Santa Maria Sun / Cover Story
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 51
Art in the Internet AgeLocal artists are reaching the world through various forms of online exhibition, business, and interaction
BY JOE PAYNE
Jimmy Riggs was laying down a driving rhythm on his acoustic guitar and singing a heartfelt tune at a local music venue when his manager, Dale Clotiaux, slid a small paper card into my hand. Clotiaux made sure every member of the audience received one, which wasn’t a typical business card, but featured a coupon code for a free download of a song from Riggs’ new album.
The album, Addicted to You, is the Jimmy Riggs Band’s debut and features Riggs’ original songs. It was released on Jan. 15 and is available on several websites. With his album available in cyberspace, Riggs isn’t dependent on performing shows to sell hard copies of his album, but performing live may prompt immediate purchases if the artist makes a good enough impression.
“I was out at the bar playing music,” Riggs said, “and I tell people about my album, and they get on their phone right there and download it.”
Clotiaux added: “And when you hand someone a download card for one song, they might end up downloading the whole album.”
Whether for purchase or for free, immediate downloads have certainly shifted things in the music industry. But artists in all media are making themselves seen, heard, read, and noticed online thanks to several specialized sites, most of which link up with the most popular social networks. Today’s artists certainly have a wide selection of resources with which to maximize their audience and their potential.
Creating a cyber gallery
Marilyn Dover Benson is a member of what you could easily call the “old school” art world. The local artist, originally from the U.K., prefers paint on canvas, her only tool a brush. Though her methods are nearly as old as art itself, Benson has made the step into the 21st century by creating her own website.
“I’d resisted having one, which was rather foolish,” said the painter, “and at my winery shows people kept asking me if I had a website, so I finally wised up.”
Visitors to her site, fineartbymarilyn.com, are greeted by images of Benson posing with her art, with captions underneath reading, “This painting has sold!” There’s also an audio file of Benson welcoming you and asking you to enjoy exploring the several pages of her creations.
“It has proved quite successful; I have made several sales through it,” she said, “and I find it gives me credibility. People look at you as a professional when you say you have a website.”
Traditional visual artists like Benson are finding themselves in new territory. Before the Internet, most visual artists relied on art galleries to show their work and gain exposure. But now, an artist such as Benson can operate her very own art gallery that’s open 24 hours, seven days a week, in cyberspace. And more so, the work is available the world over.
Brett C. Nance is a Righetti High School and Allan Hancock College alumnus currently living in Los Angeles. He uses various Internet sites to help self-publish his own comics through his comic book company Ed Comics, and his free web comic Man-Boys!
“It’s kind of been trial and error; Man-Boys! actually got more of a following because it was an online comic, free to read,” he said. “And because it was hosted on drunkduck.com, which is an online comic community, we were actually able to get more readers with that kind of exposure.”
Nance is honest about how the Internet has put a damper on business for printed comic books, with so much content available online for free. But he uses his free online comics, such as Man-Boys!, to draw attention to his company. These online communities, he explained, are massive, and are made up of not just observers, but other creators as well.
“I think the biggest thing the Internet has done for the art industry is on the inspiration side,” he said. “[There are] so many artists influencing different artists, and just connecting them.”
Other illustrators, like San Luis Obispo resident Irene Flores, have been using the Internet for quite some time to share their work, and to make connections with big-name companies.
“When I started working with TokyoPop in 2004, it didn’t matter where you lived as long as you had a good connection,” she said. “A few years earlier, I was wondering if I could really work in comics because you had to live in L.A. or New York where the company headquarters are.”
Flores uses her personal website, beanclamchowder.com, as a home base to sell her books and other merchandise. She also sells her books through many mainstream outlets, including amazon.com, which has brought her fans and sales in Canada, Australia, Rome, the Netherlands, Poland, and other places.
“Even if you are a freelance illustrator, the advent of e-commerce has really helped because you always have that option of selling things online and marketing yourself and getting an audience that you wouldn’t get [in traditional ways],” she said.
That’s not to say artists like Benson, Nance, and Flores can sit at home awaiting floods of incoming orders and commissions. Both Nance and Flores attend comics conventions, setting up booths and displaying their work and connecting with people, and Benson is still active producing solo and group art shows locally.
It gets social
Internet-generation artists like Nance and Flores know that online notoriety is best achieved with a multi-pronged approach—having a website to show your art, but also tapping into various forms of social media to disseminate your creations.
Both Nance and Flores have Twitter and Facebook accounts, and their respective various web portals are linked. Flores spends most of her social networking time posting to Tumblr, a popular blogging platform that allows users to share most types of media.
“I have posted certain pieces on Tumblr, and they have got upwards of 1,000 likes somewhere in a matter of hours,” she said. “It’s a really good blogging medium, and I think it’s really easy as far as keeping up an art blog.”
Some popular media sharing sites have a social aspect built in. Such is the case with YouTube, a massively famous video sharing site. Local videographer Nik Koyama was noticed in middle school for his videos of local BMX bikers posted on YouTube and linked to Facebook.
“In junior high, we were just starting to play with the social networking in different ways,” Koyama said. “Even though those were just bike videos, they landed me two commercials, a music video, and an internship.”
Koyama’s internship at The Hollywood Reporter got his foot in the door of the Los Angeles underground music scene, where he started directing, shooting, and editing music videos for groups like The Rangers. The video he shot for The Rangers has garnered nearly a million views, between the two copies of the video posted to YouTube by Koyama and the band.
“Because of The Rangers video, people have seen me all around the world, and so that has got me all kinds of weird gigs,” he said. “People message me on YouTube, wanting to send me their videos and have me edit them.”
These prospective cyber customers—people Koyama has never met in person—can actually pay him over the ’Net using Paypal, an online third-party credit/debit card payment method that includes an online account linking to a bank account. In this way, Koyama has edited videos for customers he’s never met in person.
“Once you do that business, and you have your work, it is out there,” he said. “When you have art, it markets itself; it isn’t something you have to try to sell, people want to watch it.”
The fickle side of social media, without a doubt, is the massive amount of art and information present—and constantly expanding—online. Some artists may find they’re clamoring to be noticed.
Local singer-songwriter Chris Lambert has self-produced and released seven albums, most of which are available for purchase online at Amazon, iTunes, and Bandcamp. The latter, which allows users to share and sell their music in either hard copy or digital download, is one of Lambert’s main sites, on which he features six albums, a few singles, and even a podcast. He also uses his Facebook profile to direct people to his Bandcamp site and to promote local shows.
“As an independent artist, it is really helpful in spreading the word, and things like Bandcamp help me get my music to people,” he said. “But I would say the downside is it’s seemed to have bred shorter attention spans; it’s harder to get people to pay attention to what you’ve got when everybody is promoting something.”
Facebook seems to be problematic in that regard as well, according to local photographer Alexandra Wallace. Facebook offers unlimited photo uploads and is a great way for photographers to share their work and to connect with customers directly. Wallace took advantage of the popular site when she started photography professionally.
“Everyone’s on Facebook right now, whether I like it or not, and that’s how I need to get a hold of people most of the time,” she said, “because nobody calls me, no one does that anymore, it’s only e-mails. That’s how I get most of my jobs.”
Wallace has her own blog at awphotographyblog.com, which she uses to post her work in an online portfolio. Having a digital home base outside of social media outlets such as Facebook can be helpful. Wallace’s photography has been published in several online magazines, including Vogue Italia.
“It has been an amazing way to contact people that would seem hard if you were to do it in person or by phone,” she said. “By e-mailing them, it is a direct line; I’ve had some good results.”
For any artist in the dawn of his or her career, the Internet can be a daunting realm. But the coming generation of artists truly has an opportunity and a resource of which their predecessors could barely dream.
Hedging in the hierarchy
The commercial art industry has always been dominated by its gatekeepers. Whether art galleries, publishing houses, or record companies, these institutions have served as doorways to commercial success.
But the Internet has dramatically changed that system. If you have an audience, big or small, you can directly connect with people rather than going through a large corporation.
Local singer-songwriter Jimmy Riggs moved to the Central Coast seven years ago after growing up in Michigan. About three years ago, while on break from his job at Palo Mesa Pizza, he was playing guitar and singing his songs when a customer of the pizzeria took notice. Dale Clotiaux, a local entrepreneur, was immediately grabbed by the music.
“He said to me, ‘Do you have a manager?’” Riggs said. “And I said, ‘No.’ And he said, ‘You do now!’”
Clotiaux, who has never managed a band or funded an album, immediately started making connections and seeking out the best place to get Riggs’ album recorded.
“I got on Google—I’m a Googler—and I just looked up who’s one of the best producers in Hollywood,” Clotiaux said. “I found Swinghouse Studios and the guy who produced The Fray and Aerosmith, his name is Warren Huart; he’s the man, a great producer and artist himself.”
The album, Addicted to You, is the first album from the Jimmy Riggs Band and was released on Jan. 15. Clotiaux has slammed the Internet with the album, making sure it’s available in every major cyber store, including Amazon and iTunes, and it’s even available for purchase at jimmyriggsband.com. They’re supplementing those websites with a social media presence that includes Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
Since its release a little more than a month ago, the album has garnered hundreds of likes on Facebook and even reached No. 1 in the roots/rock genre on Amazon.
“A lot of people have been putting good reviews on iTunes and comments on Facebook,” Riggs said. “It’s good, because it lets us know what people like, which songs they like, that way we know a crowd favorite when we go out.”
While Clotiaux mans the computer, Riggs does his part by performing live wherever he can, at local songwriter showcases, open mic nights, and other concerts.
“Even though you have an album that’s on the Internet, you still have to get out there and play,” Riggs said. “You still have to go out there and do things manually, but you have access to a bigger audience, and it’s much faster.”
The duo started Twelve Pack Records, their own album label, sealing the deal as independent and self-produced. And they aren’t slowing down; Clotiaux is busy online trying to get bigger and better gigs for Riggs and his band. He uses websites like Reverbnation and Sonicbids, both of which have “gig finder” aspects, where artists can bid on prospective jobs and make connections with venues. He’s also working on booking the Jimmy Riggs Band at international venues.
“I just sent a bunch of press kits down to Australia,” Clotiaux said. “As long as they will have us, we are willing and able. We will go anywhere. It’s opened the world up!”
Another day, another gigabyte
More status updates, tweets, Tumblr posts, and YouTube videos are uploaded in one day than people can absorb, with websites and technology working to accommodate the constant need for more computing power and faster upload speeds.
The continually decreasing cost of bandwidth has allowed many artists to provide a more intimate view of their art. Visual artists like Flores and Nance are able to give more in-depth looks into their art and processes by sharing selections from their sketchbooks.
“It’s kind of an intimate thing because you are in the middle of the process of doing something,” Flores said, “and sketches are pretty loose, and there is an energy that people like about them—sometimes more than the finished piece.”
Sketches—things that usually only get enjoyed by artists’ friends and family—are now shared online. Artists, both unknown and renown, are sharing this bare-bones side of themselves.
“That’s been a really cool thing,” Nance said. “The contemporary artists that inspire me the most, I love looking at their processes, what goes into developing their characters.”
Many musicians mimic this sketchbook concept, posting impromptu YouTube videos of newly written songs. The settings for such videos can be as simple as a bedroom, park, or even a bathroom. The Jimmy Riggs Band YouTube page features several videos of Riggs performing solo.
“We are on YouTube, too. We are hammering on everything we can get on,” Clotiaux said. “It is amazing how many sites there are on music, and we are trying to get on all of them.”
Many performing artists, including Lambert, share more than just their for-profit albums in the form of podcasts—essentially free online radio shows. In this way, an audience can get to know an artist personally at no charge, thus encouraging more downloads and patronage.
More than anything, the Internet is giving people more choices in the art they consume. Finding an audience isn’t always easy, but the Internet does serve as a historical record of sorts. As long as artists continue to post art and keep websites updated, the content will always be available for people to find and enjoy.
“You can speed up time on the Internet,” Koyama said. “You can hit up a number of people on the Internet that someone else might take 10 years to hit up.”
Koyama, who just turned 18, is already at the point in his business where he’s turning down jobs, choosing gigs he would rather work over ones he wouldn’t want to handle.
“You have to capitalize on resources, and a lot of people don’t see those resources,” he said. “If you don’t see the Internet as a tool, then you won’t use it as a tool.”
Arts Editor Joe Payne can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.