9 Lessons Artist-prenuers Can Learn from Oprah & Revolva

Posted on November 19, 2014 by

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Oprah and Revolva LessonsIf you somehow missed, it, Revolva was recently asked to donate her performance skills to the local stop on Oprah’s new tour, The Life you Want. The irony is palpable.

First, I want to say that I consider Revolva an incredible artist and I think her choice to turn down Oprah was not only appropriate for her, but something I would have opted for myself were I in her position.

Moreover, I’m really saddened at Oprah’s staff, if not Oprah herself.

Over the past few days, there’s been a lot of heartfelt, passionate responses from the community and Revolva’s article went fairly viral with nearly 160,000 views in the first day. Revolva has already gotten coverage in Jezebel, the Daily Caller, Electron Pencil, the Bold Italic, Madame Noire and today she will be appearing on TMZ (about 32:00 minutes in on this episode — with a few clips from the expo and everything!).

I think it’s fantastic to get Revolva’s message out there, because I too want to live in a world where people who can afford to pay don’t ask people to work for free.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the world in which we currently live. So while we can sit here feeling inspired by the brave and bold choice Revolva made to turn down such a big name, there’s also an opportunity for us to analyze what happened, create a blueprint for learning and educate other’s who might model the effective lessons both Revolva and Oprah offer in this interaction.

With that, I give you 9 Lessons Artist-prenerus can Learn from Oprah and Revolva

Employ individuals aligned with your message and vision.

Oprah and Revolva LessonsI’m so sad to see Oprah, a woman I have long respected, engaging in business practices like this. If you’re running a tour about creating the life you want to lead and encouraging people to take risks in which to do that, doesn’t it make sense to actually offer the people with whom you work positive reinforcement, like, say, a paycheck?

Now I can easily understand someone saying, “Well, Oprah didn’t make the phone call and she isn’t the one engaging in these activities.”

I’m sure she has a billion minions who do things for her but in my mind, that doesn’t quite excuse the fact that her/their policy is so cheap and obviously uncaring of our wallets.

Though Oprah has no obligation to care about our wallets, she is choosing to employ people and they are people who would serve her image more effectively if they represent her brand in a way that is consistent with her purported message. It is my belief as a conscious capitalist, Oprah most certainly is to blame for that, at least in part.

It is my hope that what really happened is she was unaware these practices were going on and is as dumbfounded and challenged by it as we are and will soon make it right.

What I’m left with on a practical level is some great business coaching: ensure the people who are representing my brand and message are truly people with whom I wish to be aligned and representing my brand congruently.

Shrewd business owners make more money.

Oprah and Revolva LessonsWe can easily look at both ladies for examples of how being shrewd helped them make more money. In Revolva’s case, not taking a gig which yielded a net loss certainly helps her pay rent better. It may not garner more revenue, but it certainly is better than losing money to work.

Then there’s Oprah’s side of the equation…

Let’s talk about profit for a second. I can’t for the life of me imagine what would motivate an individual to amass multiple billions of dollars and continue to amass more through tours of this nature, only to turn around and be so incredibly cheap. I have long imagined having substantial wealth — more so than my $165,000 paycheck in my former corporate career — but never to this degree and always with the intent of building spaces in which to commune with fire, flow and our own sense of the practice. I’m pretty sure a few less decimal places of money would be just fine for me — probably just about anyone reading this article, in fact.

In thinking about that, I have to wonder about the sort of individual Oprah really is. What is her psychology that drives her to make more? And this isn’t just about Oprah, of course, it’s about the 1% and others like that who have tremendous wealth and live comfortably knowing there are people like us who have given up everything to live a life in service of authenticity, passion and purpose who seemingly in their mind deserve no pay.  Perhaps they don’t value art, but this isn’t just about artists. Because as much as we may want to bitch about being starving artists, we’re relatively well off compared to the truly impoverished living on the street, dealing with addiction, assault and lack of basic resources like food, water, clothing, shelter and a place to take a shit.

In the end, I’m left with the conclusion that Oprah is a shrewd woman. While it may be showing up in a decidedly selfish and ostentatious manner which I don’t care for myself, whatever she did was effective in helping her amass her billions.

Back to this specific instance, while Oprah’s people may be engaging in what some have called “horrible” actions, it is also a shrewd business move to trade entrance to an event in lieu of cash payment. Furthermore, just as we might shop around for a mechanic to fix our car or the cheapest place to buy the new electronics device, why wouldn’t Harpo?

Consider the person booking Revolva, a caricature of the prospects with whom we interact all the time.

He’s likely pretty uneducated about what we do and before talking with Revolva, maybe never have known people made a living spinning things. As an ignorant individulal who can’t differentiate a world class artist like Revolva from a hobbyist that just started without seeing them side-by-side and, more likely, hasn’t even considered that there is a difference between the caliber of these two artists, would he even bother to care who they book if it costs less money and therefore yields more profit?

Business is business.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 11.51.50 AMPart of being shrewd is recognizing that business transactions are business transactions and they often have little room for emotions. That can be rough on us artist types whose work fundamentally calls for the exploration of our feelings in profoud ways, at least if we want to give our all to create a moving performance.

How then do we protect ourselves from this ostentatious example of the 1% just doing their thing?

If you haven’t read it, I strongly suggest the fabulously easy to understand and concise book, The Four Agreements, whose message is summed up in this image. Especially relevant in this context is Don’t take anything personally.

This can sometimes be tough, but it’s also a very necessary step for each of us artist-preneurs if we want to transcend poverty. This world demands that we step up into being better business people and this one piece of coaching can offer so much emotional freedom as we move through the ever so ignorant world around us.

Another way of saying this same message is develop a thicker skin. Which ever way you relate to it, I’ve found this is a necessary aspect of running a business, particularly one where rejection is a regular part of the process. Very few artists I know have a booking rate higher than 50% for gigs and often get so many inquiries that are so absurd they spend more time educating prospects than booking gigs. I know that’s happened for me. I feel like things are great if I’m booking more than 20% of the inquiries I get. That means the other 80% of the time I have to be open to rejection so this mindset helps get through the process of negotiations with less self doubt and less emotional upset.

Don’t ask, don’t get.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 11.52.00 AMAs I age I become increasingly aware of how important it is to ask for what we want. It’s hard to get what we’re looking for from others without their understanding of our needs and desires. Unless we happen to be dealing with an unusually large amount of telepathic individuals, the best way to ensure people understand our needs is through explicit requests. Consider a misunderstanding you had with a friend where simply asking for what you want might have prevented hurt feelings or some other negative outcome. It’s a natural part of interpersonal flow, best as I can tell.

When we’re making requests, it’s also important to acknowledge — at least to ourselves and often to the other person — that the person to whom the question is posed has a right to say either yes or no. As long as we remain present with that mindset, rather than making requests as hidden demands we expect to be fulfilled, we have a fantastic tool at our disposal to improve relating.

This is also true in business and I think it’s fantastic that Revolva asked for more compensaton than the ticket and even managed to get them to agree to some amount for transportation.

Of course the flip side of this empowering perspective is that if we have the right to ask questions, then others also have that same right. Sadly, that all too often includes making requests we might think are absurd.

And that’s where things get a bit dicey in this situation. While I can sit here as an astute business owner and acknolwedge the shrewdness of Oprah’s team; defend their right to ask an artist to donate their time; and apply the idea of don’t ask, don’t get to them, I also think as individuals we are well served to consider the value of asking the question and what message asking really conveys.

It’s a different thing for a person who runs a non profit in service of something Kari is actively engaged in supporting (say a 1 Billion Rising fund raiser) than it is for a multi-billionaire’s team to ask Revolva to work for nothing.

Context is relevant.

Oprah and Revolva LessonsI think it’s incredibly important to point out a few facts: Even though local artists had contacted Harpo about performing and in response they added a local stage, they still took the time to call around and find other artists to whom they offered this opportuniy.

While Revolva is busy asking this question, whose answer we can’t enforce:

Should ANY event charging that much for tickets offer people the “opportunity” to donate free skills?

I think the better question as artist-preneurs is this question:

How do we leverage opportunities the best we can when they come along?

Revolva made her choice and it’s worked out brilliantly for her — I’m sure the exposure alone is a phenomenal boon — certainy to her blog readership if nothing else. And I do think her question has merit in the realm of philosophical and moral dialogue about our social contract and all that other fancy post modern stuff that inspires social activists.

At the same time, sitting there and complaining about Oprah’s right to ask people to work for “free” is about as effective at making money as watching grass grow — and I don’t mean the kind that’s getting legalized.

If you want to make money as a performance artist, focus on the money making aspect of the work, not the vast inequity that will continue to plague us. Through your actions leverage what you can get rather than not seeing what is possible.

Because no, I don’t think businesses who can afford to “should” be offering artists the opportnity to perform without compensation.

Except they didn’t ask her to work for nothing…

Creative compensation counts.

Oprah and Revolva LessonsI have worked in situations where I was attending an event and part of the compensation was to get a ticket to the event. I have often found you can ask for more than just one ticket. If they are willing to give one — and especially if they are offering it proactively — that often leaves room for negotiation of more than one ticket.

Even still, they actually offered one ticket and then also offered a travel stipend so to say they were offering no compensation is not quite accurate. Even at the $99 tier, that’s still more pay than some artists get for performance.

Clearly though, this was not valuable to Revolva, or at least, not valuable enough to inspire her to take the gig.

Value is subjective.

Oprah and Revolva LessonsIs a ticket to an event that you may not want to go to valuable? If you can sell it for cash or have someone else use it and trade that for even a portion of the face value of the ticket holds, it actually will help pay rent so in that instance, it may have more universal value.

Someone suggested on line that when you get a service done, you then pay for the service. That’s definitely partly true and also, not complete.

Our (US) economy is more about “value for value” exchange than “you work, I pay you” exchanges. For example, your friends helped you move and you buy them a pizza and beer or something. Or maybe you commit to helping them move the next time they move. No cash was exchanged for the service offered, yet their was an exchange. Your friend comes over to help you put together your new Ikea furniture and you cook your friend dinner. Still no cash and yet, still an exchange.

Presently, money is what we use on a societal level to denote “stored value” but it certainly isn’t the only thing that has value, particularly because what holds value to you may be (and likely is) different than what holds value for other people.

If you have an apple tree, you may not want a bunch of apples and getting a bushel more may be wasteful. But if someone else has an orange tree, the apples may hold a lot more value to them than you.

Tickets to enter the event is definitely payment, it’s just not cash.

I would argue that experience is also a form of payment — in fact, nothing on the planet that I’ve found replaces it. For most artists, it isn’t every day they get an opportunity to perform in front of such a big crowd outside a big arena… also valuable to some. Personally, I think saying you worked for Oprah on your resume is definitely valuable to future prospects as social proof.

None of that is about exposure at all. Those are actual things you get as a result of your work — value for value exchange.

For the people who took this gig, they did get (acceptable for them) remuneration for their contribution or else why would they have done it? No one forced them to perform and from what Revolva reported, Harpo had no problem filling the stage without paying her.

If we considered this differently I’d ask you this: can you honestly tell me if you were 22 and just breaking out as a performer (and you liked Oprah) you wouldn’t shit your pants with joy for this opportunity?

Opportunity is relative to where you’re at, what you want, how you perceive things and what is acceptable for you. That is not a universal standard.

Make exposure valuable.

Oprah and Revolva LessonsAs another colleague of mine, Hoopalicious, posted this morning:

I think the problem is the word “exposure” has become a holographic carrot that cheap event producers dangle to get you for free. So maybe it’s just that the conversation needs to change.

I couldn’t agree more. As business people, this is all about shrewdly negotiating exposure to actually mean something valuable rather than a word thrown around as lip service. That includes getting it written in your contract so you actually get that compensation.

Here are a few ways to make exposure mean something to you:

  • explicitly request a link back on a fixed site
  • on things like a flyer or Facebook event also request a written URL
  • ask for a link back on any videos they publish publicly on YouTube or Vimeo as well as a credit in the video itself
  • ask for more than they give you — remember, Don’t ask, don’t get. You can often get a lot more stuff simply by being savvy with your requests.
  • develop a standard package that works for your situation about how you handle exposure
  • use phrases like, “My standard compensation as offered in exposure is…” Or, “What I typically do for this kind of benefit is…” to demonstrate you have done this before and it has been successful with other clients
  • include live announcement of your name and URL, 3x if you can wrangle that. For events with announcers, they can include a teaser earlier in the show: Coming up later… coupled with an introduction before you go on and a summary after your set saying who you were and how you can be reached.

You are your best ally.

Oprah and Revolva LessonsIf the income dispartity and inequity in the world has shown me anything, it is that no one else is going to take care of me and ensure my husband and I (both artist-preneurs) will get fed. This falls squarely on my shoulders, unless I want to be a beggar on the street. While I’ve heard they make more than minimum wage and tax free at that, it’s not quite the direction I have in mind for my career.

Given that I’m not relying on handouts to make my way in the world, the best thing I can do is take care of myself and be my best ally. This means having a strong no and being able to truly assess situations, their value, overall opportunity and opportunity cost so that I can feel good about the choices I make after the fact.

I’ve heard some colleagues point out their concern that young people, especially women, are being preyed upon by those with nefarious or questionably moralled objectives.

Sadly, this is a fact of life. I don’t think the answer lies in outrage so much as action. Here are a few actionable tips for helping you protect yourself:

  • Practice saying no. Enroll a friend or colleague in this practice with you so that you can learn how to say no. This may sound silly as an exercise, yet, as we all know through experience, experience changes us. To have the felt knowledge in our body of saying no and being okay after the fact will help us more powerfully bring our boundaries to our business practices.
  • Develop standards when you’re not working so they are clear in times of opportunity. This is a fancy way of saying, “get yourself a rate sheet!” Even if you don’t publish it, know what you will and will not accept as a general guideline. There will always be exceptions for exceptional situations, but the inquiry into what you want and need is incredibly valuable as you grow through time. What I would have done a decade ago is definitely not what I would do today, so it is not ony important to identify your wants and needs, it is also important to keep in touch with them and have them reflect your current state of being
  • Develop a shrewd package that is not cash based for gigs you might want to do that don’t want to pay cash. For example, if you want to go to a festival and don’t want to pay to get in, trading a performance for multiple tickets for entry may well be a good opportunity.
  • Sometimes you have to say ‘no’ to something good in order to say ‘yes’ to something great. Remember that if you’re doing so-so paying gigs, there is no opportunity for you to do better paying gigs in their place because you won’t have the time. Also consider that fewer gigs at a higher rate of pay is disproportionately less work than more gigs that yield the same income. It’s much easier to show up to one gig for $600 than 3 gigs for $200 each. Whatever the relative numbers are in your area, the math still works out in your favor to take fewer high paying gigs.
  • Develop your business skills. You spent countless hours getting to a place where you could be worthy of getting hired as a performer. If you want to run your business and be good at it, take it on as a practice just like you have your props. Learn how to manipulate the business world around you to create maximum flow that creates win-win-win scenarios and allows you to move toward an ever more inspiring place of thrival.
  • You will only get paid what you command of the prospect. Which is really saying that if you can’t ask for what you want to get paid, you likely won’t get it. Yes, this is another way to say Don’t ask, don’t get.
  • Check yourself. When you get pissed because you feel like someone else should pay you more, remember no one else is morally obligated to ensure you get fed and only you can master that fate.

Need business coaching? Contact GlitterGirl directly or subscribe to our newsletter for mailbox delivery of this and other articles written by Temple of Poi founder and visionary, GlitterGirl, who has been a full time flow arts coach and instructor since 2002. If you seek business training or guidance associated with creating a safe performance, obtaining a permit in San Francisco or other personalized coaching, contact GlitterGirl directly for a free consultation (GlitterGirl <that pretty little ‘at’ symbol> TempleOfPoi <daaaaaaaught> com).

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