Can the often glamorized cliché image of the starving artist living an uncertain–yet beautifully bohemian–life, whilst creating masterpieces, finally become a thing of the past? If Suzana Barbosa (AKA Suzana d’Amour) gets her way, it will be (at least the uncertain part). With a joint goal of building awareness for her new music and her new initiative, can Barbosa change the conversation from starving artist to abundant artist one step at a time?
Besides having one of the most gorgeous manes in the business, the musician and performer has a big heart as well. She is the founder of I Dare You to Care, and most recently she dared herself to care by starting the Walk Miles for Music campaign. Last month I spoke with her–on her way to San Francisco–about this initiative and why it’s become her passion project. Chaka V.
Q: What inspired you to create the ‘Walk Miles for Music’ campaign?
A: Basically, I was tired of complaining. [Laughs] And seeing the musicians that I love feel like they have to make a choice between having a regular life and being an artist. I’ve been fortunate to be doing music as long as I have, but it’s more that I want to stand up for musicians because there’s so much conversation around promoting and Pandora and Spotify and artists not being able to sustain themselves, so I just decided to do something.
Q: When did the idea come to you?
A: I always had something pulling at me. As I was doing music I started a side project called I Dare You to Care, and I would always get other nonprofits to…help them out with ideas. Then it kind of pulled me into wondering why I never stepped up for artists. Like, I’ve dared other people to care but I’ve never really done it for myself. I had this guilt associated around art–it’s such a passion, and it’s so joyful that it was like, oh, there’s starving children in the world and here I want to create a project to help artists live more sustainably. But then I got over that. I remember the morning that I woke up and I called one of my best friends and said, “I don’t know, I just can’t do this. I just gotta do something.” That was in February and now it’s April 16th.
Q: Do you think there is pressure on artists to not demand being paid well and fairly compensated for their music? The idea that if they’re truly in it for the art than money should be secondary?
A: Yeah, you know I get a lot of people saying that to me. There is this mentality around starving artists, which I’m really trying to change, because there was this notoriety around [the idea that] when you struggle you write better material and stuff. Maybe beforehand that was the case, you just have to do it, but I realize as I get older, this is my gift and I really can’t picture doing anything else in my life. But everyone has this thought that it is a gift and therefore it should be given for free, and every artist that has been doing it as long as I have knows that that’s not the case. It’s not about the fame or lots of money–it’s really just something that we have to do. But then we’re trying to find a way to sustain ourselves because right now it’s not possible. [One artist] posted that 1, 500, 000 Spotify streams got her 140 dollars, you know. It’s just not sustainable.
Q: Definitely not.
A: I’ve been able to talk to amazing artists here in L.A. They’ve talked to me about this exact thing, saying that they need something, and they’ve had to struggle. It’s up, it’s down. I really believe that we’re all here to live our life. People see it as a really glamorous life but it really isn’t. It looks glamorous–that’s the whole perception of being in the music scene–but it’s really not. It’s tons of work, and lots of heart, and I believe artist bring lots of value. We make locations really hip and everybody wants to live there and then we gotta move out because we can’t [afford to] live there anymore.
Q: Very true. Do you think social media has helped or undermined artists?
A: There’s a catch 22. You’ve got the platform now to expose it [music] to whoever you want. But there are an abundance of music enthusiasts or artists – there’s a lot of mediocrity, to be honest, in my opinion. People are just like, “I’m going to be an artist.” So there’s a lot of filtering through that you’ve got to do. And then the social media part of it, I think is great but then everybody’s asking you to like their page. Where is the actual genuine like? You know? Like me getting 10,000 likes is going to determine whether you book me or not.
And it cost a lot of money. I just interviewed someone at the Musicians Institute [College of Contemporary Music], a doctor who gets paid because of musicians. It’s called the Musicians Institute, he’s a career development teacher, professor, and he’s like, “Buying music is dead.” This is a man who gets paid by musicians, he gets paid like 100,000 dollars a year. Tons of people are making money because of music but artists are not being compensated fairly.
Q: You use the term “sustainable living solutions” for artists? What does that mean? And what does that look like?
A: Well my goal is to develop win win situations with business that benefit because of the music industry and somehow build an alliance. The name I came up with was the Abundance Artists Alliance. There would obviously be a criteria where artists have a certain amount of years under their belt, they’ve been doing it a long time – like any grant system there’s a criteria. Then provide them with the basics. We’re talking food and shelter. [Laughs] Like, really, every artist I’ve spoken to, surveyed, and asked questions, it’s that–“I don’t want to have to worry about rent and food.” The great thing about artists is that we’re so resilient that we find ways to make money for the other things we want. But if we have to worry about rent and food than it changes our capacity to be able to create great music in my opinion.
Q: Would this extend to artists living in Toronto, L.A., Berlin or would AAA be a place that artists travel to, and stay at, in order to receive support while they’re making music?
A: Well, actually, it’s going to be an online alliance. But part of the goal is to have locations throughout the world where artists can go and take a residency. So my girlfriend just found a piece of land in California for 4000 bucks, put me on the deed – I mean, that’s nothing right? It’s almost an acre of land. She put me on the deed and I have to pay her back someday but for 2000 bucks I got a piece of land. I said I will do it as long as we can put it into the Abundance Artists Alliance, where we develop a place that artists can go and just do their art for three, six months, whatever it is. The goal is to have residences but it is about compensation, giving artists a salary, every two weeks for either a year or two years depending on what they need in order to get themselves to the next level.
Q: That’s an amazing vision.
A: People are like how are you going to do it? It sounds crazy. [Laughs]. And I’m like, I don’t know, it’s not that crazy. I’ve seen a lot of non-profits make amazing things happen, and I really think this is totally possible and totally doable.
Q: It sounds timely and it also sounds like something that should have happened a long time ago?
A: Thank you for saying that.
Q: It’s like creating a union for artists and they need that support and that protection. So tell me how the documentary, where we watch your journey being chronicled, became part of this campaign? Has that part began yet?
A: Well, as I spoke to a friend of mine, Nathan Greene–he has a company called Imaginology– and my co-writers about it, they were like, “You have to document this.” I thought, of course, I’m going to document it but not to this extent. Nathan Greene actually decided to join me for the first week. He had to leave and he’s been back for the following week because L.A. has a lot of talented people here that have a lot to say. He’s been following me. Tomorrow [April 17th], I actually start to walk to San Francisco on my own and I have my own gear that I’m going to use to document my journey as I walk to San Francisco. So, yeah, it just kind of felt really natural to do that because the only way this is going to work are by the people that I’ve interviewed and from the feedback I get. Me just walking on my own on the highway is really not going to get me anywhere. It is about the conversation.
Q: Yes. So where are you sleeping, have you created check in points along your journey? Is it lonely out there?
A: Well, I have a buggy. I did some research online and discovered that a lot of people have done this. So I bought a buggy from a woman for 25 bucks. I have a great picture of my buggy [below]. I made a Walk Miles For Music [banner] that wraps over the buggy.
And then, you know, it’s random. It really is random. The first night we had nowhere to stay and we met some great musicians who allowed us to sleep at their place. They ended up having a studio in Hollywood Hills. We interviewed them. They had fantastic music. That’s part of it, it’s learning to trust more. I have a little bit of an issue about trying to control the outcome, which, you know, I’m pretty bad at that. I’m always like, “I gotta know what’s happening,” and I found, I find, that things end up working out exactly the way it’s supposed to.
Q: Very true.
A: I have a neuroscientist that’s a friend of mine [Vladislav Sekulic], who I asked to be part of this experience as well. He’s in Toronto. I asked him, “Would you be the man that can kind of add facts to what I’m talking about when I talk about sustainability?” I said, “Lump sums don’t seem to work. Having a salary, something coming in every two weeks really seems to work.” And he said, “Yeah, there’s an actual study about that.” And then, when I actually started to talk to him about me stepping out of my comfort zone, he said, “Something really amazing happens when we step outside of our comfort zone. We start to see, we start to allow things into our lives that are supposed to be there.”
Q: I agree.
A: And I thought wow, OK, if we live in our bubble all the time and we try to control everything we don’t get the joy of experiencing the spontaneous way that the universe can provide. Right?
Q: And serendipity.
A: Oh my gosh, has it ever been serendipitous. It’s been incredible. I wish you could be here to see the people and the things I’ve experienced so far, and the encouragement I’ve been getting. People are like, “This is great! Why hasn’t this happen before?”
Q: So how can people support you? I know that you released that fantastic song, “We Are All Made of Light.”
A: Thank you!
Q: What’s your call to action? How can others dive in and support you?
A: OK. I [hope] to sell 100,000 units of my song – which is very ambitious, I know. I have a Kapipal page where people who contribute have a chance to win tickets to the Azores [Sao Miguel, Azores Islands], so there is incentive there, which is kind of fun because Azores is a beautiful place. The Kapipal page is the perfect place to go to because they can either buy my track or the whole album, which will be available soon because I’m releasing them as singles, I have another one coming out [soon] called, “Before My Heart Goes,” which is also more of an electro song. And that’s the best way. Or go to Walk Miles for Music and even submit ideas. We threw something up there so that people could get a sense of what we’re doing and they can submit their ideas.
[Note: Donations made through Kapipal are not returned if set goal is not met. Contact Suzana directly if interested in learning how donations will be used or more about how to support the initiative].
Q: Do you have an idea of when we can expect the documentary?
A: I’m planning on getting footage in Toronto and Berlin – of artist—so it’s probably going to be in about, I would say, give me a year and a half.
A: I still want to talk to ASCAP, BMI, and YouTube about how they’re handling their payouts because you need a 100, 000 views in order to make 7 dollars. Things like that that I need to get facts and numbers on that I’m not happy about and that I need to figure out and build a conversation around.
Note: This interview is not an endorsement.
The Winehouse Mag supports dialogue and conversations that improve the lives of artists everywhere. If the topic sparks your interest click on the following links to learn more about Suzana’s music. The Walk Miles For Music Campaign. And how donating to Kapipal works.
Photo Credit: Leann Parker from LIP Photography