By Michael Harris
In my previous rants about this blog, culture, etc. (here, here, and here) I talked a lot about many subject, but really gave few answers, or at least deftly avoided any concrete ideas on what should be done. Part of the reason is that while complaining about things is easy, providing solutions is hard. Just look at our governments and politicians! I know, that was a cheap shot, but it’s true. Everyone loves to complain about things, point out our failings and shortcomings, but coming up with solutions, REAL solutions, not just quick fixes or token acknowledgements, is harder. Much harder.
In the previous posts, I ranted on a wide range of issues: this blog and my goals for it, the death of “classical” music, and possibly the film industry itself! The sad thing is, the solutions, at least in my mind, are relatively simple and the internet already provides most of the tools we need. That hard part is that to achieve them will take a fairly radical shift in how we go about business. What we need to do is get back to a model of small business, or artists having direct control over their creations. But, then, other than promotion on the internet, how do the artists reach a mass audience?
This is the tricky part, because most movie theatres are chains and the indie filmmakers, especially ones without established relationships with the distributors, will have no chance. Similarly, young composers have very little chance of making it on programs of major orchestras or other ensembles, without some sort of promoter and publishing arrangement for their music. But maybe we need to stop thinking about these things we do as necessarily being a means to an end and instead be the end itself. Ask most any composer, writer, filmmaker, musicians, whatever, and they will say that they initially got into it because they loved it, but somewhere along the line it became a job. And therein might lay the problem. We need to get back to why we do what we do. We need to rethink our relationship with our work. I started this blog because it was a fun way for me to write about what I love in a style very different than the academic environment in which I work, same think with the podcast. And while it might be nice to eventually build up a large enough audience that this humble blog might turn into something more, I’m happy with it being nothing more than what it is now.
So maybe we need to take a cue from a similar endeavor. Something people do for fun that maybe then turns into something larger, possibly a small business. Since I live in Boulder County, Colorado, there is only one thing I could be talking about: homebrewing and craft beer.
You read that right: I’m going to talk about beer.
You talk to people around Boulder County who have opened up their own small craft breweries and taprooms (and it is great that the owners are almost always around and love to talk to customers), you hear one thing over and over: they all started out as homebrewing enthusiasts. None of them really got into it in order to start a business, they just loved beer, loved craft beer, and wanted to take that next step from enthusiastic lover and critic to creator.
Which is why any of us pursue any creative endeavor, really. We love something and want to do it too!
But with beer, those who love it don’t look to get a job at the Coors or Busch factory, so why must musicians and filmmakers also look big? Why can’t more of us start small, think small? Many do, they make films just for fun and post them on-line, musicians start local chamber ensembles…but many of us think of these entrepreneurs as hobbyists, not something to do seriously. For musicians to be successful they have to be in top orchestras or be recording albums and doing tours. Filmmakers have to be making huge studio pictures. But why? Why does that have to be the next step?
Look to the craft brewers and their next step after homebrewing. Expand your production ability and open a small tap room. You’ll make some money, maybe not enough to quit your day job, but does it matter? You’re making some money doing something you love and maybe it can grow bigger, but maybe you don’t want it to. Is that so bad?
I’m not really sure how to translate this into the arena of film, though an internet series like The Guild shows a great way of how to start with a really small production and grow it into a larger budget series and eventually a who mini-internet network (Geek & Sundry).
In music, however, it is not so hard to imagine starting a semi-professional ensemble with friends, using Kickstarter or something to get some initial capital for venue rentals, music, etc. and then also having a small subscription series. And this can all be done locally! To my musician and composer friends out there, use your connections, get your music played, and then think about recording and distributing via the internet! Screw big! Think small. Think local. Of course, it helps to be living somewhere that has a community that might actually support such initiatives.
But the bottom line remains, think small. As Richard Feynmen once said about physics, “there’s plenty of room at the bottom.” And that simple line spurred an entire generation of scientist to study the small structures of atoms and have helped to eventually create the field of nanotechnology.
And for us, it is true, there is plenty of room at the bottom. The world, indeed the universe may be “big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is,” as Douglas Adams wrote in the original Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but that doesn’t mean we should be daunted, dejected, or discouraged from trying to start something small. There is plenty of room at the bottom for all of us to start something amazing, and depending on what we eventually want, we can stay small or start a larger revolution. But it all starts with a small idea, it starts with us. We must be our own cheerleaders and promoters. Because there is plenty of room at the bottom if we are willing to take that chance.
There is much more to be said on this topic, though one of the benefits of starting small, thinking small, is that we have seen throughout history how regional changes in styles and ideas can spread, and the internet has only made this process quicker. So go forth and start something small.
 What’s great about Colorado is that there are state laws that make this step really easy to do, including selling directly to local liquor stores!