Thankfully, It Takes A Village
There aren't enough words to describe just how thankful I am to my fans! Fans are the reason that I own a 1991 Winnebago Warrior nicknamed "Rita." Fans are the reason that I've got two modestly-priced-yet-slick-video-cameras to shoot episodes of "Dulcimerica." And fans are the reason that I've been able to focus a bit more on producing albums, like the brand new "All Songs Lead To The Gift Shop", and being able to relax a bit on the income generation front.
It was in 2005 when Stephen Seifert called me out of the blue, based on my work with the band Mohave, and generously shared with me the idea that I could earn some income performing and teaching in mountain dulcimer circles. To that point, I was still earning "band money" which amounted to "gas money" for all of the many shows that we performed during the month. All told, Mohave lost money during its run, but money isn't the reason that I make music. Still, as many musicians are prone to say, "music is an expensive hobby."
Fast forward to the present and I still find myself tickled that I can be a full-time musician. Teaching had never entered the realm of possibility before and it presented an earning opportunity that has not only kept me afloat for eight years but has also edified my spirit and given me compelling and compassionate reason to help others make their musical dreams attainable; the most satisfying work I've ever done.
That said, there's a lot of expense that comes into play when you're working on as many fronts as I do. I think, sometimes, that people look at my appearance schedule, marvel at my travels and believe that I'm rolling in the dough when nothing could be father from the truth. I've taken many life cues from my late father, Edward Ronald Futch, who would drive a car until the seats and doors were literally falling apart, who would milk every last bit of usefulness out of a thing before regrettably throwing it away, who didn't need the newest, shiniest things because the oldest and most tarnished things were still operational. I wonder how he would've fared with the advent of personal computers. My father would probably still be working on Windows 3.1 today.
The making of music and video is expensive, even if you do it yourself. I've tried to save money over the years by learning how to produce my own creations at home rather than hiring someone to come in and do the work. In fact, before I went full time with my art, I had taken what I'd learned and was producing music and video for hire. Even after I began business for myself, I was still taking outside work to help pepper the fund with additional dollars to purchase and maintain the equipment that aids me in my everyday pursuit of the artist. Unfortunately, no pun intended, it's never been quite enough to always get the upgrade or always check something off of the wish list, so I've made do with older technology with an eye towards upgrading when opportunity presented itself.
In 2011, when I suddenly needed a new mode of transport for touring, I wanted to just trot down to a RV dealer and purchase a new rig, but there was no way possible for that to happen.
Thankfully, fans stepped up to a fund-raising drive and helped to purchase Rita. On the very first day of tour, her air-conditioning blew out, just the first of many mishaps we've had on the road from that point. We've gone through three alternators, six tires, one radiator (that resulted in a week-long residency at a Pennsylvania wrecking yard), five belts, two batteries, one air-conditioning unit, one center-link, a rebuilt loft, a refrigerator core, one set of brakes, a front end and struts replacement and a remanufactured engine. All told, that initial investment of $5500 has blossomed to about $20,000. Still, I tell myself often, she's almost brand new now, and where else do you get a brand new RV for that amount of money? Rita and I have been through a lot together and, coupled with her excellent gas mileage for a V6, we've had more great times than times of inconvenience (and I've never missed a gig) and I'm not letting the old girl go any sooner than I have to.
It can be a little frustrating to have a good run on tour, feel like you're ahead of the game a bit, bringing home enough money to finally upgrade the "legacy" computers that struggle to complete their everyday tasks only to discover that another $1000 repair-shop bill has landed in your lap. But each and every time this happens, I'm thankful for traveling mercies, no accidents or blow-outs, no injuries and always the ability to go ahead and say "make the repairs" without having to suck it up and pray for just another mile of purchase down the road.
All the while, I'm continuously trying to break into the next tier of earnings as a musician, investing what time I can into improving my skill set so that I can play larger venues and access more opportunities. The "brand" of an entertainer is maintained through technology these days and, usually, by a crack staff of people who help to promote and market said entertainer. Typically, those folks don't work for free which is why I've been the sole employee of Jolly Old Bingland Entertainment Inc. (yes, that's what J.O.B. stands for; cute, huh?) for all this time. Everything from the web design to the album design has got my fingerprints on it and that's not a case of micro-management! I'd love to just say, "here's my idea for this" and then toss that sucker off like a football to someone else who has mad skills in that department. I know just enough to be dangerous in most areas other than music, but those additional tools in the toolbox have gotten me this far. It just takes a lot of time (away from music) and a lot of money to maintain the equipment.
As mentioned before, both of my Apple computers are considered "legacy" by the company which means that they are no longer considered serviceable and aren't officially supported in the ongoing operating system updates. My laptop, technical lifeline for keeping things rolling while I'm away from home, is from 2006 and is still (barely) running a five-year old operating system. The graphic design and recording software that resides upon it is even older than that and is starting to crack and fail due to a cessation of support. My desktop is from 2007 and is also running five-year old software that can't be upgraded to anything new and, likewise, that software has finally started to lag behind the newer versions and I've lost a lot of the function that was originally available. All of this is starting to negatively impact production. For instance, I'm using an ancient version of Final Cut Pro for "Dulcimerica" production, but the codecs are all outdated and are conflicting with what few bits of software upgrades that have been allowed to trickle down the pipeline. As a result, what used to be a one day job for producing an episode has now turned into a three day ordeal. The software is affordable. The computer on which to run the software has been out of my price range since the new rigs were announced. I love Apple to death, but their policy of "built-in obsolescence" makes most people scream and I regularly add my voice to that particular hair-raising chorus.
So, two years after that initial crowd-sourcing drive to obtain Rita, I initiated another drive to focus on "Dulcimerica." This was successful in replacing video cameras, getting new tripods and server storage funding, but it fell short of being able to fund new computers. Both of these crowd-sourcing drives were conducted independently.
When Steve Seifert introduced me to Patreon a year or so ago, I held off employing its usefulness because I had just fired up the "Dulcimerica" campaign. Even though crowd-sourcing is a very common thing in the 21st century artist's world, there are many old-school type people who frown upon this sort of thing and I often wonder if my image has taken a hit due to my bold fund-raising efforts. I make it clear that I do not simply ask for donations. Rather, I like to give value where it is attractive to others. And if you cannot be bold about selling yourself as an artist, then you either need a staff to do that work for you or you're in the wrong business.
Funnily enough, some folks have said that I've been too generous with my Patreon campaign and that I'm giving away too much. Well, how much is too much? It's a very amazing relationship that an artist has with their fans, a total give-and-take that is cyclical and reciprocal. From the artist comes some sort of, here's that word again, value, and from the fans comes the spiritual, physical, social and financial support to continue doing it. It's a symbiosis of cosmic intent and it's been going on ever since art and commerce intermingled and became popular entertainment.
The phrase "it takes a village" has been bandied about for a good long time, usually in a political context, but it's an important concept. To ask any one person to do any one thing can sometimes be overwhelming. But to ask many people to help do one thing spreads the effort and puts the power of positive force behind a collective mindset of focused intent. The way Patreon works is like a village of people, all contributing a little in order to achieve goals that would be overwhelming for the individual. In return for that support, the artists who use Patreon as a gateway of interaction are able to meet goals, share their hearts with patrons and reward them with something that they can (and here it is, one more time) value.
I want to thank all of my patrons for their support over the past couple of months and debut the t-shirt design that goes out to all patrons when we hit the next goal milestone of $200 per upload! Not only do you get this limited edition t-shirt, but also "Blues Method For Mountain Dulcimer 101" and "All Over The Map"; two books of instruction and tablature in PDF form with audio tracks. By pledging at least $1 per upload and setting your monthly cap at $5, you'll get all of the above and all of the following for $60 over the course of one year:
• Immediate access to my patrons-only stream filled with music, video and audio
• "Milestones: A Patreon Tablature Collection" 86 pages of music
• The entire "Mountain Dulcimer In The Band" book and audio series
• My entire CD collection plus bonus collection of 50 rare and unreleased songs
• My new album "All Songs Lead To The Gift Shop"
PLUS, you'll be the first to receive tracks, as they're completed, from my next four albums beginning with "Unresolved Blues", my first all-blues record, as well as HD-quality episodes of "Dulcimerica" for you to download and study. If you're a fan of my work, this is a HUGE package for the price, and by pledging, you're helping me to upgrade equipment and offset costs of maintenance on Rita. $1 per upload is the suggested donation, but you can always opt-in at a higher amount for a lot more rewards. Find out more, and pledge today, at http://www.Patreon.com/BingFutch
If you've reached the bottom of this page, you're probably either a fan, a patron, both or someone who may be considering joining the village. I thank you for taking the time to read this blog and hope that you get a better sense of what all of that Facebook and Twitter posting is about. It all points right back to the heart of the art; wanting to be able to continue creating and sharing my music and video, my teaching and sheet music and, above all else, my time. It's what I was born to do, it's been a life-long goal to get to this point and now that I'm in a position to make it happen, I don't want to do anything else. Presenting and teaching music is my biggest love and largest compulsion. It's spirit-led, spirit-fed and spirit-ed at all times. I'm blessed to have gotten this far and I'm appreciating the view from the mountainside even as I'm eyeing the next peak in the range. I hope that you'll make that climb with me so that we can all watch the sunset from the top of the world.
Many blessings to you and yours. I'm thankful for this life that I live and I hope that you have much to be thankful for too.
All the best,