It’s tough to walk the tightrope of creativity and not starving to death, but there are some inspiring ideas out there. I’ll share these with you, in case you’re a bit late to the party (like me!)
In 2008, Kevin Kelly wrote a blog post enquiring into how many True Fans it would take to sustain an artist. We should all read it. If you don’t have time, he gave a vague rule of thumb. 1,000 True Fans.
In The Curve*, Nicholas Lovell wrote about (among other things) how the free price-tag is here to stay, and what’s more, artists and creators giving things away for free is a good thing. We should all read it.
If you don’t have time, the idea is instead of doing one thing at one price, like a DVD, or a show ticket, you treat different people differently.
The problem with selling one thing at one price means if you’re not making a living, you need to find more people to buy that one thing at that one price. Which means getting distribution, employing offices of people, setting up meetings with TV execs, paying your execs to talk their execs (we’ve all been there, right?) to drive up your profile.
Now the overheads are mounting, so now you’re only making 12p per copy of the thing your selling, but that’s okay because you’re Michael McIntyre and sales are through the roof.
Just in case you’re not Michael McIntyre…
What if you’ve already got enough people who want to sustain you, who love what you do, but want different things from you?
Clicking around on the 1,000 True Fans post, I see that painters know all about this. They treat different people differently. This commission is worth £200 to this person, so now I’m going to make a £200 thing. This commission is worth £1000 to this person, so now I’m going to make a £1000 thing.
Same paint, same canvas, same artist, different value to the buyer. Nobody’s being ripped off – the painter loves to paint, the buyer loves her work. In a world of meaningless froth, how much would you value a personalised, custom-made thing of beauty and meaning from your favourite artist?
Doing comedy here in the UK, I know I’m lucky. Some pioneering people came before me and built a comedy circuit and a culture has formed around it. But whatever it is you create (poetry, fiction, software, knitted lampshades), there’s a probably culture and maybe we owe it to the pioneers to do something with their legacy.
Unlike, say, a big media company, you don’t have to pay an office full of people to make you famous and connect you to True Fans. My Nana has an iPad. She might like your stuff.
All you need is a laptop (maybe not even that) and your tortured artistic soul (check!). You may as well dig in while you’re waiting to get picked by the Head of Go Away at Don’tLetTheDoorHitYouInTheAss Media Group**.
Make stuff. Get it out there (hint – people like free things that they can share with their friends). See who salutes. Try again. Don’t quit.
To sum up:
The Curve says: Use the power of free to reach audiences, build relationships with them, and create ways to let them spend money on your lovely stuff. (If you were creative enough to make a stand-up routine, or a script, or a knitted lampshade, you’ve got this.)
Kevin Kelly says: One thousand is a feasible number.
How far away are you?
*There’s also a free podcast out there of Nicholas Lovell talking about The Curve.
**If you can pull any strings at DLTDHYITA Media Group, please put in a good word for me.