A couple weeks ago I realized something, and it has since made me a very Grumpy Sally indeed. This is what’s happening: my work life involves running around town to spend a couple hours doing some form of work to receive wages per job that could get me less than one oil change or approximately one old chihuahua from the local shelter.
I have decided that I am not into this, anymore.
If you’ll remember, I liked this arrangement very, very much when I gave a big EFF YOU to the man and went self-employed/freelance over two years ago. But now the excitement of NOT BEING A WAITRESS has worn off and been replaced with an excitement not only to pour much, much more energy into music projects I’m getting more and more excited about, but also to NOT BE DRIVING AROUND TOWN ALL THE DAMNED TIME TO COLLECT MY MEASLY PITTANCE.
Nothing is worse than having to cut your work on your latest video short because you agreed to walk some rich lady’s dogs halfway across town and collect money that could buy you but two to three lattes, which you won’t, because you can’t afford them.
I’m also struggling more and more with this idea that the same shit just breeds more of the same shit. I recently mentioned offhand to someone that I babysit, and, lo! Now I have another babysitting lead. Does anyone want this job? I will totally put you in touch with that person, because I am so not interested in ever getting a new babysitting client.
Note to self: when you talk to people out in the world, even—no, especially—in casual conversations, you are a musician. You are not a babysitter. You make music, you work with Pyragraph (yay!), you teach music, you make videos and put them on the internet. But you do not babysit, at least as far as the outside world is concerned.
I look at other people, and compare my life to what their lives might look like. There’s Laci Green, feminist sex/gender education video blogger. She seems so busy and so, so, so ass-kickingly hardworking. What does she do all day? I have no idea, but I don’t think there’s any room in it at all for babysitting. I think she’s probably constantly researching/preparing/making her next video, booking her next college tour, speaking at colleges, plastering great stuff all over social media, and generally being a badass activist.
And there’s Tonya Kay, actress, burlesque performer, danger artist. She’s just fucking fearless. No side jobs for her. I feel like, to be a true Tonya Kay-like person I’d need to move from Albuquerque to a much bigger city. Just read her bio. Look at how much shit she’s done! And dude, I’m pretty sure she’s a few years younger than me. Let the spiral of self-loathing begin!
And there’s also Moira Smiley, who I took a vocal workshop from a couple years ago. She actually suggested that I move to a bigger place when I asked. Here’s the thing: she never once in her life worked any sort of job that wasn’t related to music. From the time she was eighteen, she was singing songs and booking shows. That’s just so very, very cool to me. She’s been completely immersed for her entire adult life not only in the music, but also the business stuff that goes along with that.
That’s so fascinating to me. A big part of me wants that to be my story, too, but I went ahead to college and stuff after listening to my parents, etc. as described in this rather unsympathetic Frank Zappa quote: “If you end up with a boring miserable life because you listened to your mom, your dad, your teacher, your priest, or some guy on television telling you how to do your shit, then you deserve it.”
There’s just anxiety. Sure, I have anxiety about money, but there’s also anxiety about time. I just hate hate hate spending time away from the things I want to do, in favor of shit I feel pretty much lukewarm about, and that’s what it really comes down to. My life—even just a couple hours of it—is just worth SO MUCH MORE than the money I recently spent on an oil change.
Fancy Sage and Jared took over our living room and plastered the place with variously colored screens I MEAN traveled extravagantly to expensive, exotic locales. And sang a song of deepest love while they were at it.
Not too long ago I met the lovely Tonya Kay in person, when she last performed in my town with the burlesque group, The Lalas.
Guys, I’m totally starstruck. I’m telling you, Tonya Kay is the fucking bomb: She’s funny, engaging, super-talented, motivated, on the ball, open, energetic, really friendly. (Not to mention, she blogs for Pyragraph from time to time.)
That night, she mentioned something about tactics public figures can use to protect themselves from the crazies/creepers/stalkers (I’m paraphrasing, here), and having a bit of experience with crazies/creepers/stalkers myself, I wanted to ask her some questions about it.
We had a great talk about gender, self-protection, personal boundaries and how to manage them.
Sage Harrington: You’ve been a performer for many years. I can imagine that you’ve been dealing with this nonsense for a long time! When did it start?
Tonya Kay: I’ve been performing since I was four and doing it professionally for 23 years. As soon as you are performing for the public, you naturally have fans. All fans have different personalities — they are just people like us, of course! Some fans are legitimate fans of your work and will follow you on social media, come to your live shows, watch you on television or rent your movie on iTunes. Some fans want to interact more and will request autographs in the mail, request photos after the show, start and continue conversations with you. Some fans want to give gifts.
Some get confused and think they know you personally or are sure you should know them personally — and that’s where it’s unacceptable.
All performers have fans. Performers young in the business or young in the exposure part of the business innocently don’t realize they have fans — or innocently don’t realize all fans have different personalities. It wasn’t until I was on tour in STOMP that my fan base was large enough that I realized how many different types of fans there are out there.
That’s when I realized I must start giving fans a place to interact with my permission.
At that time, social media wasn’t a thing. So I started a forum called the Lonely Garden and what a beautiful place it was — I became actual friends with many of the members of the Lonely Garden from back then and still follow their careers today! I hired someone to build a website that listed all my tour dates so fans could come see me. Nowadays you can build social networks and keep your interactions all online if you like.
Building places like forums, fan pages, etc. — this is not just a place you are offering fans to interact with you where you feel safe and public, but also a place where you can host your fans! Let’s face it, performers enjoy the fan relationship as much as the fans themselves. We want fans and authentic human interactions as much as they do! But all of us want to feel safe, comfortable and free to express ourselves appropriate to that relationship.
Tonya, that is so rad! Way to use the resources available to you. Especially since I’ve read in some of your Pyraposts that you once considered yourself a technophobe. So, how can a “newbie” — someone who’s never had a gross or scary interaction with a fan — know who/how to screen out the bad ones? Some guidelines?
A fellow performer that I admire and respect very much had the worst-case scenario with a dangerous fan/stalker. It changed his life entirely in ways no one wants to change. He said the most enlightening words to me and I will share them with all my performer — heck, human — friends: “You cannot rationalize the irrational.”
Say it to yourself and listen to it.
YOU CANNOT RATIONALIZE THE IRRATIONAL.
Dangerous, abusive, negative fans are irrational. You cannot think them through, you can not screen them out, you cannot predict their behavior. It is irrational!
So we as public figures must set up a SAFE, COMFORTABLE, PUBLIC place where all fans are invited to interact with us. This safe, comfortable and public place has no private information available to either party. Your website does not host a phone number, address or even email address.
If contacted via those means, the contact is not visibly PUBLIC so it is not where fans get to interact. A phone call is not public. An email is not public. A visit to your work address is not public. In anyone’s life, private contact is reserved for family and friends. Fans are not family and they are not friends. Remember that. They may become both if invited! But they are not, as fans, invited to your privacy.
So social media: Google+, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs, etc. These places are public. Any interaction is viewable by the public and the public is the strongest community functioning on taboo you have as a public figure. My fans OFTEN put a negative fan or harassing fan in their place for me. I’ve had two fans become abusive in the comments on various blogs I’ve written — they stop when they realize their comments are public or they are shamed by the public for behavior we all know is wrong towards any human being, including performers. You can block someone on social networks. And so on.
There are services like Google Voice that offer a virtual phone number so even your “trusted” work confidants do not have your private number. Contact forms on websites should always be what they call blind submit forms so that your email address is nowhere in the source code of the website and no fan can lift it, nor can any spammers. You can rent a P.O. box to use for your address on ALL THINGS, or, I often just use my agent’s address, making even the simple sending of a gift to me a visibly public action.
I have had to learn oodles of personal info lock-down tactics by error, and have had to train my family and friends on locking down their private info, as well as keeping mine locked down with me. The fact is, humans love humans! We live in cities, we communicate and create art to connect, we WANT to have fans and friends and family surrounding us abundantly! But there’s no reason we shouldn’t do that in a SAFE, COMFORTABLE and PUBLIC setting.
I share a lot of my personal life as a career, but there’s a lot I don’t share, too.
A lot of musicians I know share their email addresses on their websites. I didn’t at first but then added it at the suggestion of a fellow musician who said that it’s nice for it to be there should you get the “big call” (from a record label or some such organization). You’re suggesting a blind submit form instead? Or could you just screen the emails that seem to be sent from fans vs. the ones that seem to be sent from professionals?
Absolutely NO PRIVATE EMAIL on websites. NO PRIVATE INFORMATION at all. Blind submit forms allow you to receive a communication without the other party having your private information. Email is private because the public can’t read what was written to you.
But really, at this point, there is no reason for a fan to even email me. I have social networks and am available to interact on them. And for the professionals, I have agents aplenty who can take calls, inquiries and pass along prospective clients to me. I say, use blind submit forms if you must. Then create an email address that is used JUST to receive anything from the blind submit form so you can terminate it easily and without repercussion at any time if needed.
As much as I hate to admit it, my creepy “fan” interactions are really draining emotionally. I don’t feel like doing anything in public/online. I just want to kind of hide away, feel grumpy and violated, and heal. At least for a while. How do you avoid letting this stuff get to you?
Stuff DOES get to me. My lover notices that I am irritated for no reason or just in a bad mood sometimes — and I have to tell him (he doesn’t use social media) what happened online. Or if I am actually concerned for my safety, he is there for me — he bought me a fucking taser — and he takes my safety requests seriously. Like if I text him at 3am after a gig to walk me home, he’s there.
Emotionally, I crack down harder on my privacy every time a dangerous or even creepy stalker surfaces. And I draw lines quickly and clearly nowadays. I do what I need to do to feel safe.
Emotions always change, so I let the negative ones move on by interacting positively with some of my awesome fans online.
There are so many awesome people out there doing cool stuff — I tell myself, “Why focus on the douchebag when I could focus on the hundreds of other inspiring people that follow me instead?”
Someone like me, who totally feels like I’m not on anyone’s radar, would think that this couldn’t happen to me. But it can happen to anyone!
Everyone in the public eye has fans. This includes all professional and semi-professional artists. Do not think just because you are “small time” or “a male” or “a chef, not an actor” that you are exempt. If you start talking to your fellow artist friends of whatever gender, discipline, level of exposure, you will get their “stalker” or “creepy fan” or “abusive co-worker” story. There is no reason to live in fear, but simply make sure you provide that SAFE, COMFORTABLE and PUBLIC place to interact early and you can get to know people and let them get to know your work!
A couple weeks ago Jared and I made a dance video for ZANZIBAR! And there it is.
And somehow, magically, a bunch of lovely people are giving us a total of almost $160 per music video we make on our Patreon page. This is just huge. I mean, this is a significant amount of money for us and I just can’t even believe that this Patreon thing is working. Just know this…there was lots of happy crying happening last week when I realized that this number, $159.11, wasn’t a big mistake and that I can relax at least a little bit about paying rent within the next couple days. Oh, and spend my time on this blog post, and editing another video, rather than applying for a job at a coffeeshop, as a friend urged me to do last week (which I was considering doing for the course of an evening).
And now I must get back to work editing what is my favorite Happy Gland video we’ve made so far. But not before I pet this cat.
We’re happy to play this show
But sad to see Melinda go
And Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay
Shall sing before they’re on their way
Back to Nashville, back out East
Where Melinda shall put roots down, deep
(I mean she’s moving to Wisconsin or Minnesota or something, not Nashville)
The Happy Gland Band will play too
And we’ll drink lots of coffee, too
At Napoli, that lovely place
Our three duos shall melt your face.
We’re entering a contest! It’s this contest. It’s a contest where you make a video (hey, we do that) of you playing music (hey, we do that, too) with a desk nearby (hey, we have a desk), and maybe you get to play at the NPR Music offices in Washington sometime. So we did the things they asked us to do and now we’ve made another video!
For this contest, as you can see, we made a video for a song that I wrote called The Clever Wife. It’s about the wonders of being a 1950s housewife.
ALSO, this is our FIRST PATRON-FUNDED video! Hooray! Since we launched our Patreon page, a coupla’ really lovely ladies actually decided to take money out of their own wallets or pants or PayPals or whathaveyou and…gave it to us! What’s more, they’ve promised to give us money every time we make a video. (And boy, oh boy, have we got some plans.) Well, all we have to say is…thank you!
We just launched our Patreon page! What’s that, you say? Patronage died out nearly hundreds of years ago? Yes, well we thought so too. Turns out there’s a website out there trying to bring the patron/artist relationship back. If you’d like to help us in our wacky quest to make fun music and silly videos, this is one way you can do that.
Here’s the low-down:
We make videos. We upload them to YouTube for free. We love doing this. With Patreon, we’re trying to make this more of a money-making venture. We’re asking you to pledge an amount of money—$1, 2$, any amount you’re comfortable with—per video we release.
We made this short video to help explain what the deal is. (Warning: it contains a unhealthy amount of dog tongue—but we think it’s really funny, anyway.)
And there’s stuff in it for you, too! We’ve got rewards set up for different levels of patronage, including mp3 downloads and ukulele tutorials. More info is on our Patreon page!
AHHH we can’t tell you how excited we are about this! Best to you and yours and we hope you’re having a super spectacular extra-fandangled New Year!