Friday, June 4, 2010

Collaborating on "Creative Things"

The post below was originally the last half of this post, The Rise of the "Creative Thing," but to keep the amount of reading to a manageable level, I moved it into its own post.


Of the three ways to create multimedia productions (do it yourself, hire someone, or collaborate) collaboration is the most complex because establishing how everyone gets paid can be tricky. Payment can be based on:

  • everyone's individual contribution, or
  • an equal distribution, no matter who does what, or
  • an unequal distribution based on what everyone brings to the table in terms power/influence/prestige.

  • Denver-based John Common reached out to artists while working on his most recent album. They were invited to decorate wooden boxes which, in addition to serving as fancy CD packages, would be displayed and sold in an art gallery. The band, the artist, and the gallery would each share equally from the sale.
    Completed boxes will be returned to the Bailey/Common team where they will be prepared for exhibition/sale. All boxes will be exhibited from July 9 -17 at Abecedarian Gallery. Base prices for each artwork will be mutually agreed on by the artist and Bailey/Common team. Once sold each artist receives 35% of the sale price, along with a copy of the new CD. Common Box Project: Prospectus
    Amanda Palmer has done multiple collaborations. In most cases she hasn't said who gets paid what, but she did go on record in this case, involving a troupe of performance artists who went on tour with her.
    Lisa: Is it true The Danger Ensemble perform with you for free?

    Amanda: I can’t afford to pay them, so we have been touring for five months cutting costs wherever we can, staying with fans and handing out donation baskets after the show, sometimes the fans even bring food in. This system has been working well, if it didn’t they wouldn’t be here, so far they have been making more money from tips than their regular jobs. "Who Killed Amanda Palmer? An Interview with the Queen of Punk Cabaret," LifeMusicMedia, 2/26/09.
    Here is what she says in general about collaborations.
    Having done a long career with the Dresden Dolls and a couple of years with a solo career, I've really been able to divine what's important to me. And it's not money. It's not commercial success. What I really want to do is make art with my friends. And if possible make people happy by doing that. ...

    That being said, I've also seen enough friendships destroyed by creative collaboration that you have to choose very carefully what you're doing and who you're doing it with. There was once in this collaboration -- not creatively, because we work creatively and business-wise really well together -- but when it got to the point that some people got upset about the project, that really strained our relationship. Because all of a sudden -- our intentions are completely good, we were loving our recording and loving planning our tour and playing this wonderful game with our fans. But as soon as critics from the outside came and rained on our parade, we had different recactions to it. And that was a challenge for us. We're wise enough people and good enough friends that it only lasted a day. "Interview: Amanda Palmer on Neil Gaiman, Frances Bean Cobain, and why her people think Evelyn Evelyn is career suicide," The Phoenix, 4/12/10.
    Denver-based photographer Lucia De Giovanni told me her collaborations are often friend-based projects as well.
    It's usually a mutual interest - a lot of friendships are born out of photoshoots for which I get approached, and then people get interested in what else I have cooking up and start collaborating, usually over dinner or drinks! I would say that people are very respectful of certain artistic boundaries - for example, I usually have carte blanche for a photoshoot, but I don't think of that as my project, it's something I do to promote them. And vice versa - when I select music for a slideshow, it's certainly a collaborative project, but the composer is providing a piece of the big project... they're a part of it, under my umbrella. And it works because we're all friends and supportive of each other's creative outlets - I don't know if it would have the same "feel" if we didn't know each other. Then, I guess, it reverts to a service provider, you hire me. But that doesn't mean it's not their project as well, they're a HUGE part of it... it works because creatively we are on the same wave length.
    And here is what David Byrne has to say on collaborations.
    I have done a number of collaborations myself – with designers, other musicians, theatre directors and choreographers. It’s always a little bit different one project from another, but the collaborative process has certain similarities. I find someone has to be boss. Though we might claim open source, no censorship and willingness to listen, veto power resides somewhere, and has to be acknowledged as such. Someone, as subtly as possible, has to keep things on track and focused. There are ways to do this that are dictatorial and other ways that are benign, subtle, almost invisible – but the guiding hand needs to be there. In my experience I sometimes choose to defer to the other collaborator, and I make that clear from the start; other times it’s the other way around. "Interview: Bruce Mau and David Byrne," Contemporary, Issue #69, 2004.
    Here are three resources which might be of use if you are thinking of collaborations.

  • Building a Collaborative Entertainment Property
  • Small-Scale Network Modeling for Interdisciplinary Art Collaborations (Powerpoint presentation)
  • Dividing Ownership in a Group Project (Added 10/4/10.)

  • Palmer's latest project, Evelyn Evelyn, is also a collaboration.
    “It was really a wonderful, true collaboration,” Palmer says of Evelyn Evelyn’s origins, on the line from a Prague tour stop. “Jason [Webley] and I, looking back on having written some of these songs two years ago, can’t remember who did what. We can’t remember who wrote which line, who came up with which melody idea. And I think that’s actually a really good sign that our minds really melded during the songwriting process.

    “It was like playing a really manic game of songwriter Ping-Pong,” she continues, “where one of us would come up with a concept and we would just bat ideas back and forth over Thai food, cracking each other up. It’s so funny—you can come up with all sorts of artsy, highfalutin ideas and reasons why we did this project, but really, we just wanted to hang out together.” "Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley make Evelyn Evelyn twice as fun,", 5/13/10.
    I think it’s important to point at that this record never had a “message”. But in that Malcolm McLuhan way, the record itself is the message. We are two artists who love games, theater and dark humor. In giving ourselves permission to do a project this ridiculous, we’re probably saying something that we’ve never said with our more self-serious solo records. "An interview with Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley on Evelyn Evelyn," NewBeats, 5/10/10.
    In addition to the album, there will be a graphic novel, a concept that has been embraced by other musicians as well.
    Is the pairing up of the graphic novel and the album the future? Palmer isn’t so sure. “As artists are getting cleverer about capitalising on their releases, some will do some groundbreaking stuff with graphic novels. But for others, it won’t make sense. Sure you may see the pop star du jour putting one out but that doesn’t mean it’s this great new thing. I’d love to read what a brilliant mind like Robyn Hitchcock would do in the genre but, to be honest, I don’t know if I’d want to see the Beyonce graphic novel.” "Pop stars branch out into graphic novels," Financial Times, 4/16/10.
    Cynthia Von Buhler, who will do the artwork for the Evelyn Evelyn graphic novel, is herself a multimedia artist and frequent collaborator.
    Cynthia von Buhler is an internationally exhibiting visual artist, illustrator, children's book author, and performer living in New York City. Von Buhler uses traditional as well as unconventional media: painting, sculpture, performance, video projection, installation, living fauna, collage, photography, human detritus, and electronic audio.

    ... Von Buhler's paintings have appeared in more than a thousand magazines, books, publications, billboards, and CDs. ...

    Von Buhler is also involved in the music industry and performance art, and has performed at museums, galleries, and nightclubs in major cities around the country. Von Buhler's seminal, underground performance troupe, “Women of Sodom” won a Best Music Poll Award from The Boston Phoenix and paved the way for the revival of burlesque and cabaret acts in Boston such as the Dresden Dolls. ... Von Buhler also formed and managed the band Splashdown, who were for a time signed to Capitol Records. She also co-owned Castle von Buhler Records with her ex-husband and Splashdown member, Adam Buhler and Clifford Stoltze. Castle von Buhler released a series of three art and music CD compilations which won many art and design awards. The Curriculum Vitae of Von Buhler
    Some of her projects are more lucrative than others.
    Cynthia von Buhler entered the field in the mid-1980s but found it slow going at first. In fact, she contemplated being a stripper so she could work on illustrations during the day. “I got two jobs my first year, but then it picked up and I quit my day job.

    ... "Through the years, I have tried other fields like band management, record label ownership, and running my own band, and in all I was disadvantaged due to my sex, but in illustration I have always felt that it doesn’t matter what I look like and it doesn’t matter that I’m a woman.” "What Inequality?" Step Inside Design, Nov/Dec 2005.
    I’m getting royalties from my books now and it is a nice surprise to receive unexpected money in the mail. It isn’t enough to live on yet but I’m working on it. I do fine art, illustration and run my own gallery/event space so I make my money from various sources. I see my book royalties as my retirement fund. "Getting Published—Myth or Reality?" Communication Arts, 7/5/07.
    I have found nothing specific about how she gets paid on her collaborations, but I did find this, which suggests she doesn't expect everything to make money.
    Illustration is her bread and butter; von Buhler's works have appeared in The New Yorker and Rolling Stone, Atlantic Monthly, and Vogue, on the cover of the Juilliard String Quartet's ''Intimate Letters'' CD, and in countless periodicals. But her immediate focus is on creating an exhibition space for ''artists who want to do things that aren't market-driven, that aren't necessarily for sale, that are cutting-edge. Art that you probably wouldn't want to put in your house but is really interesting to view, and opens your mind to new ideas.'' "Original Cynthia." Boston Globe, 3/30/2000.
    Another musician/designer is Nathan Johnson. He does film scores, produces visual art, and is a member of a design studio. He also created The Cinematic Underground, a performance ensemble, which included multiple siblings and a sister-in-law.
    Imagine this: a film composer, a classically-trained piano instructor, a log-cabin builder, a high-school student, a dancer, a grade-school teacher, an actor, an architect, a struggling novelist, an illustrator and a landscape gardener all move together under one Boston roof. "Interview w/ The Cinematic Underground," Sounds Good, 11/9/05.
    Their big project was Annasthesia.
    We wrote basically a literal concept narrative album, which is quite different from your standard concept album because . . . it actually is a literal story with exterior characters. It's called Annasthesia. The story is about love and escape and risk. And kind of the choice you make that either has to do with numbing yourself or engaging with life . . . it's sort of an anti-love story, and that's the album we're touring. . . The album comes with a 24 page color graphic novella that my brother Zach did all the illustrations for. So you actually read it like a comic book as you listen to the album. And what we're doing this year is we're taking that and putting it on the stage, so the show becomes a mash-up between a concert and a graphic novel, and kind of a weird narrative storytelling form.

    It's not acting 'as such,' but I'm in character on the show and my sister is as well . . . So the way that we do it is we actually play all the songs live, but we project all of the graphic novel onto the stage on this big screen behind us. I'm kind of the [lead character.] So it's not acting in the sense that . . . well, we don't have lines but we definitely perform it as an abstract theater piece, a concert, and a comic book. It's really fun.

    The thing that really drives it is the storytelling aspect of it. And that's something that I think is apparent in the way we made the album. We wrote the story before the music. I recorded it in my brother's bedroom in my parents' house. We had these massive charts up all over the wall where I was madly working out how to structure this story and what was drawn. That really laid the groundwork and the restrictions for the music. The music came out of that and filled the different parts we needed in the story. "Interview w/ The Cinematic Underground," Sounds Good, 11/9/05.
    The Past, Present, and Future of "The Creative Thing" Musical Production

    Creating a story and then writing music to fit has long been part of opera, operettas, and musical theater. And perhaps that's the way it should be done. Green Day's American Idiot was turned into a musical after the fact. But as one critic pointed out, you'll get a more cohesive production if you coordinate a story with the songs from the beginning.
    ... the qualities that can make an indie-rock album so compelling — attitude, mood, grit — are probably not going to be able to sustain a theatrical journey. Drama needs more connective tissue. "Critic's Notebook: 'American Idiot' and the fate of the contemporary musical," Los Angeles Times, 5/20/10.
    Aside from the fact that most bands don't have the talent to write a rock musical/opera, there are at least two challenges which may limit the popularity of this format: not all fans want to follow a linear story line at a concert and not all music venues can accommodate a stage production.

    Still, Byrne's latest release, Here Lies Love, about Imelda Marcos, appears to be headed that direction.
    The package contains a small illustrated book, with notes and lyrics by Byrne, plus an additional DVD of documentary footage. If he can secure the financial backing, Byrne hopes to present this in future as a sort of club-based musical.

    “Some people may feel it’s a bit too close to Evita, but I’ve made a point not to see that show, so I don’t really know,” says Byrne. In truth, he says, he’s not that keen on straight musicals, but he accepts that this is what Here Lies Love will probably end up being. He prefers to see it as a drama set to music, a portrait of a flawed and needy attention-seeker. "Imelda Marcos gets the Evita treatment," Times Online, 2/21/10.
    To put today's musical into context, here's a good overview of music combined with theater down through the ages.

    And for fun, here's a big list of concept albums, the vast majority of which will never be turned into musical theater or movies.

    At this point, I'd like to expand into a discussion of transmedia, but I'll save that for the next blog post: An Overview of Transmedia

    More Examples of Multimedia Projects or Collectives that Involve Music

  • Ride, Rise, Roar
    The songwriter essentially invited three choreographers to wrap him up within their sometimes faux-naive, sometimes sexy, often transfixing compositions, and even fans who hang on [David] Byrne's every gesture may have a hard time keeping their attention off the dancers who leap over him, dart between him and his microphone, coast by him on office chairs and cavort abstractly around the stage.

    Color performance footage is intercut with black-and-white behind-the-scenes material that offers some insight into the choreographers' creative agendas and hints at the collaborative process that led to the latest Byrne/Eno record, "Everything That Happens Will Happen Today." "Ride, Rise, Roar," The Hollywood Reporter, 3/16/10.
  • 77 Million Paintings
    Hard to say what this Brian Eno invention is. Part book, part screen saver, part gallery painting, part DVD video, part music, part software. It slices and dices your perceptions! The accompanying book in this package makes it clear that this an art piece that is normally exhibited in a large room. Here it comes disguised as DVD that you load onto your computer (Windows or Mac). "Cool Tools: 77 Million Paintings,", 12/19/06.
  • Ghostly International
    Ghostly International is a multi-platform cultural curator, a tightly knit aesthetic universe fulfilling the roles of art gallery, design house, clothing designer, technology innovator, music-publishing company—and, yes, record label—in one. In the years since its birth in 1999, Ghostly has grown from a boutique label known for its experimental-pop and -techno acumen to an internationally recognized platform for the work of the world's best visual artists, designers, technologists, and musicians.
  • Alligator Mouth Improv
    Drawing on theater, movement, vocals, music, storytelling, and video, and using audience stories, themes and ideas as inspiration, we offer one-of-a-kind performances created in the moment.
  • Suzanne Lainson
    @slainson on Twitter

    UPDATE 6/6/10

  • Here's a very good overview of how new American musicals are differing from older forms and the fact that traditional forms still sell better. My take is that the newer forms are going to be more popular with audiences that never attend Broadway-style shows. That means reaching those audiences elsewhere. But to do that means staging productions which are much cheaper to produce and can be offered in a bigger variety of venues. "New York 2010: Out with the old American musical"

  • And here's a piece on Jim Lewis, who collaborated on Fela!, one of those new musicals.
    The idea that [choreographer Bill T. Jones] and I could create a new kind of show that would appeal to a really diverse audience, more accustomed to MTV than a well-made play, fueled our work over the next five years. How could something closer to the energy of a concert also tell a story and inspire young people to strive to change the world? ...

    ... our dreams of that alternate space were replaced by a new reality: to do the show we’d created would cost too much to run anywhere but Broadway. "Fela! Scribe Jim Lewis on the Show's Wild Ride to 11 Tony Nominations,", 5/25/10.
  • Here's an essay that discusses the Internet and collaboration and how "art" is no longer a fixed object anymore.
    ... where art is concerned the single most important effect of Wiki-culture may be what it portends for the very idea of a tangible art object like a book or painting and what this would portend for industries dedicated to art. Take the Johnny Cash Project again. Like much Wiki-Art, it is organic and ever-changing. The work may reside on the Internet, but, in truth, there is no work — no single art object. It is an ongoing, dynamic series, potentially infinite. "Technology changes how art is created and perceived," LA Times, 6/6/10.
  • UPDATE 6/13/10
    An exploration of where today's music is headed.
    Broadway rocks, conclude The Times' theater and pop critics

    UPDATE 6/15/10
    I had been waiting for more information about this project before posting it, and now I have it. What looked like a good music/graphic novel/theater presentation isn't.
    Gorillaz' planned opera with Watchmen and V For Vendetta creator Alan Moore has been ditched....

    Going on to explain he had already "wrote a third of it", the writer added that "nobody had done anything else upon the opera" and that other commitments from both parties had decided the fate of the collaboration.

    "I had too many commitments as well," Moore admitted. "And since I had never received any money or a contract, I was alright saying, 'Yeah, I'm pulling out of this. You can do your own opera about Dr Dee, I don't own Dr Dee, I don't own the concept of opera'." "Gorillaz ditch opera project with 'Watchman''s Alan Moore," NME.COM, 6/14/10.
    UPDATE 6/21/10
    Here's another resource on collaborative projects.
    Co-creating Value through Collaborative Entertainment

    UPDATE 6/27/10
    Here's a story about Cirque du Soleil's attempt at creating a scripted show which didn't fare well.
    The show struck executives as a little of everything (vaudeville, theater, clowning, acrobatics) but neither entrancing nor memorable by the standards of Cirque — whose popular shows include “Ka” (a gravity-defying production, inspired by martial arts performers) and “O” (a water show). ...

    “The reality is, people have very specific expectations with Cirque shows, and ‘Banana Shpeel’ turned out to be neither fish nor fowl — neither circus act nor theatrical vaudeville entertainment,” [Paul Binder, the founding artistic director of Big Apple Circus] said. “So I think it was probably difficult to get a large audience excited about a show when many didn’t really understand what it was.” "When Cirque du Soleil Met Theater - ‘Shpeel’ Failure," New York Times, 6/26/10.


    1. Suzanne

      You are a godess! I believe you actually get where the creation of music is going. "It's often more fun to be the creator than to be the fan" The technology is getting to the point were anyone can create muisc and video with ease. Mix that with colaboration and everyone gets to be the musician.


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    3. Suzanne,

      Well researched and curated! Wow, thank you so much for writing this. Very helpful and inspiring.


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