I was out for drinks with some actor friends after seeing a show last night, and sure enough I got caught on a rant I seem to be making a lot recently: artists need to learn business.
Now I know I can't be the first one to say this, but I feel like there are a lot of actors, dancers, musicians and general makers of things that are constantly complaining about the lack of work, how they hate their day job and wish the could quit, how "the industry" is rough and against the little guy...
Ok, before I go on, I know the feeling. I do! My first two or three years out of theatre school I auditioned for everything. And I mean EVERYTHING! Any style and every style of dance and performance regardless of what I could actually do, plus an agent at the time who sent me to everything under the sun: hip hop, breaking, ballroom, belly dance, plays, improv, print, promo, voice overs, video game voice work... Between my own research and my agent's pull on things I was going to 3 to 5 auditions a week, every week for about a year. I never got anything in that year, but the experience and being thrown in the deep end without checking for rocks taught me SO many lessons well ahead of my time. The conclusions I came to with auditioning came down to this:
There's an awkward point in your artistic development where the only way you're going to grow and gain experience is by doing... and failing. You have to go through those pitfalls to question everything you're doing with your life to decide is this really the life you want. Because it's certainly not easy, but in my opinion it's the most spiritually satisfying means of existing. Ideally you are doing this not only for yourself and because it makes you feel wonderful, but for everyone who watches you or sees your work and can't do what you do. Your job is to bring fulfillment to an audience sometimes in a way they didn't even know they needed. You are an embodiment of everything they want to feel and shout out loud, every fantasy they want fulfilled, every sorrow and stress they wished released. It is, and in my opinion, should be your ultimate purpose.
Romantic, isn't it?
But how will you do it?
This is where every artist needs to find the utilitarian and mine the proper resources and find joy and purpose in the sometimes medial tasks in order to reach that great fulfillment mentioned above.
Translation: Your art NEEDS to be a business.
Because I've learned to love listing, I will list it out all your whys:
1. Break the stigma
Artists tend to have this cloud over them that they're these hippy children that don't understand how the real world works. They don't crunch numbers, they don't pay taxes, they don't really get what "working" is. Now you and I both know that those ideas couldn't be more wrong, but talking about it isn't enough. If you are to succeed as an artist, it is imperative that you learn everything you can, when you can on what it takes to be self employed or run and small business - because that is essentially what you're are and will be doing. You are, for the most part, a contractor. You jump gig to gig, job to job, show to show, and project to project. You don't necessarily get vacation time, you have to set your own schedule. You are on par with an electrician or a plumber in so many capacities. And you should be treating your craft as a plumber treats his. Stay up to date on your training, get your necessary certifications, learn to balance your books and manage your budget, master your scheduling so you can sustain yourself and your craft. I've learned in the past year especially just how much office work is needed from me as a dancer. Do I love it? Not all the time... but it's the necessary evil to get to do the things I want to be doing and set the foundation for my business to grow. The more you start thinking of your craft as a business, the more you'll treat it like it is one, and the more people will take "that silly artistic hobby" of yours seriously. But you have to do it first.
2. Reach your audience
I can't stress this enough. You have to make sure your audience gives a shit. And on multiple levels. They need to care about your work, they need to care about what you're saying, you're audience needs to be in on this with you. If they're not, then who are you doing it for? Artistic masturbation is obnoxious in the worst way and not worth the time and admission price.
On the next level in terms of business, you have to promote! And actively! Don't count on the producer/director/candlestick maker to get people to see you. Don't count on big names or bands. Don't count on your presenter or venue. Now you hope all those people have a pull in getting people to your work, but I'm saying don't count on them. Let them do what they have to do, and you do your part to make sure everyone sees you.
And not just on stage or when you're working on a show or project. You need to be doing this regularly! Find a way to build your own celebrity and infamy. Find clever ways to advertise your side projects, your labour, your costume making, your scheming, your images, your inspirations. Make appearances at other shows and projects and write about them! Network at these events! Talk to everyone! Make yourself a presence outside of your work. Then by the time you have something big coming up, not only is everyone in the loop and filled with anticipation, you're no longer fighting for that extra push to draw a crowd and reach a populous. You'll also find with that task alone, you'll always be a working artist.
3. Make a profit
Ok, here's a story. From the time I was about 8 my dad has been self-employed. He's in incredibly smart, clever, knowledgeable man. I go to him when I need money, business or legal advice. One of my dad's first small business ventures was being the business advisor and financial planner for working and aspiring inventors and innovators. When I got older he told me why that job got so frustrating and had to leave some of his clients: they didn't understand the idea of profit.
But how can you not understand profit?
Because you make your goal "breaking even" instead of "making money".
These guys would overspend and under fund their own projects, usually leaving my dad unpaid from some of his efforts. I feel there are a lot of artists that work the same way. I was talking to a more established dancer I recently did a contract in Niagara with. He told me the he's noticed in the past 6 to 7 years that the gig rate has gone down significantly. And I know why. Because we are not standing up for our worth due to a combination of two things: our clientele doesn't see us as a legitimate working trade, and dancers mistaking "exposure" and "experience" as payment. Seriously, why would you pay the one guy, if the other guys says he'll do it just to be seen? I can't think of one dancer who hasn't put in the hours, weeks, months, years, blood, spit, sweat and tears into their pas de bourees and fouttee turns. Why in the HELL would you just give that up for free???
I have been dancing for 24 years now. It has pushed me physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually and financially. I love it more than I can express and it fills me with breath I can't begin to explain...
But in order to get the rewards I deserve I must show that my craft and my skill is worth something. And the only one who can do that is the artist.