You Are Your Own Curator
Whenever I may grumble to my friends about a lack of attention given to my musical releases, I receive an earful of advice on which social networks to use for promotion, which new distribution tools are the best. One thing I hear repeatedly is, “you have too many records on your website.” I’m all for simplifying choices for fans but I’m weighing simple offerings against a well-established principle I hold:
You are your own curator.
I’ve been making music for a long time and I’ve made a lot of recordings. While most people who like the last thing I’ve done don’t care about the first things I’ve done, they aren’t really the audience I’m trying to please with a complete catalog. I’m the audience I’m trying to please.
I’ve also built websites, specifically my own, for the past 15 years or so. Over that time, I’ve watched great stuff I’ve created disappear to forgotten logins or out-of-favor social networks or tools. Tumblr replaced Blogspot which replaced Pitas.com for me. Every time the wind shifted, I debated what was worth keeping or losing to digital evolution.
About 6 years ago, when I began earnestly performing as a solo artist, I decided I was going to sew up all the loose ends. My website would be my complete portfolio, my own museum. A lot of artists see their website as a business card — it just sits there, static and untended. Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook — that’s where the action happens. The result of this is that they’re not actually curating the things they make and giving any of them the proper attention.
The web is a great reminder that music, writing, and even visual art is ephemeral. Not only because it can be easily deleted and wiped from memory but because there is so much choice for any visitor. It’s true: if I used Tumblr, my followers would be more likely to see the things I make. But would they stick around? Or would my post just be one in a stream of thousands of others?
It’s a thankless task to try to get visitors to my site and turn them into fans. But I feel so much better about the work I do on my website. Knowing that I’m fully in charge of my work and its presentation and distribution puts me at ease. I know I’m doing the right thing. My effort isn’t a drop in an ocean of other artists. If someone does visit my site and does like what I’m doing, she can click through to greater depth. Want to see the video demos I made 4 years ago? Want to hear the outtakes from the single we did 12 years ago?
I can’t keep my music or my writing on iTunes or Amazon all the time. But I can make sure it’s on my website.
No one is going to manage my art for me. No record label is going to come along and put together a retrospective on my 4-track roots. I’m the curator of my work. Because I know, understand, accept, and desire that, I make sure I own it all and take care of it. As my friend David Dewese told me, “I don’t have a stock portfolio. I have a portfolio of songs.” That’s our garden. That’s what we tend.