A guest post by Jeff Leisawitz.
I’ve been an indie artist my entire adult life. Musician, photographer, filmmaker. Sounds glamorous, right? It pretty much isn’t. Although it’s great to follow your passions (and I very highly recommend it) any working artist will tell you that they spend most of their time hustling gigs and marketing themselves. Since I’ve managed to find a fair amount of success in many of my endeavors, I’ve finally figured out a few things about a few things. This is what you need to know.
Be Different. Find Your Weirdness
You’re kind of weird. Face the facts. Like pretty much everyone else, you’ve spent a good portion of your life trying to fit in, in one way or another. If you’re doing that with your art, stop now. Why would you want to be like everyone else? You’re an artist, whether that’s a musician, filmmaker, or whatever.
If you’re not tapping into your true self, your uniqueness is not going to shine through. And this is ALWAYS a component of great art, music, film, etc. So dig into your quirks, your passions, your love, your heat, your curiosity, your obsession. That’s where the magic lives.
This brings me to my next point.
Find Your Niche
The world is big. Really big. And connected. Especially since the internet took over.
So once you figure out who you are and how to express yourself, you’re at least half way to the gold. You are your own niche. Or perhaps you kinda fit into a niche that’s already there.
Taxidermy animal masks. I know a woman who dropped out of college to do this (much to the chagrin of her parent). Weird and crazy, right? She just bought a house.
I know another woman who is fanatical about baking pies and teaching the world that the love that you put into your pie is actually more important (and delicious) than the pie itself. She just ditched a sweet corporate gig to do her thing full time.
I made a movie last year called MYSTIC COFFEE. It’s about a wise and magical barista who offers advice along with her beverages. I’m a life coach, I’m big into personal empowerment, spirituality and coffee. So it was sort of an obvious project.
It got shot down by two dozen film festivals. Outch. Then I get a call out of the blue from GaiamTv.com the global leader in ‘conscious media.’ They licensed my film for a ten year, non- exclusive deal.
What did I learn? MYSTIC COFFEE is really not gonna fly with a general audience. But for people who get it, this is a fantastic little film. Is it going to win Oscars and play at the local multiplex? Not likely. But it still found an audience. It’s making money. And bringing me new opportunities.
Which brings me to my next point.
Shoot For Sustainable, Not Superstar.
It seems like everyone who makes things wants as many people to see it, hear it or eat it, as possible. It’s a noble goal, but after spending the last twenty years chasing this idea, I recently realized it’s not about being a superstar with your thing, it’s about connecting with people who care, sustaining a career doing what you love, and getting paid for it.
Of course, I wanted to be rock star. But that didn’t happen, although I busted my ass for years, I never quite made it to the big stage.
Although it was a bit of a disappointment, other amazing things came around that I couldn’t have predicted. I was named ‘Best Independent Electronic Artist in the World’ by a major website with and scored lots of gear and cash as prizes. My music catalog got tons of action in the world of film and tv. I landed a gig teaching college students how to write better songs and record on a computer. And my U2 electronic tribute album continues to sell without having to do anything to market it. That means checks every quarter because people are loving on my tunes (and Bono’s) enough to pay for them.
I would call that success. Even though I didn’t make it to the cover of Rolling Stone.
This one might seem counterintuitive. And it took me forever to figure out. So listen up.
It saves money if you can talk your pals into helping you on a project and not paying them. True. But here’s the downside. In most cases, they simply won’t care as much. They’ll show up late. Or they’ll just plain flake out. You know what I’m talking about.
On top of that, your creative friends are artists just like you. And you want to be paid for your skill and time, right? So why wouldn’t you honor that and pay them as well?
Do your best to pay people what they’re worth. If you don’t have the cash, offer up a barter. Things will get done faster and better. And that’s worth more than some extra beer money.
Love the Process
When all was said and done, I basically learned two things in college. I’ll share one of them with you now.
My poetry instructor told me that being a poet is not about having a pile of poems on your desk. It’s not about the books you publish or the readings you do or anything else. Being a poet (or a musician or a filmmaker or an artist of any kind) is about one thing… writing poetry. Or painting. Or making films. Or whatever.
Only when you are creating, are you actually being an artist.
So love the process, not the product. Not the outcome. Okay, you should probably love the product and the outcome too. But whether or not you’re a superstar, or barely make a dime from your efforts, just remember what got you fired up to do your thing in the first place.
That’s the true reward.
You can check out his latest book Not F*ing Around on Avasta Press.
Driven by dreams of inspiring the world with beauty, love and general awesomeness, Jeff banged away on his grandfather’s hand-me-down instamatic, a half busted super 8 movie camera, and whatever else he could find during the early years of his ‘formal education.’
Since then, he has made countless videos, both artful and commercial, landed three international record deals, and chronicled Seattle’s alternative music scene for a major radio station. Jeff is also an internationally distributed filmmaker, a certified life coach, a college prof (songwriting and recording), and an award winning musician and producer. Among other things.
His attitude comes down to three letters…NFA. Not. F*ing. Around.
Connect with Jeff online!