Bullish: Kim Boekbinder On Making A Living As An Artist

Jennifer Dziura writes Bullish, a career column, for The Grindstone on Fridays and Bullish Life, a life coaching column, for our sister site TheGloss on Tuesdays.

Musician Kim Boekbinder made news last June when, in response to a show she played for 18 people – netting exactly $12.50, which she spent on whiskey – she announced her new business model:

The problem, as I see it, is that we’re living in THE FUTURE (cue theremin!) with ease of communication, downloadable gratification, large networks, and constant information at our disposal, but we’re still acting like it’s the 1990′s and being a musician driving around in circles is going to help you “Make It.”

… I’m a modern musician with modern tools trying to navigate an old broken system; a system which declared that all musicians must work for free until picked up by a record label which would either make or destroy them; a system which drove a wedge between fans and their music, musicians and their audiences; a system that forgot that the entire reason it existed was to facilitate the experience of art.

Having funded her first album via a Kickstarter campaign (see Bullish: Fund Your New Business Or Get Started Investing in Startups, Part II), Boekbinder decided to apply the same model to touring.

What I do know is that I can start my own system. I can use the tools of communication, networking, and technology to help my fan base be part of my art. I pre-sold my album to fund the recording and now I’m pre-selling shows before I even book them so that I can come and play for my fans wherever they want me to play.

Since launching my first pre-sold show four days ago I’ve gotten letters from venues, fans, and musicians, all thanking me for such a great idea. I wasn’t sure it would work, but my first show got funded in 24 hours and I’m still selling tickets.

I’ve often written about cutting out the middleman (see Bullish: What I Learned About Business from Being a Low-Rent Model), as well as about unusual ways of funding businesses. And the Boekbinder’s eschewing of record labels (and tiny, random shows in clubs) reminded me very much of my own realizations about doing standup comedy. I want to do weird stuff – I have a one-woman show entitled ¡The Punctuation Show! (How to Use Tiny Symbols to Make Meaning Without %$^&#* Up) – and I don’t want to end up doing my nerd-funny Keynote presentation to an empty room, or for a bunch of people who really just wanted dick jokes. I only perform where I’m sure I’m wanted, and in the right place.

I have also long been interested in the 1,000 True Fans theory – the idea that “a creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author – in other words, anyone producing works of art – needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.”

Boekbinder, who rose to indie fame after her former band opened for Amanda Palmer, has an ardent fan base. But according to the 1,000 True Fans theory, a True Fan is “someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce.” That’s a high bar.

So, I was intrigued when I got an email from Boekbinder about her new program, Mission Control, in which she asked fans to support the creation of her new album by pledging financial support every month, in increments as small as $10. These backers are rewarded with various levels of goodies, from access to a private blog up to the writing of a custom song and the performing of that song via Skype concert.

I asked Kim if she’d be willing to be interviewed, with the caveat that a Bullish column is going to have to contain details and real numbers. She was game.

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