Towards the end of my recent appearance on the Metanomics, host Jennette Forager suggested that Linden Lab’s CEO had remarked that music could well be the “killer app” for Second Life. Unfortunately this comment and other questions about the economics of music, the “business of music” came too near the end of the session to be fully addressed.
The subject has been very much on my mind of late because I (along with other selected music venue/series hosts) had been asked to meet with Pete Linden, Catherine Linden, and some representatives of an independent marketing firm that the Lindens have hired to market Second Life. At the top of the agenda of that meeting was determining what positive stories we had to tell of music in Second Life and also what we might be willing to share in news stories or online formats.
Coincidentally in the same week I had been talking to RL arts colleagues about an arts marketing initiative of the Canadian government called “Culture Days” in which we are being requested to host some sort of public event to promote arts awareness in our communities. My colleagues’ response was “So they want us to work for nothing for a day for some publicity scheme? No thanks!”
An SL musician invited to a private meeting with the Lindens on their marketing plans shared with me that–while he loves performing in SL–this invitation to help market sounds like another case of asking artists to work for nothing and he’ll be declining if that’s the case.
What is lacking in both RL and SL with all these seemingly great ideas from marketers is how the artists will get paid for the use of their time and talents. There is often a profound misunderstanding of how business is conducted in the arts, the extent to which artists desire particular types of promotion and the restrictions that may be in place preventing the use of particular artists or artistic products for promotional purposes.
Almost every year in my RL orchestra management positions someone from marketing or a Board member would suggest, “hey let’s take the orchestra to the mall and do a radio remote as a subscription drive!” I would then hand them a spreadsheet of the costs to rehearse and transport the musicians and gear, pay musician union wages (with broadcast fee) and tell them how many subscriptions we would need to sell in order to cover the costs (usually more than seats in the house, and always more than was reasonable to expect in a two hour program). Only with corporate or foundation support for 50% or more of the costs of the performance, did this become a viable marketing initiative for the orchestra. Oddly enough almost everything you do in the arts boils down to about that 50/50 ratio of income and public support.
What is the public benefit of music in RL and SL? Can you imagine SL without clubs and dancing, the excitement of live music? It is a big part of the “stuff to do” in SL and what keeps people coming in, establishing accounts and wanting to buy land and doll up their avatar. Why dress up when you have nowhere to go to dance, to see and be seen?
In the US, the arts generates $166 B annually in economic activity. Cultural activities do more to bring tourists into cities than major league sports and the people attending cultural activities stay longer and spend more than sports enthusiasts. The economic spinoffs of the arts benefit everyone in the community in indirect ways. More gas sold at the pumps, less crime on streets filled with people coming from arts events, more restaurant jobs, more hotel jobs, more work for printers and marketers, employed musicians and artists in the community who contribute financially and artistically. A healthy arts sector is a key indicator of a healthy city. It pays corporations, communities and foundations to invest in the arts to enable arts organizations to close the gap between what they can sell artistic products for and what it takes to produce those products. Arts organizations give back financial rewards to communities in excess of the support they need to keep them afloat.
The Second Life business community similarly is benefiting from our Second Life artists but is doing little so far to assist in making our music venues, galleries, theatres and dance companies run on a stable financial footing. I realize that business community has its own challenges. I do welcome Pete Linden’s factfinding mission on SL music but I think that the stories he is looking for–financial successes for musicians founded in SL music ventures–will be rare.
People often remark about the success Music Island has in routinely having capacity audiences for our performances. What they don’t realize is the amount of work that has gone into that over the past couple of years and continues to go into it on a weekly basis. My average time commitment to the Music Island series is two work days a week. While that figure usually astonishes people, when I break down the tasks it seems difficult to imagine how it doesn’t take more (and it sometimes does) 1. Reaching and booking artists 2. Getting program, bios, details for posting 3. Creating notecards for the event 4. Creating poster art for the event. 5. posting events on Google calendar, Music Island site, blogging, twittering, SL events listings. 5. Inworld group announcements 6. Group invitations and maillist invitations 7. Configuring inworld mailer device and sending mailer messages, 7 soundchecks and teaching new musicians to stream 8. Meeting with musicians and/or colleagues about projects, festivals, special events. 9 updating lightbox, notegivers 10. hosting concerts themselves 11. doing inworld and rl presentations on music in Second Life. If I were paid my usual salary for this work I would be expecting about $20,000. (pro-rated on my usual fulltime earnings as an arts manager). This has been my personal donation to the Second Life community at a time when I knew that there was not an economic model in place to actually pay for this work, but the work was needed in order to demonstrate what music could do in SL, artistically and as a social and economic catalyst. In the same spirit artists have been donating thousands of dollars worth of their time and talents in performance.
It is a great first step that Linden Lab employees are starting to realize the role that music plays in Second Life. However it would be naive of them to believe that the music community can continue forever on volunteer efforts and funded from personal pocketbooks alone. Music Island is a house of cards with three cards leaning on each other. 1) the donation of artists performances at rates that would cause AF of M representatives to have conniptions 2) the donation of my time as administrator/publicist 3) the donation of the venue space with the only cost my residency tier contribution. These contributions make my costs for running Music Island a total of about $60 per month, and we normally receive about that in $L contributions. The real monthly costs for running Music Island would about $3000 per month approximately equally divided between artistic fees, administrative costs and facility costs.
A $36,000 barebones annual budget for an arts project of the international scope of Music Island should not be cost-prohibitive but what is needed is the political will and awareness of individuals at the top decision-making levels of Linden Lab that we in the arts need help in making our case and connecting to a new type of arts funder. Most arts funders support local, regional and national arts initiatives because of the promotion of quality of life and preservation of national cultural treasures. As an experienced grant writer I can’t build a case for funding arts in Second Life to any of the traditional funding sources I apply to annually for RL based arts projects in the Toronto area. If Linden Labs is to continue to benefit from the “killer app” of music in SL, rather than see venue owners and series promoters give up as their resources dry up, we are going to have to make a case together to the international business and arts community about the fit between the marketing of arts internationally and the promotion of the 3D platform as a healthy community for education, business and social networking.