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  On Wednesday, November 30, 2011 the Santa Ana winds blew through Pasadena and quickly made downtown look like Armageddon.  Don’t believe me, take a look at these photos.  We lost electricity at Unconventional Media, but it didn’t matter, I wasn’t working. The electricity was out at the home of my sister, Lindsay Mofford and her husband, Tucker. I’ve written on this blog about Tucker Stilley before, his battle with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) and without use of any of his muscles, outside of his neck and eyebrows, his ability to create artwork and interactive media with just a reflective bindi-dot on his forehead that controls a complex system of computer technology.

Here’s a video link, “How We Do It” that explains the method behind, “The Permanent Record of NewJack_Rasputin.” His website, The Permanent Record, is this pirate avatar’s portal to his art, songs, ideas and videos. Check out the recent new work in reaction to the Occupy movements and new music with visuals, Brite Gray.  But don’t stop there, explore the website for other work or search out, TuckerStilley.com. There is also an APP from Appucan of his Deconstructed Faerie series.  In 2010, he was one of six honored with the Massachusetts College of Art’s Alumni Awards for Distinguished Achievement. (His video speech, since he was unable to attend.)

Back to the power that went off that evening and did not return for 63 hours, a stretch that could have proven deadly to Tucker. He now breathes 24 hours a day with the assistance of a ventilator.  When the electricity went off, everyone had to kick into emergency mode and that’s what amazed me. Not only how quickly the family and caretakers reacted, but how the community of fans and friends stepped in to assist. There was a news piece about the situation in the Pasadena Star News.

Now, there have been other postings about the community of support and friendship for Tucker, including an episode on the radio program, Humankind and a blog on Indiewire a couple years back. There is even a website entitled, All Hands on Board, that links supporters and friends to updates on the artist and new work and most importantly, to each other. Even a Facebook site.

But as medical needs grow, people are now not only giving money as a tax deduction, but also donating their own art to be sold in a community marketplace with all finances raised supporting Tucker. I’m amazed at not only Tucker’s art work that is available for purchase but all the other great things.  This Community Page continues to grow with so many possibilities, it’s one stop shopping for the holidays. You must see it. I’ve got my film Travelin Trains up there. My mom has her new book, “The Devil Made Me Do It.” The incredible musicians, Alloy Orchestra, have a few of their original movie soundtracks available including, “Man with a Movie Camera.” Beautiful prints. Bardo scarves. Even stays in Florence, Italy and Cambridge, Mass. More gets added every day.

Every step of this journey has been a new discovery and when the lights go out, new discoveries are made.  Tucker normally communicates using a custom-built computer system he started designing seven years ago when he was first diagnosed with ALS. These days it is very difficult for him to communicate without the computer. When the electricity went off and running only on a small generator to power the medical equipment, the computer had to go. Tucker was forced to retreat to his only refuge – his mind.  In the program notes for his art show a couple of years ago at Monte Vista (Read the review), he wrote, “I feel it is logical, my own nervous system failing, that I would spontaneously generate an alter-ego, tear a hole-in-space and try to escape.  My situation warrants immediate and drastically uncompromising self-metamorphosis. An exquisite new aesthetic unfolds when you are standing on the deck of a burning ship. Being paralyzed amplifies the uneasy link between intent and action and brings into question the true meaning of this place and time that we occupy…and of what our ultimate audience might prove to be.”

At times he describes himself as a “brain in a jar,” but it is a brilliant brain. We thank you all, those supporters that are consistently involved in Tucker’s life, but as his neck and shoulder muscles begin to give, we are reaching out to new medical procedures like the Eyewriter  and more medical staff to keep the “brain” creating. We need to go beyond the community that knows Tucker and introduce him to those who have yet to meet him. I believe the Community Marketplace is a good starting point. Please share, buy and donate.

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I am honored to be the featured filmmaker and to present my short film TRAVELIN TRAINS, this Friday, 8pm, June 4, 2010 as part of the RAW: Natural Born Artists event at the great Hollywood screening venue, CINESPACE.  RAW Artists is a multi-faceted arts organization showcasing handpicked artistic talents in the avenues of film, fashion, music, art, DJs, models, photography and performing arts. Each month there is a party event promoting the artists and their work.  It’s an invite only, cocktail affair.  If you want, you can order your tickets by following this link HERE.

They posted an interview with me on their site, but I wanted to take this opportunity to expand on some of those comments and offer direct links below.

Q- Tell us about yourself.

I’m a Filmmaker that’s been based in Los Angeles since 1994. Before that I lived and worked in Atlanta for 10 years. I was born in New England. I went to Emerson College.

Q- How did you first get started in film?
I started making Super 8 films when I was 10 years old. Lots of three minute in camera editing. I loved going to movies and would emulate the stories with my friends that we saw at the theater. Recently, I’ve reconnected with some of them on Facebook and it’s been fun to share these films from our youth. When I was in college I started shooting in 16mm and video. Haven’t stopped since.

Q- Tell us about TRAVELIN’ TRAINS

TRAVELIN’ TRAINS is a short 16mm black and white film I made a few years back (well, actually more then a few) about a young man in search of his father in depression-era Georgia and the blues music that both joins and separates them.  We shot it in Atlanta, grant supported. Most of the script was written in a local Atlanta blues club, “Blind Willies.”  I’m excited that people are going to get to see the film on a bigger screen, because these days it is mostly watched on DVD. I think it is the best example of my work as a filmmaker because unlike other projects I’ve done that have producers, actors, clients involved, all the decisions, both good and bad, were my own. I take full responsibility.

Here’s a youtube link to the Trailer for TRAVELIN’ TRAINS

And here’s a link to “Freight Train Blues” scene from the film.

Q- Any other films you’ve produced?
I now work professionally as a producer and director after more than twenty years as an Assistant Director for film and television. Not to say I wouldn’t AD again, if the right project financially came along. I still love to AD commercials, but you do a couple of long term projects and you fall out of the loop quickly.

I recently directed a five-camera DVD live concert of David Arkenstone and his new band, Mandala. A couple of years ago, I produced the live action segments to the EA video game, “Need for Speed: Undercover.”  Directed by Joseph Hodges and photographed by DP Jeff Seckendorf, you can see some clips on my company website, Unconventional Media.

TALES FROM THE CATHOLIC CHURCH OF ELVIS continues its award winning film festival run recently winning Best Microbudget Feature Film at The Cannes Independent Film Festival in May. I produced this “shocking” true tale of a Catholic school girl in Las Vegas! Part “Canterbury Tales” meets “PeeWee’s Playhouse,” writer, co-director and lead actress Mercy Malick narrates, as a communal theater experience leeps off the stage and onto the streets of the City of Sin.

The acclaimed documentary on the USA domestic energy crisis that I produced with director Nicole Torre, HOUSTON WE HAVE A PROBLEM has also been playing the film festivals, including this week at The Barcelona International Environmental Film Festival and opening at the Downtown Independent in July. I also just returned from a great trip to Western Ireland after producing for writer/producer Diane Namm, a documentary-comedy hybrid,  WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE DINGLE.

Q- From where do you draw inspiration for your work?

I’m drawn to music projects. Music is a huge inspiration. I can’t play so maybe that’s why I love music so much, some of my best ideas happen when I’m at concerts. I also like travel, history and true stories. For some reason, I have never been interested in love stories.

Q- From start to finish, explain your process; what does a typical film-making day look like for you?
If I’m not working for someone else or shooting a project, then the ideal day starts with emails and reading web updates on Twitter. Lots of good leads and information so I have to watch out that I don’t get sucked in and spoil the whole day riding the internet highway. So, next thing I do is take a walk for an hour, listen to music, to clear my head for some writing. It can be writing a screenplay or writing a one-sheet pitch. Sometimes instead of writing, I’m editing a project. Sometimes I’m editing stuff I shot years ago. I’m convinced that something that you put aside at one point is the focus of your interest another time. Your old films are your assets. I’ve got lots of plans for my old footage.

In the evening, I like to have a glass of wine and read the newspaper. If the news doesn’t get me too angry, I check emails again, but sometimes I get lost on the internet trying to get more information. I don’t trust just one news source anymore. I’ve got to know the WHOLE story. At night, I either catch some live music or watch a movie or show on television. I’ve got a big pile of books that I want to read by my bed, but rarely get there early enough to get in some good quality reading. If I do, then I consider that to be an exceptional day.

Q- All time favorite film?
MODERN TIMES – Charlie Chaplin

Q- Are there any filmmakers–past or present–who strongly inform and influence your work?
There are many filmmakers that have influenced my work, but I’m most attracted to the filmmakers that try different styles, take some risks with different genres, sometimes successfully, other times not as much. I think a filmmaker is limiting themselves as an artist if they keep doing the same style over and over again. Stanley Kubrick, John Huston are good examples of directors that did different kinds of films. I think Clint Eastwood is proving to be a pretty diverse filmmaker.

Q- Are there any specific reoccurring themes or subjects that you explore and deal with most in your work?
Not really. As stated above I like diversity.

Q- Any previous films/collaborations that you are most proud of?
In 1999/2000, I co-produced with director/producer David Zeiger, the 13 part documentary series for PBS,SENIOR YEAR. We are about to release it on DVD and it’s amazing how after 10 years so many of these issues are still the issues of High School kids. It feels very contemporary. I wish more people had seen it and I hope with the DVD release they will. It was a pretty amazing series. We introduced a lot of cinema verite techniques, like diary cams, time lapse, that you see on most reality series now.

David is also talking about releasing on DVD the documentary we both produced and directed in 1995, DISPLACED IN THE NEW SOUTH.  The film explores the cultural collision between Asian and Hispanic immigrants and the suburban communities near Atlanta where they settled. It was the inspiration for the Indigo Girls song, “Shame on You.” You can see clips from our film in the music video. The interesting thing is the documentary covered issues still being debated in Arizona and the rest of the country.

That’s what I mean when I talk about filmmakers keeping their assets, their films. You never know when an interest will come again, look at TRAVELIN’ TRAINS.

Q- Why showcase with RAW?
Any opportunity to show some of your work on a big screen to a new audience is exciting. I’m honored to be a part of a show at a great venue with a group of artists I didn’t know before.

Q- Any current rising stars within the genre that you would recommend we look out for?
So many of the projects I’ve been involved with as a Producer lately have had limited funds. I wouldn’t make the commitment to help the Directors if I didn’t believe they were rising stars. I’m honored to have been able to help facilitate the directing visions of Mercy Malick, Diane Namm, David Zeiger, Nicole Torre, Stefan Rhys, Joseph Hodges, BrandU

But I should add, I still consider myself a rising star. I’d still like to direct a feature film. I’ve been trying to find financing for my narrative film, PRESS>PLAY and a couple of times we’ve almost had the money in place. In 2006, I was supposed to direct another feature. We had a cast and location and everything, but at the last minute, the money went dry. I’ve been developing a documentary film on Arborglyphs since 1992 with visual artist/musician Sandy Corley, entitled WITNESS TREES. Now that 3D programming for television is becoming a reality, there is renewed interest. So you never know where it’s going to come from. Just keep working on the projects that inspire you. I guess that’s the “artist” part of me. Thanks for having me.

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Houston We Have A Problem,” Nicole Torre‘s documentary feature that I helped produce, had a good run of film festivals this year (noted here in previous blogs). After the International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam we began discussions on final distribution and if the film was a “feature” documentary or one slated for television.

Doculink, a documenatry discussion board (and one of the great resources for any filmmaker) has recently carried many postings on the top documentaries of the decade and some Listers were limiting their choices on “theatrical” releases. I’ve never met Adam Hyman with Los Angeles Filmforum, but I thought he did an amazing job of addressing the issue on Doculink and with his permission, I reprint it below.

American Documentary “Feature” vs. “Television” by Adam Hyman

There is an absurd division (although one with real economic and artistic effects) between “feature” and “television” docs in America, where almost always only the former are taken seriously, although, as with the UK, probably 95% or more
are made for the latter.

A large element of this is that the television docs almost always have pre-ordained styles from the networks, and often have narrators, and both of these factors are considered limitations on being either “true” documentaries or “expressions of the director.” Most often the latter can be true, when one does watch various television doc series (I am for now separating “reality” from “non-fiction” or “documentary” shows, as even the Academy does now), one can see is the issues, particularly in visuals and in structure. I think that despite those limitations (and lack of budgets for high-end CGI or reenactments), many television docs still have a smart and often interesting (in content if not in style) approach to their topics.

In part this is tied to the eternal hierarchy that the film world does its best to instill, with theatrical releases being “better” or at least more worthy of analysis than works made for television. (In part to overcome the vastly greater viewership of television). In part it’s related to the criticism world, still often conducted in terms of auteurs, where theatrical releases are seen as work of a director, and television works are seen as works of a producer and network executives. There is truth in the latter, of course, but the baby is also thrown out with the bath water.

Usually docs with theatrical releases are the only ones that get on people’s radars. Many of the best docs, of course, never get a theatrical release in the US, nor a TV release; if they are from a foreign country or are
unconventional (or even more just “observational”), perhaps they just play a festival or two, and that’s it. It’s also impossible to keep up with even a reasonable percentage of works made for television (or theaters, really).

Another factor is the bias in America for direct cinema docs as “truer” over any with narration or reenactments, also a longer discussion… There are a variety of other reasons as well, which I hope will be raised by others.

But, in the USA, the only documentary director who works for TV whose name is more generally known is Ken Burns, even though many others should be known. But for example, I think the program “102 Minutes That Changed
America
,” which was a History Channel show, was a remarkable documentary – the experience of the World Trade Center collapse assembled entirely from home videos, without narration. I am amazed that the History Channel aired it. And I can’t tell you the name of the director. But it’s a work that is worthy of viewing and discussion. But at the same time the History Channel (I also will never start calling it “History” as they attempt to rebrand it, especially as they reduce the
historical content on it) also still airs in the daytime lots of WWII docs, almost all stylistically the same, etc.

There’s also a strong bias from the Academy against “music” docs, and for “activism” and “war” docs. People (well, Academies) usually evaluate docs based on their subject and not on how good the film actually is…but that’s a whole other discussion. I did note the absence of music docs from Erin’s very good starting list (I would call it 50 Worthy Films, rather than “Best” but whatever) – “Anvil”; “Some Kind of Monster”; “Devil & Daniel Johnston” and “DiG!” I think are also
worthy films from the Aughts. Ah, but look, I also have just listed 4 that had theatrical releases, and I bet there are some fine ones made for TV. Just thought of one – “Musician” in the “Work” series – a portrait of Ken Vandermark, an hour doc, probably shown only on European television and some alternative venues in the US, but made by a Chicago filmmaker, Daniel Kraus. But portraits of musicians are also never considered to be “important” films, like those of other topics, even though they often get theatrical releases if the musicians have suitable public following.

Ah, another discussion of underlying biases – the best result of “Best of” lists… 🙂

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tuckerwallmoniter

Tucker Stilley has always shown an interest in quantum physics, but his “Virtual Artist in Residency” at The Monte Vista Projects Gallery is the first time I’ve seen so much work by one artist dedicated to the scientific theory.  It’s like a visit to SpaceCollective.org with paints and music.  Curated by his fellow Massachusetts College of Art classmate and friend, Sam Durant (who has a great show of his own “This is Freedom” at the Blum and Poe Gallery) this is an LA Times critically acclaimed, must see presentation that has been extended until May 3rd, 2009.

I’ve written about my brother-in-law’s amazing work on this blog before when a showcase of his video art was presented at the REDCAT in 2008.  Diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in 2004, Tucker no longer has control of his limbs, so he uses a reflective bindi-dot on his forehead to control a complex system of computer technology.  The “How We Do It” video explains the method behind the creation of his on-going hyper-signal artwork, “The Permanent Record of NewJack_Rasputin.”

In the program notes for the Monte Vista, Tucker writes, “I feel it is logical, my own nervous system failing, that I would spontaneously generate an alter-ego, tear a hole-in-space and try to escape.  My situation warrants immediate and drastically uncompromising self-metamorphosis. An exquisite new aesthetic unfolds when you are standing on the deck of a burning ship. Being paralyzed amplifies the uneasy link between intent and action and brings into question the true meaning of this place and time that we occupy…and of what our ultimate audience might prove to be.”

If this is a blog about Unconventional Media, then Tucker’s pirate avatar, NewJack Rasputin is leading the charge, wielding a sword.  First stop at the gallery should be a read of the comic book, written and created by Tucker.  It is the backstory of NewJack Rasputin.  It is as cryptic as most of Tucker’s work, requiring close scrutiny.  Each reading I discover new thoughts and true life personal history.  Most of the comic book is available to view online at Tucker’s site, www.TuckerStilley.com.

There is a virtual media experience where gallery visitors and online viewers can interact with Tucker as he works.  The viewer has the experience of being inside the computer, looking at the artist’s “frailty and strength.”  Online, no matter where you live, you can catch Tucker making art – most days around 2 – 9pm, Pacific Time (Note: if you hear “crickets” he’s not at his console).  I’ve never seen the webcam technology put to better use.  As we watch we could become part of his next work.  At the gallery, there is a “keyboard” below the computer screen encasing over 465 used, reflective bindi-dots.  To the left of the computer are his recent brain scans.  Symbolic representations of the time Tucker has used just the turn of his head to create his art.  Above the brain scan are redefined photographs of three talents who also had ALS, Mao Tse-Tung, Leadbelly and Charles Mingus; now all with Mickey Mouse ears.

In one corner of the gallery is a collage of xeroxed photos and 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of printed words stained with red wine and tea.  (I’m in one photo, can you find me?)  Since the disease has made it difficult for Tucker to speak, the sentences, to friends, family and medical staff, read like poetry and haiku, a real understanding to the artists present psyche.  “T.O.E. (Theory of Everything),” a scroll of inkjet print outs and xerox photos overlaps one end of the word collage.  This is an older work, (which I’m proud to say I own a signed reprint copy), from his early days of computer art.  More stuff like this can be found at his website.  It’s a strong piece to have in the exhibit, not only because one image on the scroll shows Tucker drawing with his hand, when he could, but it also evokes the theories of time travel and quantum physics found in much of the recent works, many with “Time Weave” in the title.  One example, “Time Weave 63-11 Roberta” is a great representation of a person being in more then one place at a time.

The color prints of computer generated art, some of it originating from super 8 film footage or old photographs, much of it requiring viewing at different distances to fully understand the scope.  “Gimpcon Auto-collage, Self Portrait” looks to be a collection of patterns and shapes until you step back far enough to realize it is a portrait of Tucker wearing sunglasses.  Same holds true with “Last Wine Stomp at Dressle.”  My favorites of manipulating visual images into color were the “3-D Hawaii” series and “Midnight Nude at Noon.”

The “Ghost Photo” collage series reminded me of some of the first photographs from the last century that we’ve been researching for the New Orleans Paraplex documentary or stills from old silent films.  I also really liked “El Morro,” a freeze frame shot from one of Tucker’s short videos.  In the video, a big tire tube appears on the beach in a seven second circle of life at the edge of the Pacific.  In the still frame, the tire is frozen, peering out to the horizon, like a cast member from “Lost.”  Speaking of “Lost,” a shout out must go to the poster at the entrance to the gallery.  This is from a conceptual art piece Tucker did a few years back covering telephone poles with posters of an Iquana-lizard man lost like a neighborhood dog.

It’s an incredible show.  If you can’t make it to Los Angles, so much of Tucker’s art work can be seen on his website.  And just like his art, there are many “Easter Egg” surprises to explore and lead you to his music, video and other art.  It is a real interactive website.  Also visit “All Hands on Board,” a social networking site of friends and fans of Tucker Stilley’s work.  It is also another portal to his “Hole in Space” webcam.  For me, he is a mentor to the real possibilities that can be achieved with new media, new technology and new ideas.

Monte Vista Gallery
5442 Monte Vista Street
Los Angeles, CA 90042

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rippedbannerThe music/reality television pilot “Stone Cold Sober…In Music City” is picking up steam and it looks like we’re headed into production later this Spring.  I’m excited because this is a project I’ve really wanted see get off the ground ever since Michael Catalano introduced me to Brian Adams and Jared Blake over six months ago.  In fact, it was my trip to Nashville to meet these guys and the band, The Levees, last summer that I decided to open Unconventional South.  I’ve always loved the music energy of Nashville, ever since I was working there doing music videos with Think Pictures (Martin Kahan and Venetia Mayhew) in the late ’80s and early ’90s.  I’m glad to be back.

Check out the Stone Cold Sober Music website and you’ll hear what an amazing roster of musicians creator Brian Adams has gathered for this series.  Anyone that has seen my film “Travelin’ Trains” knows my love of Americana roots music and with this show, we plan on delivering not only the music, but the stories of the struggles to get the music heard.  When talking about “Stone Cold,” I keep referring to documentarian James Szalapski’s late 70’s film, “Heartworn Highways,” which followed artists like Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Rodney Crowell, Steve Young and Steve Earle before any of these guys were household names.  They’re all so young, sitting around the living rooms and small studios, smoking cigarettes and drinking, playing music and espousing the importance of the back-to-basics movement  in Country.  This is intercut with performances by the Charlie Daniels Band and David Allan Coe in sparkly outfits.  I think of “Stone Cold Sober…In Music City” as a retelling, but now it’s thirty years later.  The show will touch on all the dramatic aspects of a musician’s life— including the secrets, challenges, competitiveness, successes and failures.  The struggle to get your music heard has not changed, only the musicians.

Brian Adams has been the catalyst in keeping the momentum of this project moving forward.  Unlike so many good ideas that fall away without a champion, Brian has lead the charge and continues to ignite interest in the possibilities of the show.  Adams comes from a financial background and has always specialized in managing projects from the development stages, but I’ve worked with many that call themselves “producers” and I truly believe Brian has found his calling.

Brian recently brought on Jennifer Rachidi, Owner and Brand Developer for TRUST, to provide promotion and branding.  The plan now is to line up shows throughout the Southeastern United States for Spring 2009.  The reality tour series targets a wide range of venues, sponsors, and fans.  As Brian said in the Press Release, “I felt drawn to expose the public and fans to the secrets and developments of a singer/songwriter on their way to a star career. It’s the untold and unseen sides of a performer that will be exposed.”  Audiences will be able to watch clips and interviews via online streaming, adding comments and ideas, during this phase of the production.  Public involvement at this stage will be the key to the success of the completed show.  Check out the MySpace site to hear the music and become a Friend.  It’s going to be a wild ride.

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A very nice interview with Michael Catalano of Unconventional South in the recent issue of Nashville Music Guide Magazine.

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Michael Catalano and Eric Mofford greet guests at opening.

Michael Catalano and Eric Mofford greet guests at opening.

Last Tuesday, October 14th, Unconventional Media, in conjunction with PLA Media, officially opened the Southern office, Unconventional South.  Pam Lewis, a public relations and marketing guru with over twenty years experience, opened her doors at the PLA Media building on Music Row to welcome my partner Michael Catalano and I to the agents, music publishers, record executives and other dignitaries of Nashville, Tennessee.  Fun was had by all, or at least by me.  Pam served a home cooked meal and “Unconventional” Sangria.  Videos from UM’s most recent production “Need for Speed:Undercover” and the first film Michael and I worked together on, “Travelin’ Trains” played in the background accompanied by the music of jazz maestro, Denny Jiosa.  Unconventional South is a full service production company handling the small corporate job to the large New Media production.

Most of the talk at the opening was about discovering new ways to build audiences and sell music.  There is so little independent radio these days that artists and labels are finding it difficult to get any airplay.  I’m a firm believer that if you build an audience, they will buy the music, but how to build that audience was a topic of much debate.  I think the right approach is to use the many internet networks available like MySpace, FaceBook, etc and add music documentaries, music videos, viral videos.  Everything about the artist should have a music soundtrack.  The songs are associated with the musician.  This will lead to downloads and purchases.

I also like the idea of virtual cafes, Cafe Sonique is just one of many.  The idea is a band or singer performs live at a certain time in a virtual world.  Anyone in the world can get on the internet and see the performer live.  Just like any other performance, CD’s (and in this case, downloads) are made available for purchase at the show.  The hardest part is getting an audience to discover the musician in the first place but the same holds true for independent films and documentaries.  It takes marketing and word of mouth.  Part of any budget these days has to cover the costs of getting the word out virally on the internet and in the press, because otherwise the money spent for the videos, documentaries or for a virtual live performance is wasted money.

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