Earlier this week, I had the privilege of speaking at a class at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. During one portion of this talk, I gave some words of advice about making a living as an independent artist. Here they are in case they are helpful to anyone else:
1. You don't need to know everything
Artists can tend to be perfectionists, and as such, we can be very hard on ourselves when we come face-to-face with our own ignorance. We can feel this pressure that we should arrive "pre-arrived," as if there is no incubating period for coming into one's own. But this kind of thinking is counter-intuitive to the artistic process, which is often rife with not knowing. We should be curious, free, and ever in a spirit of learning. There is also much value in learning to depend on others for help. If you don't know how to make a website or manage a budget or create a production schedule, find friends or hire people who do! It's not all on you to do everything.
2. Get to know yourself
While you may not need to know everything, one thing that will help the very core of your artistry is knowing yourself. This is a lifelong journey, so I've modified the traditional "Know yourself" into "Get to know yourself." No one finishes college knowing completely who they are. And we are always evolving throughout our lifetime, so getting to know ourselves is never over. The power that comes with getting to know yourself is manyfold. You will learn what your values are. You will define success on your own terms. You will know what to say "No" to. Your voice will automatically emerge from your artistry, because your identity will be expressed without your working to make it so.
3. Think of yourself as an artist
Some people don't need this advice. They know they are artists, and always have known. But for everyone else, we often wonder if we qualify for the title "artist" (or "writer," or "dancer," or "filmmaker," etc). But at what point do you get to earn that title? When you get your degree? When you get your first commission? First production? First review? The fact is, there may always be some reason to think you aren't worthy of the title. But I think this is a classic case of "Fake it till you make it" being true. Unless you allow yourself to own the title of artist, you'll always be wondering if you're good enough, if you've made it. Think of yourself as an artist, put in the work, and one day you'll find that the title suits you just fine.
4. Think of yourself as a business
This might sound slimy, but if you want to make money with your art, you are a business. If it's any help, instead of thinking of it as selling a product, try thinking of it as meeting a need. Broadly speaking, the world needs art, music, stories. If we didn't believe that, we wouldn't be pursuing careers in the arts. So, we are here to help meet that need! I believe thinking of yourself as a business is really about protecting yourself from those who will take advantage of you. There will be people who want to take and take and take from you for free or far less than what your dignity is worth. Shoring yourself up with good business practices isn't slimy; it's self-care. Learn a bit about the legal, financial, and marketing sides of business - or find people who are good at those things and hire them to help you run your business. When those things are in order, you will be freed up to pursue your artistic whim without worry.