Bruce Kirkland, a film critic for the Toronto Sun, is retiring after a stunning 36 years in the industry. During an interview with CBC, Kirkland made mention that there simply isn’t a position at the paper for a full-time film critic anymore, marking a turning point in how we absorb and fund media and the arts. The role of the film critic – or any critic really – is an important one. Encouraging viewers or readers to think more provocatively about a piece of art, critics inspire us to talk about a broader message, be it social, political or cultural. The role that the arts and media plays in our lives is a rapidly changing one, and should we as a collective have any desire to sustainably keep it in our lives, we need to think a bit differently about the fundamental costs of it all. A lot of us, including myself, often balk at the cost of purchasing the privilege to view, or be a part of, the arts. Why am I paying – insert dollar amount here – when I can just find a free version online? Why should I go to that play/ballet/stand up set? The tickets are so expensive! In order for our current creative minds to keep creating, and to inspire a new generation of creative thinkers/producers/writers/actors, they need the time and financial support to continue pumping out that genius. So what really goes into creating and sustaining certain art forms? Well, I’m glad you asked. I broke it down for you categorically. (Disclaimer: This is by no means a complete list)
I don’t have to tell you that music is everywhere. It’s what you listen to on the radio, it’s in our films and TV shows, it’s the ominous tones you hear when the dumb chick is about to walk into the scary basement, it’s the white noise you listen to when you’re “working”. It’s everywhere, and it’s fundamental to our cultural identity. But, did you ever think about the costs of what goes into being a musician? I certainly didn’t. For example, a label-less indie band that wants to take their banjos and quirky ukulele on the road for a tour, will have to subsume the following costs. And hopefully, HOPEFULLY these costs will be recouped via ticket and merch sales.
- Production costs: Lighting and sound being the big-ticket items, any additional equipment rental (instruments, amps, soundboard) and probably some kind of vehicle since 8 people and their banjoes won’t fit in a Honda Civic
- Living costs: Food (months of fast food), gas, airfares, parking, hotels and insurance, just in case the banjos on wheels crashes into a guard rail
- Salaries: Of any band mates or crew members needed, this can include a daily stipend for food
- Merch: Cost of producing and pressing an album and other merchandise like t-shirts, beanies and little personalized pocket ashtrays
- Additional things: Commission from agencies like booking companies, managers/agents, lawyers etc. Annnddd… publicity and marketing
As I mentioned above, recording an album has huge costs if it comes out-of-pocket. A ton of time goes into collaboration with band mates like writing and rehearsing to prepare for studio time. Then there’s a cost to hire a producer (if needed), the cost of pressing physical copies (CD’s, vinyls), commissioning the cover art, marketing costs, studio rental and living costs for the 2-6 weeks spent in the studio trying to get this accomplished. Not to MENTION the cost of having to explain to the wives/husbands why they’re taking 6 weeks off to record an album. Remember too that musicians are often doing publicity tours (i.e., endless annoying radio interviews) and are always, always writing and rehearsing. Even with free services like Spotify and google play, theres typically a cost for someone to sort out royalties. So when you spend that $25 to go see a live show, or $10 for an album, you’re helping to pay for hours and hours of blood sweat and tears that went into writing, rehearsing, producing, travelling and marketing. You’re providing a small contribution to the huge cost of being an indie musician.
P.S. You’re still a musician if you don’t play a banjo. I’m not sure where my obsession with that instrument came from.
This one is obviously close to home for me, a little light research and I realized how strikingly sad my prospects are at making an actual living out of this, but hey, labor of love etc. While there isn’t a lot of up front cost to actually WRITE like there is with being a musician – all you really need is a pen and paper or a keyboard – there’s a lot of what I’ll call, operating costs. There are various ways a person can make a living out of writing, however I’m going to focus on specifically writing books.
In the current publishing climate, over saturation of available manuscripts have left the average author in a position where they not only have to write the thing, but they often have to sell it as well. Joe writer needs time, and a lot of it. Time to write it, then edit and re-edit, print it and process to light it on fire, throw in the towel at least once and re-edit some more. For some, this can be a process that takes years, and for other it can take mere months. If our Joe writer manages to finish his work without going clinically insane, then he will try to approach a publisher (where the publisher will take a cut of sales if they deem him WORTHY) or he may attempt to self-publish. If self-publishing is the way to go, Joe writer will need to hire an editor and a copy-editor. A copy-editor is a fancy word for someone who goes through Joe’s book line by line to check for spelling mistakes, punctuation and grammatical errors. THEN he will need to commission for cover art (judge, book, cover etc.) and will finally end up in the realm of printing costs if he decides to sell physical copies instead of e-copies. Should he want it in a library he’ll need to get an IBSN. He’ll also need to invest into marketing and PR. Then Joe will lay in wait, wondering if enough copies will sell to not only recoup the cost put in, but to subsidize the time it took to write the damn thing, and if all the insanity was worth it.
So how can you best support a published author? Purchase their books from Amazon. I KNOW. I thought Amazon was the devil, but after an eye-opening article by Kristin Lamb, I’ve realized that Amazon is the key for our modern writer. If you want to ensure the survival of a writer you love, purchase their shit from Amazon and THEN write a glorious review. More reviews = more views. Because what would we do if all our writers quit to work at Tim Hortons? We’d have no novels, no textbooks, no scripts, no jokes for SNL, no speeches, no content for websites, no blogs, no articles, no newspapers, no journalism! NO NOTHING! So support your writers, buy books, buy news papers, leave reviews, tell your friends about a great book you read, because we all suffer if writers can’t afford to write.
Visual and Performing Arts
There is so much to be said about both of these art forms, TOO MUCH. From painting, cartooning, photography, tattooing, film making and digital design all the way to theatre, dance, stand-up comedy and the opera. I sure hope that the value of these things isn’t up for discussion. Let’s give a collective high-five to the illustrator(s) that’s responsible for drawing all our favourite cartoon characters (shout out to R. Crumb who was responsible for the amazingly awful Fritz the Cat), the photographer that was responsible for the photo below. A picture single-handedly responsible for giving me ALL the feels. High-five to every photo-journalist who risked life and limb to go to a war-torn place to capture photos and bring to our attention atrocities around the globe. High-five to every stand-up comic that has made me audibly laugh, briefly allowing me to feel better about my mundane life, high-five to the ballet that I saw when I was 14 years old and was moved to tears over the sheer beauty of it all.
But lets briefly talk about cost. Putting on things like plays, operas and stand-up specials can cost a lot. The ticket price is a reflection of hours of rehearsal, set and costume design, script run-through (not to mention the time to write the script), rented space including where the it’s put on and where it’s rehearsed, an entire cast and crew, equipment (lighting and sound), and marketing and promotion. A stand-up comic who spent hours practicing and refining his set typically will get next to nothing for performing at a comedy club – free drinks are often the pay out. A lot of artists in the visual and performing arts are required to look elsewhere for supplementary income because we’re just not willing or able (I HEAR YA I’m broke too) to put up the cash to ensure artists get paid right, and well. So start small. You don’t need to commission a $600 painting because I made ya feel bad, maybe just check out a museum for a day. When you pay for plays, operas, ballets, cover to see a comic, movie tickets, a subscription to Netflix, art classes (for you or your kid) you’re supporting the continuation of the things that make us innately human, and our connection to each other.