“Just because a lot of art comes from pain does not mean the artist has to suffer.” – Naithan Jones

During the 2021 SXSW Conference, I watched a virtual panel and the topic addressed how touring would change for artists once the world opened up. It was a fascinating discussion about how art was made during the lockdown and how artists were creating more balance in their life with their work.  This year, I was able to attend a panel that is taking the concept one step further – “How Do Artists Make Money Now?”.

Moderated by Tiffany Gaines, Found and CEO of SS Global Entertainment, the discussion focused on mindset; mental and physical health and perspective; the power in community; and the advancement of technology. Panelists Naithan Jones (Founder of web3 platform Royal), Andra Liemandt (Founder and CEO of The Kindness Campaign), and Matt Ott (Vice Chairman and Co-Founder/Executive Director of Black Fret) came together to address some different forms of creating income that may not have existed, even a couple of years ago. 

All of the panelists emphasized the importance of community. When asked about an artist just starting out without a lot of resources, Jones pointed out that, although “streaming is like a map of the industry and specifically to artists….it doesn’t give you the topography, which is who are those 200-300 fans who are willing to support your bills for a year?” The industry doesn’t have a good way to track this. “If I have a super fan in Des Moines, IA and I’m not touring for the next two to three years, I can’t activate that intent.” Jones shared that if these fans are token holders, you can do all kinds of things with them now from music releases just for them, to free merch, to arranging a FaceTime together because you have a token, etc. These are things that enhance relationship management as well as generate an income that allows the artist to live a life, rest, work, and create in cycles outside of the normal 9-5 most people work in.  “Creatives don’t really work that way. Where they can express their gift in a healthy way, where they have the economic base to do that, that’s a critical goal.”

Liemandt expanded on that thought: “Nate, I love what you were sharing about giving rest to musicians, to be who they are and work in their passion and their purpose. What we want to be able to do is put musicians to work right now, pick up gigs when they’re in the mood, not have to do something, but when the mood strikes, pick up a gig that is in line with their craft.” The Kind Music platform supports independent artists with songwriting workshops and recordings – all created through community.

“Community is more important than ever to help ourselves and help each other.” – Matt Ott

Black Fret operates in various cities using the patronage model that symphonies have used – people pay for subscriptions to hear local music. Ott said, “When we started Black Fret, we wanted to get some members, throw some parties, and give money away.” But he discovered in the process that people are always looking for ways to help and give back. As an artist, he suggested hanging out after shows, playing early gigs (“old people like to go to early gigs”), networking, playing corporate gigs. Ott thinks that Kind Music is “an incredible opportunity for musicians to lay down a track on a song written by people in a collaborative effort that gets that musician paid”. In the same vein, he loves the Royal business model “to find a revenue stream that helps them find the 1000 true fans”.

Each of the panelists emphasized the mental health and mindset aspect of creating art and being paid for it.  Leimandt summed it up best when she said, “When I started seeing dollars roll in, it related to my self-worth. Purpose, value and what you’re doing daily to support them equals joy.”

As a publication that focuses on mental health issues and the arts, we found this panel to be comforting. More people are seeing the value in a holistic approach to wellness, and artists are slowly (but surely) being praised for the wellness opportunities their art provides to the masses as well.

Elizabeth Schneider