Artist Journal #4 – Stealing Fire: Empowering Your Craft Through DIY Technology

Ambition Bird by Johnny Beaver
Ambition Bird by Johnny Beaver

Thanks in no small part to the levels of communication now possible on behalf of the Internet, DIY—or Do-It-Yourself—approaches to all aspects of life have become not only more popular in recent years, but vastly more affordable. This applies especially towards tools designed to empower people and grant them control over their artistic pursuits. This return of autonomy to the end user has allowed many people all over the world to reclaim their arts, interests, and businesses. Everything from home brewing to recording has seen a revolution in recent years, and many of the resources are echoed across myriad different platforms. For artists this is a fundamental shift in technology, because many of us spend a lot more than we make. I’ve been financially lucky with art from time to time, but am still a long, long way from seeing my income match my outcome, so to speak.

When I was a fledgling sound engineer, recording was pricy. And of course, it still is, but back then the idea of being able to go out with $500 and come back with a recording interface, a microphone, and a computer that could handle audio decently was… well, laughable. Nowadays, it is just the status quo. For under $2,000, someone can set up a modest project studio capable of handling just about any kind of recording job. This significantly levels the playing field and allows bands to record at home indefinitely for less than it costs for a five-song record at a well-equipped studio. Skill, of course, determines how well the equipment is wielded, but now the opportunity to gain those skills without costly schooling or unpaid intern positions is viable. I went to a high-end engineering school—trust me, the cost-to-benefit ratio is far better in your garage.

To elaborate on the audio thing a bit more, around that same time, your one option for hosting your music online was Mp3.com, which was frankly terrible—and still is. But since then, we have seen dozens of similar sites crop up, including Reverb Nation, Band Camp, and so on. Many of those not only include hosting space, but integrated tools for promotion and sales. These tools have allowed bands to retain their autonomy and perform many of the same functions that previously belonged strictly to the record labels and promoters. While a band is less likely to find success without experienced and resource-rich assistance, at least now the option exists to reach a sort of semi-professional state that you can continue to fund with your 9 to 5. That right there is real power. Real freedom within art. The concept of what constitutes success no longer has to come with a high price tag, and it hardly just applies to music.

Something worth mentioning that’s in that same spectrum is Etsy.com. A website dedicated toward allowing the creators of hand-made items to set up online storefronts, it is currently home to artists, artisans, and crafters numbering just over 30 million. Far cheaper, less sketchy, and more personal feeling than eBay.com, you can pretty much sell anything you make, 24 hours a day, from your own dedicated site. Although Etsy has been around now since 2005, I don’t feel like many people really stop and appreciate what it truly means for those that create as a way of life. And Etsy is not alone—there are countless similar merchant sites that have cropped up all over the Internet.

While not a storefront, Square is a service that lets you get a free credit card reader for your smart phone or tablet. When you perform a transaction, a small amount is deducted and you keep the rest. No more heavy fees, and complete mobility to sell your work at farmers’ markets, fairs, etc. This was impossible not too long ago. And really, these are just a few examples. The space allotted here isn’t even enough to scratch the material surface, let alone inch into the philosophical one.

The point that I keep coming back to is this: the power of art lies within both integrity and capability. Today, we’ve become increasingly more capable of retaining our integrity, and tomorrow will top today. Although we haven’t gone full Star Trek and completely leapfrogged money’s necessary role in a reasonably happy modern life, there is likely a tool or 12 out there for anyone doing something with their life that produces culture, rather than simply consumes it. If you fall into a place of relevance here, I implore you to mobilize yourself, if you haven’t already. Seek out new and improved methods and tools. Taking full control over and rendering the production as well as presentation of one’s art can be a life-altering experience.

By Johnny Beaver

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