More than 30 years ago I wrote an article for the now defunct Composer magazine called Starving in Garrets. It was all about how painfully difficult it was for composers to get their work performed and heard, and even harder to make a living from writing music. In many ways, I don’t believe things have really changed that much for artists and creatives. There is still that struggle for discoverability.
I’m a writer, primarily. But I’m also a musician and have worked with contemporary composers. I recently read some sobering statistics for writers. For example, in 2011 there were 211,269 self-published titles and out of at least 1.2 million titles published by the entire industry over the course of a year, almost 80% sell fewer than 100 copies. (source: http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2012/09/7-book-marketing-mistakes/)
So how on earth do you get people’s attention? If you are a writer, it’s pretty tough. If you are a composer, it’s even harder. We measure success by fame and celebrity status, regardless of quality. So if you aren’t yet a “name” you are largely invisible. How do you get the “gatekeepers” to listen to your music, or read your work? For anyone to take you seriously? If you are lucky, maybe 1 in 30 people you contact might reply and follow up your work. Many years ago, I decided to speculatively contact film production companies about one of my books. I sent 35 emails with a pitch, had 2 replies, and this resulted in one meeting with a producer. I was told this was a pretty good result!
The more successful you are, the busier you become. Famous people have a whole raft of assistants (gatekeepers) which make it even harder to be heard. Even a negative reply is a response, which acknowledges your existence. You have been read, listened to. Your creation is personal and precious and being ignored is far worse than rejection, though you may not agree.
But negotiating huge organisations like the BBC, for example, can be like scaling an impenetrable fortress. If anyone knows how you manage to get a Proms commission I would love to hear from you.
Of course, the internet provides a global shop window on an unprecedented level. Writers can publish without publishers, artists can create online galleries, composers and musicians can put their work on platforms like You Tube. We can let the public judge. As Natasha said in a previous post, artists don’t generally follow their calling for the money. But they do need to be acknowledged, and better still, enjoyed. They want to share their work. That’s the whole point.
And so, with Xmas looming on the horizon, I’m including a recently discovered You Tube link to a moving performance of a haunting Carol which a Canadian choir have used for their candlelit procession over the past 5 years. The music was written by a UK composer who should be far better known. Simply beautiful!
To find out more about Jane’s publishing experiences, go to her blogwww.janeayres.blogspot.co.uk
Her trilogy of Matty Horse and Pony Adventures books for pre-teens and teens (and nostalgic older readers!) are available for Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. All profits from these stories are going to Redwings Horse Sanctuary.