I normally don’t get too involved but the series of events leading up to this somehow seemed, meant to be but not in the good way.
They Stole Chappelle’s Show
Yesterday there was a video that Dave Chapelle put out on his Instagram from one of his now infamous Pandemic field shows. It was long and serious for the majority but like anything he puts out we watched all 18 minutes. He told a story of an older comic stealing his joke when he was just 15, he then told the intricate and complicated details of Chappelle’s Show and what happened. The way he talked about the contracts and people taking advantage of performers because none of us actually understand those contracts hit home and is something comedians are often worried about, although it rarely comes into play in the magnitude of Chappelle’s Show
His story is always going to be an amplified version of the rest of us but most working comics have some story like that. A TV taping where they own the clip of you from 10 years ago cannot be taken down or you see nothing of the profits for the clip of one of your favorite jokes that everyone knows and loves.
That happened to me. I did multiple TV tapings for a few different shows, made $100 when an episode would air, not paid for the taping and then when they decided to put it on YouTube/Facebook (and some clips have hundreds of thousands of views and some have millions) I get nothing. This stuff happens all the time. For that reason, a lot of people decided not to do a couple of the shows I did but they already had late night credits and resumes that I still don’t have.
It’s VERY easy to look back and go “oh, that’s stupid, why did you do that?” I’ll tell you why. The industry makes you feel like you’re worth nothing ON PURPOSE so that you won’t question them. I had never had a TV credit, the next person it happens to has never sold a show and Chappelle wasn’t famous like he is now until after he signed that contract. The thing that in the end fucks you over, is also what helped you start? It’s fucked up and the powers that be know that.
If he had just put it out on YouTube, especially at that time, even if he had miraculously had the money to make something of that quality without a network, it would not have been what it is. Basically what I’m saying is it is a constant double edged sword of ‘do I let people use me for what I have created to get the attention it deserves’ OR ‘do I do it myself and have it reach less people but retain my rights and the money it makes?’ I have literally read contracts and thought ‘I don’t know what that means but no one else seems to have a problem with it.’
Chappelle ends by asking people not to watch the thing he created, the thing that created him as we know him. I’m listening, I love that show, we used to get in trouble for watching the downloaded versions during math class in high school. I will not watch it and genuinely hope they pay him for it.
It’s his, it has his fucking name on it. They stole that from him.
I’m Doing It And It’s Not Working
I have created my own work, the way I wanted to, put it out where I could, I am the independent artist that people keep telling us to be. I won’t pretend that has been my choice but it has been my path. However, the same exact stand-up set that got over a million views is on my YouTube channel with 8.4% of that amount of views. Still the highest I have been paid for that set, I thought scoffing to myself. I got a grant to make a documentary series that I literally made no money on. I paid over $6,000 of my own money THIS YEAR to create the two albums and market them myself. Is it worth it? Creatively, I do think so. Financially, definitely not yet, I can tell you that.
I did the thing people are saying you are supposed to do. I made it myself, put out QUALITY that I am proud of, employed other small businesses and independent artists and I can guarantee you, it won’t do as well as if I had signed a stupid contract with someone who would take advantage of brilliant, hard work.
The Icing on the Stolen Cake
I finished two albums this year, yeah this year of all years. Two albums I have dreamed of completing for so long. First, my standup album “Mostly Finger Guns” went number one on iTunes, another dream come true. I won’t know the financial returns on that for three months but exciting none-the-less.
I have also created and am about to release a comedic guided meditation album called Chill, that I am incredibly excited about and proud of. Here is the icing on the cake, I didn’t do what Dave did. I did what the very popular rebellious comedians do, I did it myself. All by myself. I wrote and recorded the lyrics, I paid a fantastic composer (Jeremy Shabo) to create original music for each track, hired a guy who normally mixes blockbuster movies to mix half of the tracks, paid for the artwork, the marketing, the distribution to stores, I filmed and/or edited the videos myself. I want it to go number one as well, the first meditation album to do so and very quick turnaround to have two number ones albums, I want that.
It’s just not how it goes. This morning I woke up to make sure the video I had made to premiere the fourth track on the Chill album, “Family Time” was up on YouTube correctly. It looked fine until I stumbled upon another guided meditation that was to come out today. It was from a musician that I had reached out to and asked to be involved with this video. The musician was excited, loved the idea but travel got in the way and we couldn’t have them involved. Then somehow on the same day they put out a guided meditation about the same topic we had discussed? Cool, cool, cool.
I have spent the last two months looking for meditation groups online, podcasts, blogs that would be interested in posting about this album. A post on reddit about it was adorned with the first comment of “she? It can’t be funny if a woman made it.” IN A MEDITATION GROUP. I have become immune to the comments about my weight, my gray hair, my anything else but in a meditation group? Not to mention over 20 newspapers and magazines I e-mailed about both albums and not I can’t stop thinking about what those mean comments would be like, a girl can dream. They just won’t be funny dreams.
Here is My Whiny Little Point.
At the very core of this argument, I think deep down every person feels like the person responsible for creating, who starts it and who does the hard work of creating should be the person who reaps the rewards. How on earth, is it that the person who just happens to have a job at a network or agency can make more from something someone created than that actual person? No one knew we would be where we are now with Chappelle and it’s not about giving a rich man more money but I genuinely believe that the genius, as we all have deemed him, should be the one getting the reward.
I have said it, written it and lived the idea that we should be supporting artist now, finding who you like in the “minor-stream” and following them, buying their stuff, watching their videos. They could be the next huge thing or you could just be making a huge difference for them. It’s the same thing as going to a smaller college for more individual attention and smaller class numbers, it makes a much bigger difference when you show up.
Of course this is self-serving but did you think Dave Chappelle posting that video so people would boycott the show in order for him to get paid wasn’t? I absolutely want you to read this and think “I am going to support smaller comedians in their independent endeavors so they don’t get screwed over by contracts, Monica is one of my favorites, I’ll pre-order her meditation album ‘Chill’ right now by going to the iTunes store and searching her name.” Yes, that’s what I want you to think, will you do it? Based on Dave’s experience, people stealing my work and the numbers on the music video today, I won’t hold my breath.