The cost of doing business

Back in December, Canada Post announced it would increase the cost of stamps this year from 63 cents to 85 cents. Shortly after that Canada Post announcement, a thread appeared on the jazzproglist digest (one of the resources which helps me to keep track of jazz outside of Toronto) lamenting the increased cost to artists of sending out sample CDs to radio stations. And today, I had a conversation with a local artist about the time and expense involved in sending out submissions to festivals across Canada.

Postage, duplication, office supplies - these are unavoidable costs for independent musicians. Actually, they're unavoidable costs for musicians period - big-name artists, if they aren't paying these costs themselves, are paying someone else to take care of these costs for them. We all knew this going in to the business; but it doesn't make the pill any easier to swallow.

In my conversation today with the local musician, he was expressing frustration at the time and cost involved in putting together - and sending out - submissions to festivals in the search of elusive gigs…time and money he'd rather be spending working on his craft - composing and performing. At a certain point he wondered out loud whether he should have a publicist doing this kind of work for him.

The requirement to do this sort of self-promotion, although not a surprise, necessitates a bizarre kind of math. How much time and money will I spend creating and mailing the materials? How many gigs am I likely to get in return? Am I likely to recoup the costs? Therefore, is it worth the effort? If I hire a publicist, I'll have more time for myself, but my costs won't go down…am I likely to get more gigs if a publicist is on board? Ultimately: will I make more money - or come out about the same - if I don't do the extra promotion?

I'm working through these questions right now with my big band. As you might imagine, no matter how good the gig, a fee split 18 ways ends up being fairly small…and there's not a lot left over to cover costs like music printing, website maintenance and publicity. With the increase in postage rates, I'm now seriously considering discontinuing my snail mail list - by the time I print and mail the materials, I'm spending close to $200 per mailing. That's not a lot, but every little cost adds up. The math I'm doing is: will the cost savings outweigh the potential loss of audience members or donors who won't likely switch from snail mail to email?

We feel it at jazz festival headquarters too. Each year, we roll out two "Friends" campaigns, during which we ask for donations to support our ongoing operations. There's lots of research and anecdotal proof supporting the idea that snail mail is still an effective method for soliciting (and spurring) donations. But we have thousands of people on our lists - who gets snail mail, and who gets an email? And if we mail out 1000 letters, at a cost of $1000 or so, are we likely to see enough return to not only pay for the mailing but ensure a successful campaign?

Ultimately, there's no way around certain expenses for musicians (or arts organizations or artists in general or even, I would suggest, freelancers of any sort). If we don't toot our own horn, no one will do it for us. If we want to get the word out about - or ask support for - what we do, we'll have to continue to spend the time and money related to making the required pitches. There are certainly ways to reduce costs and find time efficiencies - relying more on online resources, changing the types of print materials we create - but even sending out emails takes time. I'm not suggesting we should be able to abdicate ourselves from our marketing/promotion/fundraising responsibilities - as I say above, these are necessary parts of the craft - but in an increasingly cluttered and expensive environment, artists are now being forced in new ways to be creative with more than just their art.

What methods have you discovered in the quest to save time and money on your promotional or fundraising efforts?


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