Archives for posts with tag: artist marketing

On the Internet, many people seem to take literally the old saying, “sharing is caring”.

The more you share, the more you care.

Online, that can mean essentially anything: from artistic works in progress to prettily filtered selfies to disarmingly candid thoughts and sometimes shockingly personal stories.

Is all this “authenticity” really a good idea in a technological environment where such voluntary disclosure ultimately amounts to self-surveillance?

Sometimes, as a marketing tactic, the “authenticity” ploy works amazingly well. Readers react as if the writer is the star of a reality show, and often chime in with commentary as if the writer’s life were some kind of team sport.

(“Writer” here means anyone posting text and/or imagery to a social networking site. The writer could be a visual designer, sci-fi author, comic book artist or indie filmmaker, for example.)

The main problem with “sharing” is that real authenticity is mostly boring, whereas the fake kind is at the same time compelling and soul-crushingly cynical.

Before you go searching for your “best self” to present to potential new fans, take the following caveats into consideration:

Does anyone really care about your awesomely fascinating life, or would your time be better spent focusing on the art instead?

Oftentimes, self-presentation online has the sense of what some call the Curated Self. As a museum intentionally selects pieces for exhibit on its walls, so do Internet users with varying degrees of care. A rule of thumb might be that with each step away from the work itself, the more likely you are to alienate those who might like your art — but aren’t necessarily so inclined to get to know you as a person.

This is completely fine. If a creative person tries to convert online followers into simulated Internet Friends, it may be time to think twice about why that may be the case.

Is “sharing” an attempt at attaining self-validation or seeking instant popularity?

There is a particular tone that practically bleats, “Hello? I’m here. Please like me!” For an independent artist without specific skills in marketing, it can be difficult to craft a voice that sounds confident without snark or arrogance, and friendly without self-deprecation or appearing overly eager to please.

It can be easy to feel as if social media is a form of competition for “relevance”, where each item has to receive heaps of likes and comments and shares in order for it to be worthwhile at all. This can have the effect of subtly directing the types of items posted, in order to satisfy demand rather than express something real.

Is it ethical to use friends and family members as part of the self-marketing game show called “Your So-Called Life?”

A large contingent of creative Internet users seem to think nothing of sharing information about their friends, family and even young children, almost certainly without prior consent.

Funnily embarrassing anecdotes about your kids are fine at Sunday brunches with other moms who live in the neighborhood. Remember, though, that on the Internet, information never dies, and children have just as much of a right to shape their personal narrative as their parents (and aunts and uncles, etc.) do. The same is true of everyone else in your life who may not want to be used as fodder for gambits toward illusory Internet relevance and popularity.

And yes, quite a few Internet people are creepy weirdos who are using every personal detail as a kind of voyeuristic peep show. If you wouldn’t invite random people to stare into your living room window, why give them the same level of access via Internet for the sake of “building your brand”?

The line between self-expression and self-exploitation can be a tricky tightrope to walk. It only takes one sleepily cringeworthy after-midnight tweet or emotionally overwrought blog post to write something that, once screenshot and saved, can never be unsaid. Share carefully.


These seven guidelines just might help you (and me) from languishing at a “survival job”. Do whatever it takes to keep your dreams, inspiration and creative energy from fading with time and the ceaseless onslaught of the nine-to-five daily grind. Don’t make the mistake of conflating financial poverty and artistic integrity.

1. If you love what you do, get good enough at it to get paid for it.

I hear the same excuses over and over from mediocre “amateurs” and
dilettantes who call themselves “artists”:

I don’t want money.
I do this because I love it.
I do it for myself and no one else.

Don’t fall into the “amateur trap”. If you truly love what you do, other people will love it, too. Art is interpersonal communication. If no one cares about what you do, what you’re doing is little more than artistic masturbation.

Masturbation is fine — and the real thing is better. Likewise, if you haven’t captured a person’s complete attention, assume that they’re not really paying any attention at all. If you’re going to spend the rest of your life doing what you love, you might as well get good enough that other people will find real value in it, too.

In a capitalist society, the exchange of value between strangers is expressed through payment for a product or service. If you continually work on improving your skill, it’s practically inevitable that at some point, other people who want your work will notice you’ve created something that goes beyond a casual hobby.

If you’re just a weekend hobbyist, that’s fine. Are you a writer who endlessly complains about “writer’s block” and never actually writes anything? “The empty page terrifies me”, the poseur says (hint: an empty page should thrill you, because you can already see your work living there). That’s cool. Are you a painter who only does it in between the moments when life inevitably “gets in the way”? Okay, fine. Recognize that until you sacrifice the time and effort to continually improve, you’re a hobbyist, not an artist. The difference is a simple question of your methods, time, and effort.

All true artists are amateurs, in that all artists must love what they do. And if you truly love it, others will, too. When you find others who value your work, it’s only natural in our society that you can expect to be paid for your labor.

Anyone who says otherwise is probably justifying their desire to steal from you, guilt-free. Never open the door for those whom you know are thieves.

2. Don’t rely solely on live performance. Create a product that you can sell.

This one is more universal than you might think. A theatre actor performs live. So does a teacher, comedian or public speaker. So does anyone who offers an ephemeral, one-time experience that disappears after it’s done. Think of other professions and activities that fit this description.

Either you repeat your performance a thousand times for a thousand dollars, or you can create it once and sell the performance a thousand times.

This one has a deceptively hidden element that is it’s real importance. That element is time.

Money less important than time. You can never buy more time; you can always make more money. A thousand hours spent is a thousand hours you’ll never get back. Time is not money. Time is life.

Read the previous paragraph as many times as it takes to start valuing your time more than you value a quick-and-easy paycheck.

3. Learn how to market your product. Study marketing until you can sell anything that you might want to create.

Self-explanatory. Marketing is probably the opposite of what you believe it is, mainly for two reasons: first, we’re immersed in marketing all the time, so we often don’t notice it. Second: we’re taught that anything we do notice as “marketing” is automatically evil.

This leads people to think that television (which is an advertising medium interspersed with programming to distract you) doesn’t influence you. Obviously it does, which is why large corporations advertise so heavily on TV — and pay a high premium for prime-time when most people are watching.

On the other hand, an artist on the Internet who tries to sell his or her work is considered a threat to the “freedom of Information” or some other nonsense.

Notice how this serves large corporations while screwing everyone else.

Your most important skill will never be your work, or how incredibly smart you are, or how you’ve become “so good that you’re impossible to ignore”.

– A mediocre product with outstanding marketing will still sell.
– A good product with average marketing will not sell much better.
– A great product with abysmal marketing will tend to sell poorly.
– A brilliant product with no marketing will never even be known.

Study marketing until you can sell your best work at the price that you want to be paid. Until you can command that price, keep learning more about marketing, and be prepared to make the necessary adjustments.

4. Don’t give valuable work away for free, unless you have a means of making back the value that you’re losing.

The Internet is a great place for artists to go to die (unless your name is Taylor Swift, apparently). If you’re not Ms. Swift, the point applies to you.

There is no such thing as “free”. Again, large corporations are making money from the Internet through advertising and by selling users’ personal information. As security expert Bruce Schneier succinctly summarized recently, “surviellance the business model of the Internet.”

If you’re not making a profit from spying on anyone (and hopefully you’re not), be careful about what you give away “for free”. Free is bleeding you in exchange for every Retweet, Like and Follow. If you’re spending hours of your life and receiving only empty Internet Fame in return, realize that your ego and narcissistic need for artistic validation is making someone else rich while you go broke.

For every item you give away, place a price tag on that item and find a way to make up the loss. Otherwise, you’d just as well take money out of your own pocket and flush it down the drain.

Don’t fall for the fallacy of free when your valuable work is at stake.

5. Don’t trust what people “would” buy from you. Only trust the number in your bank account after the sale has been made.

Humans are notoriously poor predictors of their own future actions, particularly when some form of sacrifice is involved. Don’t be glad-handed by friendly Internet advice-givers who tell you, “I would definitely buy that!”, or worse, “if you make it a little better or more ‘professional’, I’d be your first customer in a heartbeat!””

“I’d buy that, if…” is the same pleasant kind of lies that your friends tell you about your odd haircut, tight new jeans or fashion-fetish shoes. They say nice things because they like you, or they want to sound “positive”, or because words are free whereas opening your wallet is not.

Ignore praise if your goal is to be paid for your work. Listen to the opinions of people who are already paying you; everyone else’s opinion is just background chatter unless they are either a mentor or a competitor.

Payment comes before praise.

6. Make it a top priority to get the person’s contact information and obtain their permission to be notified for future updates/releases/news/etc.

Once a person buys from you, make sure to get their information so that you can send them more items that they’ll be interested in receiving from you. Better yet, your first payment option should be enrollment in a recurring subscription so that they don’t have to keep deciding to pay you. (Also offer a single-item payment option.)

And for people who whine about subscribing, realize that they would have been the kind of client that you probably would have had to fire, anyway. Always be willing to fire a client who’s a pain in the ass. They will do nothing but waste your time — time you could have spent doing more for your better clients and finding new ones who will stay with you over the long term.

Find more “yes’es” and ignore the “no’s”. “Maybe” means “no”. Never try to convince a “maybe”.

7. Don’t rely on word-of-mouth, “going viral”, your friends telling their friends, or the hope that your existing sales will continue that way for ever.

This the “if you build it, they will come” fantasy that dooms many creative people to a lifetime of confusion and unnecessary obscurity.

Always find new fans who can replace the old ones when they are inevitably distracted by the next new shiny moving object.

“If you build it, they will come” is a pervasive myth among non-entrepreneurs and people who know nothing about the harsh realities of getting and finding clients.

“I’ll just create this awesome product, find some fans, and then they’ll spread the word for me!”

If only real life were that easy.

Think of everything you sell as being part of pop culture: most people will eventually be lured away by the next pretty thing that captures a moment’s attention. Unless you’re selling something that literally means the difference between life and death, your client list will fluctuate by a natural law of continual attrition. Plan for this and make sure that you’re always finding new fans to replace the ones who will fall away. Be pleasantly surprised when they come back, rather than desperate to keep them hanging around. Your independence will free you to take new artistic directions without fear of displeasing people who liked your old work, and give you an air of ease that will paradoxically attract those who may not have stuck around if you were keen on keeping them from leaving.

Expect no more than fifteen percent of your business to come from unsolicited recommendations given by existing clients and fans. The other eighty-five percent is the result of your planning and continual discovery of new people who are willing to pay for your best work.

All artists are eternal amateurs. Love what you do, and make sure that every new work is your best one yet. As long as you relentlessly improve, one day your work will be worth more than anyone could possibly pay. In fact, from the first moment that you realize this, it already is true and always will be.

Now all you have to do is make sure that you get paid. That’s what this journal entry is for; re-read it and seek out the resources you need in order to make these seven steps into your reality. These are my notes to myself, by the way, gathered from three years of study. Hopefully you can gain (and profit) from them, too.