Creating Systems for Creatives

In David Byrne’s book “How Music Works”, he illustrates 6 specific models of business for musicians.  At one end of the spectrum are 360 degree deals, where someone like Madonna or U2 sign with the touring giant Live Nation and every aspect of their career is handled by the corporation.  The other end of the spectrum is complete DIY, which Byrne did with Brian Eno on an album called Everything That Happens.   The system he had to build with Eno required something in the neighborhood of $60,000 to get running, but once those startup costs we accounted for, they had a system that they could use over and over for future distribution/ touring/ licensing/ general marketing of music.  They kept their overhead lower than Byrne had when he spent around $200,000 of a record company loan on his previous solo album.  Even splitting the money with Eno, he calculated he earned a lot more under the DIY system than he did for 6 years of profits from his “company” album, and had a system for future works.

When I had a straight job I did very little to build a system to generate income for whatever I make.  The systems I did build were basically my class teaching systems- until the economy collapsed I taught high school, and I had multiple rec center teaching gigs that were hourly wages rather than larger workshop fees.  Over the last year I’ve been able to refine this system into shorter classes with workshop fees- something I was able to do through my local municipality thanks to a business license; without that, I’m on the payroll of a staffing agency.

A system I’m building now involves pricing structures for prints/ CDs/ books.  Until now, if I did a family shoot I basically took a flat fee for the shoot and sent the digital files.  People would ask me about the other stuff and I didn’t have anything special to offer, when the working photographer doesn’t give away originals, you buy the prints from them.  To this end I’m creating products that fit in line with my actual artwork- cyanotype prints, viewmasters, shrinky dink items.

Other systems of income- art fairs, trade shows, online selling- have been sorted and retrofitted into whatever online networks I had, meaning my site, fb/tumblr/instagram/this blog/ etc., and I don’t want to talk too much about social networking because I think people are overly fixated on that… but there are creative systems that need to be built for making the actual art.

Some of the recent questions I’ve had to devise a system for:

What type of paper should I buy, what size does it get cut, how does it get displayed?

Where can I fire my ceramics and which glazes look good and which look like crap?

What type of photos should I be shooting to get a series together, what would make a good art show, what kind of photos can I shoot if all my upcoming venues don’t allow nudity?

Who could I/ should I work with in which city?

When I work with my singer for music, what do I need to have ready for her, and how long in advance?  What kind of keys should I avoid if it’s difficult for her to reach, and which are her favorite keys to sing in?

When we do live performance art, what is our look?  What can we play and what needs to be prerecorded?  What do we actually do during the performance?

Each of these are a system that, once the hows and whys and whats are sorted, chug to life and do what they are meant to do- create more art and livable income.  And once they are in motion, it’s that much easier to create the next system.  It’s never been so easy in the history of the world for a creative person to be fully DIY and not have to beg at the feet of patrons, go into debt to publisher and record companies, split all their sales with gallery owners.


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I'm a multimedia artist in Phoenix, AZ. Main Site - Instagram @primordialcreative + twitter @dbmillerphoto

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