Thursday, 21 February 2013

The Theory of 1,000 Fans

A theory that continues to be bandied about on the Internet is that if an artist has one thousand dedicated fans they could make a living from their art without being contractually tied to a company. The theory began when the concept of the “Long Tail” was popularized by Wired magazine in 2004. Musicians quickly ran with the concept; that it was possible to profit from “selling small volumes of hard-to-find items to many customers instead of only selling large volumes of a reduced number of popular items.” (Wikipedia) With the Internet knocking down the number of companies in the music industry, musicians took up the reins themselves, and lead the way for the rest of us artists in this new “wired” world.

Independent musicians, despite illegal downloading, were better set up to make money based on the long tail concept. They found dedicated fans and could relate to them more directly. Not only did fans buy music, they bought tickets to concerts, T-shirts, key-chains, stickers, posters, etc. A true fan was willing to spend a days’ worth of their yearly income on their favourite musician. Musicians like Amanda Palmer and Jonathan Coulton now making a living from their fans in this way. Things have progressed and we now witness the “Bucky Awards,” where CBC3 radio celebrates independent Canadian musicians, and if you go to you can see how this site helped musicians make over 32 billion dollars. Now that promotion, along with making the music falls into the musician’s laps it helps of course if the musician is already famous, like Prince, yet he sells a tenth of the number of albums that he did back in the 1980s and makes just as much money, because he doesn’t share the profit with the middlemen.

The most famous visual artists were the greatest and most shameless self-promoters: Rubens, Picasso, Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, Damien Hurst, and many others. Most had agents, galleries, workshops filled with apprentices, wives and groupies to help them, but it is a little easier for visual artists to promote their work. An audience can determine in seconds based on what they see, usually, if they want to buy a painting. It often takes a little more time to discern the quality of music and text. In painting there is often a lot of psychology involved in putting added value into a painting to make it fully understood, or worth more than what it appears. This is another story.

However, the new rules for visual artists today, like musicians, has changed somewhat, and is fairly straightforward: get a computer, website, a blog, business cards, an actual physical space to sell the work, be honest, produce lots of likeable works and show it to lots and lots of people wherever you can in as professional manner as you can. Selling lots of reproductions helps too. And be friendly.
Writers like Terry Fallis can’t rely solely on good reviews. As a public relations man Fallis wasn’t bashful about self-promotion. He’s got a website, makes short videos to tell stories about himself, creates podcasts, and holds classes on self-promotion. The number of appearances listed on his website for this year is incredible. He does have a publisher, but started without one, winning the Stephen Leacock award for humour. He has far more than a thousand fans at this point, which is why he opted for a publisher.

Writers are quickly discovering the benefits and drawbacks of being completely independent. Printing costs have dropped, but distribution is more difficult, especially in as large a country as Canada. Networks for discussion and promotion of work are growing on the Internet and with Facebook, Twitter, etc., spreading the word is becoming easier. eBooks are another massive topic, but related to the rule of finding 1,000 dedicated fans, authors now have the ability to relate much more directly to an audience if they so choose.

The theory of 1,000 True Fans is becoming more and more a reality for all sorts of artists as they become more aware that technology has created a power shift that benefits them, for the moment at least. For now, our Time, capital T, can be as exciting as artists want to make it. Here in Thunder Bay, with more young talented people deciding to remain in town, avenues to reach an audience within and outside of Thunder Bay have grown. One only needs to get motivated to take advantage of the opportunities.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Imaginarium looking for funding after the break-in.

Last November seventh, the passionate and creative team at Imaginarium, a local film and video production company, suffered a major setback with the break-in and theft of three very expensive video camera kits. The robbery occurred midway through an extensive film project, a collection of short films to be titled, Scenes from a Room, the latest film concept by Piotr Skowronski.

Although they have recovered some of the insurance money to move forward with shooting, Brothers Piotr and Milosz Skowronski, the founders of Imaginarium, share the opinion that spending money on equipment is not its best use. Equipment is critical of course, they agree, but more important is the support they want to provide actors, crew, and those involved in post-production, representing a large number of talented locals.

With the destruction of the project’s schedule, there was the incurred risk of losing the entire production. Piotr points out that the schedule was more important than obtaining new camera kits. “If you look at orchestrating people it becomes a significant challenge when you have it set. It’s actually extremely complicated scheduling people. People have other jobs, they’re in school, and have families and other commitments.” With a small cast and crew each person’s role is critical. A production can shut down if one person fails to show up.

However, the dedicated film crew and actors overcame the huge loss of production time and just as important, they received all kinds of emotional support from the community. “Overall the community is really amazing,” says Milosz.

They recently launched an online campaign, hoping the community will aid them with financing to pay the cast and crew. Using Internet “crowdfunding” they hope to raise $10,000. If you go to and search for, Scenes from a Room, you will see how this works. The site entices you with “perks.” The deadline to reach this funding goal is March 6.

Piotr and Milosz made their first few films without any funding. Now in operation for two years with a busy studio they have received a few grants from the Ontario Arts Council to get them started, resulting in quality short films.

Imaginarium is an unusual studio in that they actively look to help the local film community by offering their services and space for a few days for free in order to spearhead non-commercial film work, provided there is a written proposal. So far, most of these sponsored projects are from individuals with whom they have worked previously.

Although film projects are their primary goal, they have created about 50 commercial projects, half productions for broadcast television and half for Internet use, although there is a crossover between the two.

The non-commercial short films, with more artistic merit, may not generate much revenue, but there are other advantages, such as encouraging young talented people to stay in Thunder Bay. Milosz points out, “We support the ambitions of young people who work within the company. We have to have those things in place for people who share our love for film.”

“And there’s an exposure value,” Piotr points out. “You’re trying to build your name as a filmmaker and over time it adds up to something that makes for a body of work. Another component is learning the techniques, learning from each form, commercial and film production.”

Milosz adds, “Technically it’s a pretty complicated craft, so your skillsets improve. You learn by doing. Going to school is great, but eventually you have to actually spend the time doing it.”

Scenes from a Room, their current project, for which they are looking to the public for funding, is a collection of short films. The shorts are meant to stand on their own, sharing themes and characters. “As a whole the overall theme would be about connection or disconnection, somehow brought about by the space,” says Piotr.
And although the stories take place in one room, they don’t want the film to become claustrophobic; so many shots will be taken in other locations.

“Logistics have a lot to do with the number of films, but we’re aiming for six,” says Piotr. The overall production will employ up to 14 actors with extras. From a crew standpoint there’s about twelve people who have been involved to date. This is before post-production, which requires people for music, editing, sound engineering, some special effects, and ultimately, promotion.

And like any good production company, Imaginarium already has a future project in mind, another short film. As a young company there’s lots of room for growth. They want to continue developing resources for crew and others along with better equipment and space. After only two years, despite the setback, they’re off to an amazing start.

In Facebook you can search for Imaginarium Studio Inc. to learn more about the studio and the Indiegogo funding campaign.  

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Michael O'Conner and How to Succeed in the Popular Arts

Popular Art was once called Mass Art, and before that Low Art, when art was divided into three categories, High Art, Low Art, and Fine Art. Most art that people experience today is Low Art; movies, television, comics, political cartoons, video games, photography, advertising, etc. High Art, the kind that Michelangelo and Rembrandt created with big themes located in prominent institutions isn’t produced very much, if at all today. Other than Popular Arts, Fine Art is produced regularly.

Fine Art is most often taught in universities and colleges across Canada with the belief that emotional and personal expression is the most appropriate focus for their students.

Unfortunately, what students of Fine Art discover very quickly after graduation is that unless they fully adhere to a system with its own language and method of showing in galleries, applying for grants, and teaching, there is very little chance of earning a living creating art.

In contrast, in the world of Low Art, if the artist is willing to work hard and self-promote, there are more than just opportunities to make a living. One can also travel extensively and meet all kinds of amazing artists from around the world. Yet, it is still hard work.

Mike O’Conner laughs when he talks about the coverage he’s received in this newspaper over the years, surprised that other artists don’t take advantage of publicity opportunities by simply calling a journalist. A few years ago he was riding a wave of success with commissions that took him across the United States and to Europe, where at times he was earning up to a thousand dollars a day. “I had a big ego then,” he comments with a smile. The Rainforest Café employed him for seven years as a mural artist for their themed environments. He was so successful at his job that he became buddies with the owner who would fly Mike in to meet with him, and in order to introduce him to others. “It was wild,” says Mike, grinning. Today, he leaves Thunder Bay once a month to work on a project for ten to fourteen days on average, usually in the U.S. as he has dual citizenship.

The companies that hire him pay for the flight, room and board, and often the materials he needs. As lead artist for World’s of Wow, he was flown to New Orleans where he headed up a team of six artists who came from across the United States.
Through World’s of Wow he has painted the walls of twenty different churches, and children’s churches, such as in Gateway, Texas; so huge it accommodates three theatres to entertain nearly a thousand kids. Mike shakes his head at the amount of money the American churches have to spend on entertainment and play areas for children.

He’s got enough of a reputation that he is trusted to do whatever he wants, normally painting themed environments of cartoon characters in dramatic landscapes with busy backgrounds. When he gets the chance, he loves doing faux textures, painting skies with lots of atmosphere, painting in perspective, and using bright fantastical colours. He names a few of his favourite locations, about fifteen cities in the states of Texas, California, Tennessee, Georgia, and Pennsylvania where he enjoyed running along the Appalachian Trail.

“Painting for the kids is fun,” he says. “But my favourite project was here, in Thunder Bay. I painted about ten rooms at the hospital [TBRH].” Mike likes the charitable aspect to the work. He considers the type of work he does to often be grunt work or blue collar, where he works simply for the money and not as a calling. “It’s painting that isn’t yours,” he says. “Snowshoeing is more fun than painting,” he laughs.

Yet, he is proud of his work, and despite what sounds like a big revelation, he isn’t being entirely truthful. His love of painting supersedes his need to earn a living, as he has taken on other jobs and could have stayed away from painting altogether, but never does. And he’s painting for his own enjoyment, combining his love of snowshoeing with his art when he goes on excursions taking dozens of photos in local areas, which he later turns into large acrylic landscape paintings. He heads down to Silver Bay in the states, and paints lots of local scenes like the Cascades, Kaministiquia, Sawdust Lake, Loch Lomond and the Shuniah Mines. He’s delighted by the trails and he goes out for two or three hours, taking more than thirty photos each time. He is working on a dozen more large acrylics for this winter but hasn’t yet figured out where he will have them displayed. The last batch of paintings he did sold before he had a chance to show them in a gallery.

Surprisingly, Mike has only ever shown his work once in a gallery for which he won a people’s choice award. He painted a large acrylic portrait of his son that hung in the Thunder Bay Art Gallery in a juried show for local artists.

Mike has taken on co-op students from Lakehead University and gives them experience and some knowledge of the industries in which he’s worked. His advice to young artists: “Never turn down a job. Think globally, way outside of Thunder Bay. You can find projects everywhere. There’s always a call for artists in the United States,” he says and then promptly talks about his next snowshoeing excursion, hoping to get a few good shots of the local landscape. You can see his work at