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Contribution: "Self-production: a boon or a bane for aspiring artists?" by Joy Habib

Creative types everywhere had good reasons to rejoice over the dawn of the Internet age. As production processes and distribution channels became more readily accessible, aspiring artists were able to get their voices heard without having to jump through the increasingly narrow hoops set forth by the industry’s gatekeepers. Traditional intermediaries lost their importance, barriers to entry crumbled: the cultural industry was unmistakably undergoing a major paradigmatic shift. William Deresiewicz, an American journalist and author, pompously announced in a 2015 article “The Death of the Artist and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur”. The image of the artist as a solitary genius cut-off from the world and turning his back on the mundane yet necessary task of running a business is a thing of the past, argues Deresiewicz. Successful artists today also have to be seasoned entrepreneurs. If they wish to seize the countless opportunities offered by this new economic model, they should learn to manage all aspects of their “business”, from creative direction to budgeting.

Eliz Murad knows this only too well. She’s the front woman and lead singer of the self-produced band Teleferik. I reach out to her via her band’s Facebook page, hoping to get a chance to interview her: she writes back almost instantly. Being reactive is of an utmost importance to her, and she makes it a point to remain approachable, whether on social networks or after her gigs:

“This is something we’ve learned as a self-produced band”, she says. “We have to be in constant communication with our fans. Bands who are signed to record companies simply don’t have the same social media strategy. They’ll post a thing or two every week. We do it way more often.”

The band’s first album, Lune Electric has been crowd-funded on the Indiegogo platform. Eliz is well aware of the major role their audience has played in her band’s success:

“This is true for all self-produced bands, but specially for us- we’re a live band, that’s what we do best!”

Judging by Eliz and Arno (the guitarist) incendiary performances, Teleferik is a live band indeed. But it’s also a digital-savvy band:

“A few decades ago, our journey would’ve been completely impossible! In a documentary about The Beatles’ early years, George Martin, who was their first producer, explains that he had to hire a secretary early on to handle fan mail and answer journalists… Today, Facebook is our secretary. We took to Zimbalam for the distribution of our first EPs. It’s a web service that uploads your MP3s to streaming and downloading platforms. A record company handled distribution for our album, but they totally let us down as far as promotion is concerned: we had to do it ourselves. We’re our own press agents!”

But being one’s own manager, booker, and press agent is not an easy task to undertake:

“You learn a lot through trial and errors. With each new EP released, we learned about a new aspect of our business: the importance of organizing a release party, of starting our promotion campaigns way before the release date… This knowledge might seem obvious now, but we acquired it gradually”

It’s hard not to be impressed by Eliz and Arno’s successful micro-management of their band’s current affairs. I couldn’t help but wonder, however, how they still found the time to practice their craft. Eliz admits to spending most of her time sending out e-mails and prospecting:

“I have to reach out to radio stations, journalists, venues… You typically have to contact them several times before you get an answer. This doesn’t leave me much time to work on our second album”

If managerial tasks barely leave artists time to practice their core activity, the end of intermediaries might not be the miracle solution it was propped up to be… Sure, Eliz is too hands-on to relinquish control of her band, but the help of a booker or a press agent would be most welcome.  

Generally speaking, one can only appreciate the fact that new technologies allow many unknown yet talented artists to get their work out there. However, as barriers to entry disappear, one can worry that the intrinsically complex and demanding process of artistic creation might be simplified and commodified to the extreme. If anyone can be a photographer, a musician or a writer in his free time, art becomes just another leisure activity:

“This is specially true of electronic music, that I happen to be a huge fan of. A lot of programs allow you to fancy yourself a DJ with just a few clicks, even if you don’t have any talent or experience in music. The result is not always musically relevant.”

About Joy Habib

Joy Habib is a student at ESSEC and a member of the Media & Digital chair. She's very curious about the new ways cultural contents are produced and consumed at the internet age. An aspiring writer, her first short story is to be published in March 2016 by Buchet-Chastel.