Artist, Inc.

Deep down we all harbour a fantasy: We do creative work, throw it in the mail — someone else sends us a contact and doesn’t bother us again. No-one gets to tell us what to do; our art remains pure and untouched. No interference. No pesky concerns about this or that. Someone else handles the stuff we don’t care about. We’re just “chosen” and then, suddenly, a success. — Ryan Holiday

But that’s not how it goes. Because of poor planning, naive hopes and over reliance on other people, lots of deserving art never makes it out into the world to find the attention it deserves.

The wake up call for all of us is there in no publicist, manager, producer, assistant, benefactor, fairy godmother or app who will magically handle all of the stuff you don’t want to handle.

While those people do exist and serve specific roles (although to be fair, I’ve never actually seen a benefactor with my own eyes), finishing the creation phase of a project is not the end of the hard work on a project, it’s just the beginning. Understanding and accepting this upfront is an important step in helping your work to matter to the world for years instead of days, and building a career that will thrive and sustain you long term.

Work that finds its place in the world is made by indefatigable artists who, instead of “kissing it up to God”, as they say in Hollywood — see every part of the process as their responsibility.

You’re not just the creative or research and development arm of You, Inc. You’re the CEO.

Your audience can’t magically know what is inside something they haven’t seen. They have no clue how it will change their lives, and to what extent. You can’t just drop your work in the middle of a world that is cluttered (not only with other new idea and art, but all the great ideas and artwork that has come before you) and stand back hoping that people will notice it for themselves. You can’t assume they will recognise how good it is and how great you are for creating it.

Someone is going to need to lead them towards it and say “You know that [thing] that you’ve been (perhaps subconsciously) looking for? Well here it is. Let me tell you what it’s going to do for you, and the benefits you’ll receive when you purchase it, book tickets for it, support it and tell your friends about it!”

Many of us want to just be “the creator”. It’s what we trained to do. In our brains that’s the sexy part. Even though it’s really hard work, it’s where we feel safe.

Taking responsibility for the rest of it? That’s scary. For many of us, it’s outside our ‘zone of genius’.

But once upon a time you sucked at all those things you’re really good at now. The first time baby you tried to stand up? You fell down. The first notes you played on the piano? Not exactly Mozart. (Even Mozart didn’t play like Mozart until he was four!) The first photo you took didn’t make Annie Leibovitz or Helmut Newton put down their cameras in shame. But you stand testament to the power of practise. You learned your craft step by step, improving each day until those incremental investments paid off in the artist you are today.

There are a lot of decisions to make. Some of which could make or break your project. And it would be nice to be able to hand those decisions off to someone else. Someone who could wear the blame if things didn’t work out.

But while we are encouraged to embrace our inner child as creatives, we need to step up as adults when it comes to business. Children expect opportunities to be handed to them, while adults understand that you need to go out and make them.

There is a lot of noise in the world and more competition each day. More than four hundred hours of content is uploaded to YouTube every minute. Ten thousand people get advanced degrees in drama each year and 300,000 books are published in the United States alone.

The good news is that by showing up consistently with purpose and intent you’re going to stand out from the crowd. By choosing the group of people (the audience) you show up for each day, you have the opportunity to earn their trust and develop a long term relationships.

That’s more than most artists do. Purpose, intent and consistency will leapfrog you ahead of an astounding number of other creatives. Being your own CEO will move you further up the queue past the artists who have subjugated themselves to the gatekeepers (waiting to get the right agent, to be seen at the right casting, to be signed to a deal, to be ‘discovered’).

As Ryan Holiday says in Perennial Seller – “Nobody wants the hassle of cultivating a diamond in the rough. If you want to be successful, you’d better be cut, polished, set and sized to fit.”

You are the CEO of your business and you’re in charge of your product and service. All the responsibility and leadership falls on you — even if you have partners. Having an agent, publicist, producer etc doesn’t mean they will take care of everything for you, or that they will always know how to act in your best interests.

When faced with moments of conflict or confusion, who else but you holds the vision of what this project is and how it fits into the arc of your career? Who else cares about the details and the integrity that makes this memorable rather than mediocre?

The answer is you and only you.


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