballs that read this as an algorithm can. But it “makes my soul sing,” an expression I heard from Jewel Whitaker, Opera Modesto’s Marketing Director who will make her directorial debut at the Gallo Center directing the “Tales of Edgar Allen Poe” in Modesto on May 5-7.Online work or in-person work need not conflict with one another.
They may require different ratios for different workers.
When Scott Beck, drummer for the band Flying Blind, spoke at the Hughson Historical Society, he referenced the power radio DJs had to put a band on the map by finding music that DJs thought worthwhile enough to play. Beck explained that only a handful of companies now own most radio stations and use a master list to direct what the stations should play. “If you listen for a few hours, you hear the songs over and over,” he said. “The DJs have no control anymore.”
Through the many streaming services out there, with a combination of timing, talent and luck, someone could make it big and make a lot more money than the traditional path of radio and record labels.But a solely online presence would be lacking, whether for the writer or musician. Beck said, as a performer, he feeds off the crowd’s reaction. “You have instant feedback,” he said. “An audience keeps you motivated.”
If the crowd loves it, you’ll know it then and there.
Likes and shares don’t have the same impact. It’s the same as seeing a newspaper clipping cut out and pasted in someone’s book or pinned to their bulletin board.
For aspiring musicians, Beck encourages them to
“Believe in what you’re doing and work hard. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Find ways to share it with as many people as possible.”
Does that mean more of an online presence?
Not necessarily. Beck plays weekly at Ranch Hand in Hughson. “With me playing here in town, it’s so nice to have the support of friendly faces coming out. They’re letting me know I’m doing something they enjoy.”
From Beck’s perspective, the online world helps get the word out. “You’re grabbing the audience so you can get in front of them.” And there, in person, is where the magic happens.What’s the moral of the story? It isn’t one-size-fits-all. Industry advice is there for a reason, but selling advice is an industry unto itself. As Beck shared in his account at the Historical Society Meeting, several events outside the band’s control changed its trajectory, and it can be frustrating to look back. “At the end of the day, I am so thankful for the experience that I’ve had, the things I got to see, the places I got to go. I’ve gotten to experience more than most bands or most musicians even.”
Meanwhile, Beck shared that his best project has been played 12 million times, a song about the states and capitals on a children’s music album titled “Musical Stew.” High production value combined with humor and education makes this song so successful, even as it markedly departs from the style of Flying Blind’s “Smokescreen.”
The projects that surprise and delight you are the surest ways to build the creative career you desire. It may be a slow and steady build, and it may not be the primary way you pay the bills, but if it makes your soul sing, you’ve got a sure sign to keep going.