Garrets and Gatekeepers by Jane Ayres

Photograph by Chris Ayres
http://scubabeer.uk.to/jalbum

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!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SIyhg8e04cI

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.

Stories we tell ourselves – by Jane Ayres

Writers think instinctively in terms of narrative, of story.  It’s how we make sense of the world.  The brain, our computer, processes what we see, feel, hear and looks for meaning in this input, based on our internal database of past experiences, of what has already been recorded and stored.

“Our brain casts us as ‘the protagonist’ and then edits our experience with cinema-like precision, creating logical interrelations, mapping connections between memories, ideas, and events for future reference.  Story is the language of experience.”

(Quote from Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence by Lisa Cron, Ten Speed Press.)

A story isn’t just about an event, a drama, a character.  It’s about how what happens affects that character and changes them, however subtle or enormous that change.  At the end of the story, things will never be the same.  A story is life.  Life is a story.

We learn from stories and engaging with characters, real or imagined, teaches us about ourselves.

Many people have a profound need to seek solutions and resolutions, to solve the puzzle that is our life, and I wonder if this need is enhanced in those driven to create.  We can explore this desire and feed this compulsion through our work, our stories.  Our therapy and remedy. Imagination is both a blessing and a curse. Reading other people’s stories, whether through fiction, painting, photography, film, music, is just as vital in helping us understand our own stories.

Maybe it explains the human instinct to document, record and collect.  By compiling evidence of your existence, you are assembling your story, or stories, proving that these things happened.  It is saying to yourself and the world; I am, I was.

The phenomenal success of Facebook testifies the depth of this need.  Author Jonathan Franzen is quoted as saying,

“We star in our own movies, we photograph ourselves incessantly, we click the mouse and a machine confirms our sense of mastery….. It’s all one big endless loop. We like the mirror and the mirror likes us.”

The revolution that is the internet has changed the world, presenting us with a dazzling array of creative tools and distribution channels.  We all have a story to tell, to share with the world.  And now all of us can.

By Jane Ayres

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