Kevin Montgomery and Amanda Palmer

Hosted by

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

It takes tenacity and vision for an independent artist to build and maintain a career in today's music market. Anyone with a computer can record and distribute a record on their own, but building a self-supporting career is a different matter. Finally, there's some hope. A few musicians have embraced new models, sculpting out their own futures.

kevin_montgomery.jpgTake for example, Kevin Montgomery. Kevin moved to Los Angeles and released a brilliant debut album on A&M records in 1993. Unfortunately, despite the critical acclaim, the album sales were small. Unable finance his dream, Kevin moved back to Nashville, Tennessee. While pushing carts in the parking lot for Sam's Warehouse Retailer, Kevin ran into Martina McBride's producer and convinced him to listen to his work. Ms. McBride recorded one of his songs on her next 3 million-selling album. Then, Juice Newton covered another one of Kevin's songs. No matter what minimum wage job Kevin was doing, he never gave up hope.

By 2004, he had released six albums, most of them by himself. Determined to push forward, Kevin cranked up his performance schedule. By 2006, he was touring extensively in nightclubs and theaters throughout the world. Then in 2008, Kevin launched a 50-States-in-50-Days Tour – literally covering the entire US in 50 days. The tour generated a lot of press, and fans around the country were able to host concerts in their homes. Next week, Kevin kicks off his 2009 50 States in 50 Days Tour in Alaska. This time, fans are following him on GPS, Facebook, and Twitter. They're sponsoring tanks of gas and hosting him at their house for concerts when he comes through town. Kevin has figured out that the success of his career is based on connecting with his fans, frequently and personally. And the results have earned him a relatively stable life in an unstable business.

amanda_palmer.jpgAnother artist with her own ideas about earning a living is Amanda Palmer, the front-woman for The Dresden Dolls. Recently, she publicly revealed how much money she had earned from a UK webcast. Money details are considered dirty laundry for many in the business and her advisors suggested her next move should be a free concert. But for Amanda, making money was simply a fact of life, and nothing to be ashamed of. She explained her philosophy in her well read blog titled, "Why I Am Not Afraid To Take Your Money." The essay detailed her early years as a street performer, earning her living by holding out a hat. She juxtaposed that reality with her current day life, where she earns her living performing at concerts, auctioning off her artwork and passing a virtual tip jar on her website. The writing hit a nerve. Over a thousand people wrote letters. This week, she followed up with a five part essay about being a self sufficient artist. Advocating a proactive, engaging relationship with her fans, she demonstrates the true role of an artist. One of my favorite quotes is in her essay titled Selling Out. She says, "ASKING FOR MONEY FOR YOUR ART IS NOT SELLING OUT. SELLING OUT IS WHEN YOU GO AGAINST YOUR OWN HEART, IDEALS AND AUTHENTICITY TO MAKE MONEY".

If only more artists took notice.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.