Via kottke, here’s a very interesting interview with Francis Ford Coppola, which has some points worthy of consideration by musicians and writers and other artists worried about the internet killing off their chances of success:
Is it important to veer away from the masters to develop one’s own style?
I once found a little excerpt from Balzac. He speaks about a young writer who stole some of his prose. The thing that almost made me weep, he said, “I was so happy when this young person took from me.” Because that’s what we want. We want you to take from us. We want you, at first, to steal from us, because you can’t steal. You will take what we give you and you will put it in your own voice and that’s how you will find your voice.
And that’s how you begin. And then one day someone will steal from you. And Balzac said that in his book: It makes me so happy because it makes me immortal because I know that 200 years from now there will be people doing things that somehow I am part of. So the answer to your question is: Don’t worry about whether it’s appropriate to borrow or to take or do something like someone you admire because that’s only the first step and you have to take the first step.
How does an aspiring artist bridge the gap between distribution and commerce?
We have to be very clever about those things. You have to remember that it’s only a few hundred years, if that much, that artists are working with money. Artists never got money. Artists had a patron, either the leader of the state or the duke of Weimar or somewhere, or the church, the pope. Or they had another job. I have another job. I make films. No one tells me what to do. But I make the money in the wine industry. You work another job and get up at five in the morning and write your script.
This idea of Metallica or some rock n’ roll singer being rich, that’s not necessarily going to happen anymore. Because, as we enter into a new age, maybe art will be free. Maybe the students are right. They should be able to download music and movies. I’m going to be shot for saying this. But who said art has to cost money? And therefore, who says artists have to make money?
In the old days, 200 years ago, if you were a composer, the only way you could make money was to travel with the orchestra and be the conductor, because then you’d be paid as a musician. There was no recording. There were no record royalties. So I would say, “Try to disconnect the idea of cinema with the idea of making a living and money.” Because there are ways around it.
Of course, Coppola is wide open to the standard Doctorow Rejoinders here: “that’s easy for him to say, he’s got a steady income from doing [x] on the side!”; “he’s already got a market thanks to his own fame in other areas!”; “he had lucky breaks that I’ve never got a chance of getting!”… all of which are elaborate ways of avoiding saying “I don’t want to have to work for years on my art with no guarantee of getting rich from it!” Best stop now then, eh? It’ll save you a lot of anguish, and you’ll open the field up for those who’re willing to fight on regardless.
Maybe musicians, writers and movie-makers will have to accept poverty – or at least a low income and/or a supplementary day-job – as the sacrifice they make for the chance to create their dreams; as Coppola (and many others) have pointed out, that’s actually the historical norm rather than a fall from a god-given state of grace. And maybe that will mean there’s less shallow cookie-cutter crap clogging the art marketplaces. Sounds like a net win to me.