In this brief Q&A session, AdRev President and former CD Baby President Brian Felsen shares his wisdom and advice to independent artists.
Achickwitbeatz: What motivated you to help independent artists be heard?
Brian Felsen: Back in the 90's, the problem was that the gatekeepers were controlling the systems of distribution - and I wanted, when I started the Philadelphia Music Conference, to create an outlet so that outlier talents and outsider artists could be heard even if their music was outside the mainstream. CD Baby started in 1998 for that same purpose. Now that the gatekeepers have been swept aside, the problem isn't one of distribution, but it's of monetization and discovery. I'm passionate about independent expression, and freedom to express yourself, artistically or otherwise, is one of the baselines of civilized society.
Achickwitbeatz: What would you say are the most important characteristics an independent artist should possess in order to be successful?
Brian Felsen: A natural talent and inclination toward a specific medium is the single most important skill an artist can have. That, plus tenacity. Of course, in the modern era, entrepreneurship and self-promotion can't hurt, but I'm less interested in art-as-business than art-as-art. If you can monetize it and find an audience, great; but if not, as long as you can feed your family from other income sources, and if you don't stop making art, you're (in the words of Charlie Sheen) "winning."
Achickwitbeatz: Conversely, what habits have you observed that you'd recommend artists work on improving in order to be successful?
Brian Felsen: The ability to continually and honestly evaluate your strengths is the single most important habit an artist can have (other than the ability to work consistently). Once you do, an artist should acknowledge the gulf between their ideals and their instantiation of them, and work to narrow the gap without sweating it too much. (Of course, when starting out, a blind ignorance to that gulf can get you going through the inevitable period where you just plain stink!) Also, the habit of reading and learning new artistic styles outside of your genre or country is very important to keep your art evolving and relevant in an age of globalism. Finally, the ability to collaborate with others is crucial. If you have weaknesses, there are many people out there who would be willing and eager to fill in the gaps with you.
Achickwitbeatz: As an artist, what inspires you to create?
Brian Felsen: My own muse is outside the mainstream, so my idealized and actual audience (and the number of people engaged with intellectual and artistic debate I'm a part of) is rather small. But that audience is very dear to my heart, and I love creating for them. I also create art because different media are effective at expressing the "stream" of consciousness in different ways (poetry, for example, for compression; music for parallel streams; photography for instantaneity; etc. But, primarily, the creative urge, for me, is a neurotic compulsion; if I don't do it, I go a little nuts - and making art is probably than drugs and more effective than psychotherapy.
Achickwitbeatz: What is next on the horizon for you?
Brian Felsen: I'm helping some startups right now and am eager to continue to work to empower artistic expression. I'm excited to be going back to Turkey in a few months to fight the good fight there. And, I'm very happy to be finishing a feature film and an album that were left in various stages of completion due to the overwhelming number of hours I was working for CD Baby.
Achickwitbeatz: How can people connect with you and stay up to date with what you have in the works?