In the past month, I've written about Creative Tribalism both in Genre Hacks and in Moviemaker Magazine, and I suggested that 21st century artists need to position themselves at the center of concentric circles of 30-100 people. This digital tribe becomes the reliable, long-term source of creative fulfillment and spiritual meaning regardless of whether the writer, actor, or musician makes it big.
But how do we form these circles of deeply engaged tribespeople?
It's not easy. American consumers of art and entertainment are passive. They buy books, movie tickets, and downloads only when prompted by multimillion-dollar corporate marketing campaigns. They support the work of superstars with whom they will never interact. Online they are distracted by billions of competing memes, messages, and media-motes - a cacophony of voices all screaming over one another, "Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!" The biggest obstacle in building an audience is getting anyone to pay attention.
The solution simply can't be more self-promotion, dogged networking and inbound marketing. If we want our audiences to spend a larger slice of their entertainment budget on small artists with whom they can have a direct relationship, we have to take a break from our relentless drive to be the center-of-attention.
Leading by example, we must become supportive and engaged tribespeople in circles other than our own. As artists we must, first and foremost, show people what it means to be a patron.
A patron is neither a consumer of a product, nor a supporter of a cause, but rather someone who endorses and funds the work of an individual artist. A patron spends $10 on a download (A book, a song, a movie, whatever) not necessarily for the product itself, but to directly support the people who made it. What they get for their money is a relationship to the work and to the artists they admire.
Sadly, too many writers, filmmakers, and musicians (and I include myself in this criticism) busily ignore the work of other artists who desperately need their support. We all need to be better models of the kind of audience we want to attract for our own work.
Look around and ask yourself, whose work deserves wider notice? Whose project needs your collaboration and endorsement? Whose Kickstarter campaign have you promoted other than your own? How many reviews of festival films or web series have you written just to trumpet the achievement of the people who made them? Do you spend time reading rough drafts, watching rough-cuts, and critiquing one-sheets so that you can offer your free advice and feedback?
How often to you post, tweet, comment, and blog about the creative work of others?
Being a patron means taking a break from writing your TV pilot, editing your micro-budget feature, or promoting your next gig. It means looking beyond yourself as the center of the creative universe. It means paying attention and reaching out. This is what we want our collaborators and audiences to do, so we should start by doing it ourselves.
Perhaps I'm writing this very article to challenge myself to practice what I preach: By being better tribespeople we take the first step in forming tribes of our own.