Here’s what often keeps artists poor: they are unwilling to learn the basic rules of commerce. Instead, many of them worship a moral code that removes all chances for financial success because it’s grounded in highlighting their struggles, instead of their accomplishments, and it begs for unconditional respect from the public for their their plight as the “noble poor”, instead of their competencies, and their behaviour.
This ignorance of basic business principles doesn’t make artists more noble, and it doesn’t make them morally superior to those who have “sold out”. It simply makes them stubborn, and ignorant. And often, the stubborn and the ignorant have a knack for being more vocal, and for leading teams of other so-called morally superior artists, who then ruin it for anyone who wishes to break free from the starving artist mold.
I have heard so much bullshit throughout the years about how you should, and should not do things, whether that’s sales, production, packaging, relationship management, etc. In every industry, there’s always someone prepared to offer unsolicited (and often, uninformed) advice. Some people are just happy to be stuck in a mental prison, and they’re more than eager to imprison others.
I remember being told very early on not to be so public with my thoughts, not to share the “process”, not to post drafts or mistakes online. A whole slew of artists are paranoid about social media, they’re scared of online interactions, and they discourage openness with strangers. I ignored this advice, and over twenty years, 80% of my opportunities came from Facebook. It turns out that people appreciate the humanness of curiosity, of exploration, and of failure. People appreciate it when you share intimate thoughts with them. (Consequently, people don’t enjoy bitching, and complaining, so there is a fine line to walk when sharing online). Instead of being so paranoid, we should be exploring possibilities for relationships with people who are not artists. Connection with others is always superior to fear.
And, believe it or not, that’s how the pros do it. They enjoy being surrounded by their own. And you can be a professional by behaving like one. However, don’t mistake “professionalism” for being a “pro”. The two are often not aligned with each other. The bad advice I received over the years was often given given to me in the name of “professionalism”. But that ideology is often just based in tradition – not the ‘real world’ of how pros actually do things. So, be skeptical of habits, traditions, and advice espoused by people who aren’t the right models for the person you want to become, later on.
You can also be poor, AND professional. We’ve all been there, and the professional world (contrary to popular belief) really respects people who do what they can with what they’ve got. You don’t have to have all your ducks in a row. You just have to “do”. “Doing” is really the big thing that sets people apart.
Because here’s what I’ve learned about the laws of commerce: those who get the most opportunities, have the thickest portfolios. They have THOUSANDS of pictures online. They have so much experience, that their reels show only their best work. They’re picky with who they work with. They want to compete with the best, they want to work for the best, because they know that even just a few years with a big production company can boost their career for years to come. They build actual personal relationships with people. They don’t do this whole fakery of “networking”.
In the end, you don’t have to be in it for the money. But, you should have the choice. And I resent artists who don’t encourage their local community members to develop the skills needed to compete on the global stage.
So, if you ever find yourself in a position where you’re not taking the advice of your oh-so-enthusiastic peers on how to do things, because you’ve learned that that’s not how the professionals actually do it, then congratulations: you’ve risen above the bullshit. And I promise you, there’s a whole network out there of people with impressive talent and experience, and given enough time, they will find you. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Don’t be afraid to share your talents, to play, to experiment online. Don’t be afraid to reach out, to write thank you letters to your heroes, to commend an industry leader for their recent project. Don’t be afraid of other people, and don’t be afraid to be yourself. The rules of commerce are guided by authentic connection. That’s all it is. Be real with people.