Choosing a career path that follows your artistic passion means that you have become a business. Interestingly, many artists don’t think of it as such. They think they are just doing what they like, following their dream or maybe working for themselves.
As much as you might like to think of your creative efforts as pure artistry, if you want to make any money from your talent – whether it’s writing, graphic design, cake decorating or music – it needs to be managed like a business. But many artists fear making money from their art may mean they have to compromise their artistic integrity, or “sell out”.
It doesn’t have to be that way. You just have to shift your business mindset.
If you have a killer design or a hot performance to sell, and you market it accordingly, then you’re not selling out – you’re simply bringing a desirable product to a ready audience.
Meeting the market: What we can learn from the music industry
The modern music industry has evolved over the years from being solely driven by the music artists created, to being driven by business – by what music labels wanted. Today, the music industry could be said to be largely market driven. The internet has allowed audiences to take control of their personal music consumption and has allowed for a direct connection between artist and audience. The industry has almost reverted back to a time hundreds of years ago when musicians performed songs and painters produced works of art commissioned for royal and religious “patrons”, receiving support/patronage in return.
Today, with the engine of the internet and the fuel of social media, creative artists of all kinds are capable of galvanising global audiences, nurturing them through intimate communication, special offers and unique access.
In other words, the internet has allowed the patron model to re-emerge. Only this time, rather than having one exclusive patron, a creative artist may have thousands – each paying a small proportion of the patronage.
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The 5000 Fans Theory
The 5000 Fans Theory was first suggested by Brian Austin Whitney, founder of music industry network Just Plain Folks. He calculated that an artist who has 5000 devoted fans, each of whom spends just $20 per year – be it on CDs, ticket sales, merchandise, donations or any other means – stands to make $100,000 per year. This is plenty enough to make a decent living.
Now, 5000 is a big number, but when you look at how easily social networking can build audiences 5000 becomes entirely achievable. And you’d need even less if the dollars spent per fan or customer were higher.
What’s the big lesson?
Every performance, exhibition or show is like a business, and to run a successful business, no matter how small, you have to do three things beautifully:
1. Produce a beautiful product;
2. Market it beautifully; and
3. Have beautiful financial management.
But to do something beautifully you really need to love it, and it’s rare to find anyone who is equally passionate about making something, marketing it and managing the financial side.
Before you outlay money on recruiting a team of professionals to manage your business – look to people within your industry community who will share free advice with you. Identify who is in a position you aspire to be in, and approach them for advice on how they got to where they are. Any significant knowledge or skill gaps can always be overcome with a strategic hire, a consultant or a special mentor.
Approaching your career as an artist with these ideas in mind is not selling out – it’s simply getting you in the right business mindset to to make a living from your passion.
How have you turned your art into a business without selling out?