Lainey Schooltree, a very thoughtful (and funny) composer, producer, and performer of a recent rock opera hit Heterotopia, was invited to participate in a panel discussion about Arts, Culture, and Community. Unfortunately Schooltree was ill and unable to join the live panel discussion on May 11, 2017. Not wanting to miss out on her thoughts about what enables and blocks her work as a creator, I asked her a few questions by email.
What do you do and hope to do with your artfosrm/s? Who is your community currently? And who are you wanting to reach (in terms of having an impact in some way)?
I’m a musician, producer and performer who has in recent years become interested in storytelling as a synthesis of various arts (constructing a strong story, crafting its telling through music and lyrics, creating an immersive live presentation through sound, light, and projected images), which I attempted to do in a rock opera called Heterotopia that I wrote for my art rock band Schooltree. My community locally is a mix of performance artists, musicians, comedians, and burlesque artists, all of whom I’ve been able to connect with across years of performing in Boston both as vaudeville entertainer and rock musician. I’m interested in reaching anyone who desires substance in an age in which it’s harder and harder to find, those who seek out the kind of work that you can dive into and find new things with each listen. One group I’m interested in connecting with is young people – they especially have a barrier to seeing Heterotopia live, due to the emphasis on alcohol in the medium and larger venues around Boston.
Regarding crowdfunding for Heterotopia, what were some transferable learnings? it was successful, why? at what cost? Is this something you would do again? recommend to others? and with what caveats? Did you have alternative funding ideas that did not pan out or seemed inaccessible?
I attribute some of the success of the campaign to my unwillingness to accept any other result, mainly because I didn’t feel there were any other options for the funding the project needed for completion. It was sort of a leap and the net will appear thing; I put all of my savings into the making of the album and ended up borrowing money after that, and it still wasn’t enough, mainly because as we worked on it our level of investment (personally, financially, time-wise) and the standard we wanted for it became higher and higher. There were no alternatives in terms of available funds at the time, though, so it had to be done.
I realized a day or so after launching the campaign just how (possibly overly) ambitious the goal of 18k was, and I panicked. I spent every minute of those 30 days emailing everyone I knew personally, reaching out to anyone who ever expressed an interest in supporting my endeavors, coming up with incentives, hitting social media. I got lucky and a friend with wide social media reach helped me out in the 11th hour (I didn’t want to ask for help but eventually I sucked it up).
To be frank, I have quite mixed feelings about crowdfunding. I’m glad that it’s available – otherwise this project would not have been funded to the degree necessary for the level of quality we felt it required. Independent musicians’ communities/fans have basically become their record labels, and that allows for more career flexibility and creative freedom. But asking people for money is hard, and humbling, in a field that is already pretty humbling on a day to day basis. And the time spent raising the money, managing it, creating and shipping rewards (all while you’re putting your all into the actual project you’re trying to fund) amounts to a full time job. It’s not “free money,” by any means. My advice to others venturing into crowdfunding for the first time is to take the time to fully assess a realistic goal and be prepared to pull out every stop to meet it. Then be prepared to work hard to both complete your project and keep your backers happy.
What gets in the way of you being able to create and do all that you want to do? What supports, legislation, funding sources, training, connections to other people/communities, market, compensation would enable you to do all that you want/imagine?
Paying bills, being organized enough to pay bills, even kickstarter rewards fulfillment (which have been taking up most of my time since the album was released). Project management also takes up a lot of time that I’d prefer to be writing. Schooltree was awarded a Live Arts Boston grant for our Heterotopia live show, which enabled me to hire people and raise the production value of the show substantially. That kind of funding means the difference between one person running herself into the ground trying to do everything and being able to manage a staff with the expertise and resources to spread out tasks across departments.
So what do artists need to flourish?
Sadly, money seems like the main thing. Money for living expenses, space, equipment, access to potential fans/consumers through distribution and publicity outreach. Within the current capitalist framework that is the main way to access these things.