I was running late to a meeting on Monday and that turned out to be a great thing. Now, don’t get me wrong. I think being late is about one of the most disrespectful (and almost always avoidable) practices in Hollywood. But as it happened, I was running ten minutes late (after having left two hours early) and I was lucky enough to hear a bit of news on my cool car radio, just as I pulled into the parking lot for my meeting.

“Smashing Pumpkins joins Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead in firing their record labels and offering their music exclusively through their websites, directly to their fans.”

I love this news. I love it because I’m an author of several books that have all been “self published” (not to be confused with “published-on-demand” or “vanity press” publications — not that there’s anything wrong with those; they’re just different business models) because, when offered a publishing deal from a big, NY publishing house six years ago, I decided a $5000 advance against 8% of sales wasn’t nearly as exciting an option as spending $7500 to print my first book myself, and then getting to keep 33% (because that’s 25% for the publisher and 8% for the author — 40% goes to the bookstores and 27% goes to the international distributor — and if I own the publishing company, then, yay me)! The startup cost is well worth the bottom line.

So, as soon as I heard the news about these big, popular musical artists choosing to bring their content directly to their fans, I realized, “It’s the self-publishing model!” Fantastic! The more mainstream folks who do this, the better for the startups! Obviously, it’s a much easier leap for an established “act” to take its goods directly to the public than for a new one to land on the radar and have sales of a certain level by self-producing, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a viable business model for us all.

Of course, this is already happening, and the smart artists, the business-savvy artists, are already making the self-distribution model work for their art, bringing their craft directly to the buyers.

The paradigm shift needs to occur with the artists first. If you see yourselves as both creators and suppliers of content, it’s only a matter of time before the buyers see you that way too. They’ll learn to come to you for the goods. Talk about branding yourself in the industry! You get known for not only your type and what you deliver in the room, every time, but also for being able to serve it right up to the audience who demands it, no middleman! How cool is that?

For so long, we’ve seen artists as creators and suits as the business-savvy sharks who make it possible for our work to get to the masses. Why? Because that’s the way it has always been. But clearly, things are shifting. And if the “big guys” are taking their business directly to the consumers, it’s only going to become easier for the “little guys” to get to “big guys” status using the direct-to-customer business model.

Sure, we may not get access to as many people on our own as “the corporations” do, but if we do point-to-point connections, aren’t we more likely to have our message understood? Aren’t we more likely to reach our core audience? Aren’t we more likely to create a loyal fanbase that sticks with us for decades to come?

Creative control is beautiful. Identifying your core audience and getting your goods directly to those people is way fun. And knowing that your intended message is reaching its intended audience in the exact way you’ve created it and crafted it is really cool.

It’s the “small but loyal” vs. “large but fickle” fanbase issue. Which would you rather have: A small group of buyers (whether those “buyers” are actual consumers of your work, who show up and buy tickets at the megaplex or are casting directors or agents who are eager to consume your work and call you again and again) who can say that they GET YOU or a very large, fanatical then forgetful, fickle group of kathousands of people who worship you today and ignore you tomorrow?

Which do you want? Do you want to be the flavor of the month who everyone needs to sample right this moment — but may spit out the next — or the acquired taste that fans understand and that, eventually, even the not-yet-fans want to try? Ah… the choices! Nothing wrong with wanting to be wildly famous and hugely popular… but it’s almost impossible for an artist-slash-content-deliverer to reach the mighty masses. So, it’s important to know your message, know your customers, and know your limitations of reach. If your goal is to hit as many potential viewers as possible, you might want the help of the big-time content providers — and be willing to lose some of the creative control — in order to make it big. And I’m not suggesting that actors eschew the traditional Hollywood business model to jump on the good ship DIY, but instead that everyone be open to all potential avenues of reaching the buyers.

The more viable it becomes for the film industry to provide content directly to consumers, the more essential it’ll become for the creators of the content to learn how to be the distributors of the content. Buy your video camera, learn how to use iMovie, set up your YouTube channel, and figure out what your first message to the masses would be. Work out the technical kinks before you put yourself all the way out there (and work with a partner if you’re more of an idea person than a technician, but I advise you to learn how to be a little bit of both) and use that time to identify your target audience too. Research, research, research.

The big musical artists who are dumping their record labels have the advantage of having had decades of sales figures to analyze, allowing them to calculate exactly who might buy their direct-to-you offerings. They know their listeners download content and they aren’t worried about losing customers because there’s suddenly nothing for them to buy in a brick-and-mortar record store. You, on the other hand, will have to do your research based on what is already out there in the spaces you want your message to hit as well as of the vibe you plan to present. Are people visiting websites to view short films like those you want to create? Are those websites ad-based or membership-driven? Are the short films part of a larger storyline, available one chapter at a time? Or are they longform content and available less frequently than you might be able to churn ’em out if you really got rollin’?

Does your audience turn out to a comedy club or anywhere else there are adult beverages to be had during the entertainment? Is your target audience made up of people who love the theatre — especially obscure black-box spaces where people are mounting original works or even doing script-in-hand readings of works-in-progress? Or, is your true fanbase that group who never leaves home, only ever watches network TV, and somehow makes it so that the most ridiculous series end up on the air for years and years?

Do your research and map out your plan for getting in front of your buyers. And if that first level of those buyers is comprised of casting directors and your goal is to get into as many offices as possible — not at all concerned with creating and delivering content directly to the masses — that’s okay too. The research still needs to happen, as these are all potential buyers, consumers, audience members who will ultimately lead to your ability to have that greater reach you’re hoping for. I assume. 😉

Your best course of action is to learn not only how to create your best, most on-type character, but also how to present it to more than the audience of one in a casting room, the audience of dozens in a black box theatre, the audience of hundreds at an indie film festival, or even the audience of thousands who might click on a link from your website. Learn now how to create, package, and distribute your gifts to the widest potential audience that you might hope to reach someday.

Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000857.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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