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David Byrne’s Business Strategies for Artists


The article is titled, David Byrne’s Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists — and Megastars. Whether you have a passing interest in how the music business is changing, or an abiding interest in how the models he discusses might affect you as a visual artist, I commend it to you.

David Byrne is perhaps best known as the front man and driving force for one of the most influential bands of the 1980s, The Talking Heads. A quick look at his Web site reveals a multi-talented artist with interests and success in music, art, books, theater, performance and film. In his erudite manner, Byrne penned a concise article for the December issue of Wired magazine. 

The article is titled, David Byrne’s Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists — and Megastars. Whether you have a passing interest in how the music business is changing, or an abiding interest in how the models he discusses might affect you as a visual artist, I commend it to you. As a bonus, you can hear a track from a recent recording and other recordings of conversations and thoughts from him on this topic.

The #7 point on my recent post, Ten Points to Ponder for Your Art Marketing Plans is:

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If you haven’t already, start making plans to set up your own distribution. This could be online sales, alternative spaces or other inventive ways you can conceive to get directly to new collectors. The future success for many artists depends on their ability to deliver directly to their customers. The sooner you comprehend and act on this concept, the better off you’ll be later on.

I hope you took that thought seriously. There are opportunities opening up with more on the way, But you have to have your head up to see and figure out how to capitalize on them. There are direct correlations between what is happening in the music business and with the distribution of art in the print business. The distribution breakdown has not come as far and galleries are still more important to visual artists than record stores have become to musicians. Nevertheless, the changes wrought by the intertwined evolution of the Internet and print-on-demand technology are significant. Galleries are abandoning the print market because of the commoditizaion of the giclee process and the proliferation of prints available online. Despite monumental changes, we are still in a nascent state of evolution in how visual art is sold as reproductions. And, regardless of change, reproductions, or prints if you will, are still the best way for most artists to gain financially from their creativity.

Over the past decade, we have seen the rise of the giclee as an important exciting development that overcame initial resistance because of its techno-component and colorfast issues, to go on and become the dominant form of printing for artists in the limited edition print market. It’s now gone so far that I posed the question in a post last year titled, Is Giclee Passe? It is a legitimate question to raise now that we have seen the arrival of faster and less expensive equipment with the market evolving around the development.

Giclees are made by the boatload in Asian countries just like cheap oils are these days and with very good quality to boot. What was once a pricey commodity because it was rare and expensive to make has become something that is easy and inexpensive to make. Basically, digital printing capabilities are within the grasp of just about any artist interested in producing his or her own prints. As the printing prices go down and printing speeds have gone up, the artist’s ability to price garden variety giclees at premium prices is evaporating.

The rise of open edition online one-stop marketing and fulfillment operations such as Image Kind, Red Bubble and Art.com’s Artist Rising, and even Cafe Press to name a few, have made it very easy for any visual artist to sell their work online. Sites such as these are wonderful and freeing for many artists. But, their development further commoditizes the giclee process. it means those visual artists with a following and a vision or desire to grow a collector base are looking for new ways, or should be, to separate themselves from the masses. It’s why, in part, I have lobbied for stopping limited editions of giclees for most artists. If you have some ideas on where this is going, I invite you to share them with this audience. I will over the coming weeks weigh in with my thoughts and research on how the market is evolving and where the pitfalls and opportunities might be.

Free Art Business Checklist
Get your free Goalkeepers Club checklist. All help. No pitch.

Free Art Business Checklist
Get your free Goalkeepers Club checklist. All help. No pitch.

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  1. Your comment about how sites like Imagekind and Red Bubble are further commoditizing the art market reflects my own concerns as an artist. So much inventory out there, at fire-sale prices. How can any artist compete, and still hope to make a living?

  2. Alyson, Realizing how busy you are now with your book launch and seminars, having you comment here is that much more appreciated.

    Daniel, Your question is valid. But, to some degree or another, it’s always been the case. As soon as an artist gets hot, the competition comes out to appropriate the style. I’m not talking about Chinese oils here either. I’m talking about good old homegrown competition.

    The successful artist finds a way to rise above circumstances. Easy for me to say, much harder to do. Top giclee studios such as Harvest Productions are now finding ways to help artists make reproductions that cannot be replicated easily and which will be rarer as a result.

  3. Hi David,

    I started working with Keep Calm Ltd, an online gallery based in the UK that offers mostly silkscreens, but I printed my two works for them here in Paris at Lalande Digital Art Press. (I’m a partner in the business). We charged Keep Calm for the prints and priced them to sell on their site. I sent them 13 of the 24 prints before Christmas and those are nearly sold out. Keep Calm is run by Lucas and Hayley and they are absolutely top. Smart and interesting, their site reflects their own graphic sense. They are able to promote the works of their artists and gain high profile publicity. Their clients are all top design people, magazine editors and collectors. I’m extremely pleased. And yes, for me as both an artist and a printer (we will be printing some editions for them here because the pound/euro exchange is favorable to them right now), this is an excellent distribution point for my work, and a brand new market. Check them out: http://www.keep-calm.com/

    They also put up a nice bit about me and a link to my site.

    Great site you have here…

    Best,

    Matthew Rose / Paris, France

  4. Hi David,

    I started working with Keep Calm Ltd, an online gallery based in the UK that offers mostly silkscreens, but I printed my two works for them here in Paris at Lalande Digital Art Press. (I’m a partner in the business). We charged Keep Calm for the prints and priced them to sell on their site. I sent them 13 of the 24 prints before Christmas and those are nearly sold out. Keep Calm is run by Lucas and Hayley and they are absolutely top. Smart and interesting, their site reflects their own graphic sense. They are able to promote the works of their artists and gain high profile publicity. Their clients are all top design people, magazine editors and collectors. I’m extremely pleased. And yes, for me as both an artist and a printer (we will be printing some editions for them here because the pound/euro exchange is favorable to them right now), this is an excellent distribution point for my work, and a brand new market. Check them out: http://www.keep-calm.com/

    They also put up a nice bit about me and a link to my site.

    Great site you have here…

    Best,

    Matthew Rose / Paris, France

  5. Hi David,

    Helpful info here; I appreciate the insight and scope of material your site presents.

    Also, Matthew Rose’s info and link to Keep Calm was most helpful. Thanks.

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