For centuries, art of all kind has been controlled to varying degrees by “gatekeepers”—those who have the power to determine which art is created or accessible, or both. There are plenty of examples: from artists who have benefitted from the largess of royalty or the Church; to gallery owners and powerbrokers in the visual arts; to publishing houses; to movie studios, and even in the recent past when some governments around the world only permitted art they approved.
As technology has developed, so too have the mediums for the exchange of ideas, and those ideas are spreading faster and farther than ever before. The result is that the gatekeepers are being marginalized, repositioned, and in some cases replaced. An example in the arts is desktop publishing, which has allowed musicians, poets, and other artists to self-publish and reap more margins. It also lessened the dependency on established publishers. Those publishers have felt the pinch in the past few years through the loss of business from self-publishing, and the ease for new and nimble publishing houses to be formed. The prevalence of home studio software caused a similar arc in the recording industry over the past 10-15 years. It’s easy for bands to produce their own music, and it’s common for musicians to record tracks in their home studios and send them to producers instead of traveling to record in a studio. We’ve also interviewed visual artists on our podcast who have vibrant websites, through which they sell much of their art.
Who knows how AI will impact gatekeepers? In a recent interview with some of the C-suite at Art Blocks, a company that creates and sells generative art on the Ethereum blockchain, they mentioned that the inherent accounting documentation and smart contracts in the blockchain will soon affect accounting and law—and that is being worked out in real time.
Before artists can celebrate their liberation from gatekeepers, we should remember that just because we can sidestep a gatekeeper and save some money in the process, doesn’t mean there’s an overall savings, or that orders will come pouring in… The reason is that somebody has to do the work the gatekeeper was doing, and the costs associated with that work come in the form of time spent doing those activities, and likely time spent learning how to do many of those activities—and remember that time spent doing other things is time not being spent on creating art. While artists with modest means can more easily create, record, and publish their art than ever before, they now have to look after the entire process, or pay others to assist. Beyond the creation, they are now responsible for their marketing and sales channels, customer service, bookkeeping, and on and on.
There are still gatekeepers and likely always will be, but as in the blockchain example, they are shifting in real time. I’m not arguing for or against working closely with gatekeepers, I’m simply suggesting that the best opportunity for artists to realize potential savings from sidestepping gatekeepers is for them to have at least a basic understanding of the business side of the arts. Artists should take advantage of every learning opportunity offered by their local universities, arts organizations, and free mediums such as this podcast to learn how to create opportunities and bring their value propositions to market. By doing so, they aren’t only helping themselves, they are growing the arts ecosystem.
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