So many times, both in conversations and in even songs, I hear artists say, “People are sleeping on me,” meaning that somehow everyone has missed the boat on how great they are. I also hear comments that certain media outlets are ignoring an artist or a whole set of artists. I get it. We’re all trying to rise above the noise and show that we’ve got what it takes. I’ve seen my share of artists who are undeniably incredible, but they fail to get traction. I’ve also seen artists who are “just ok” go onto win awards and industry accolades. My personal experience is in music, but the ideas I present here apply to all types of arts, whether you are a musician, visual artist, dancer, actor, etc. Since these ideas get to the heart of how artistic industries work, I want to shed some light on how to get people to “not sleep on you.”
There are a million artists just like you. So, stand out by helping them, not just yourself.
Because there are a million artists just like you, this means as artists, we’re all in the same boat. We’re all in this together. We’re all looking for attention and love. But here’s a curveball, if you want to get noticed, serving others is a great way to do it. Here’s why. As artists, WE ARE the industry, not necessarily just gatekeepers who we see as “currently in charge.” New opportunities are created for you, and for me, and for our friends by advocating for artists everywhere we go. This means when we hear of an event asking the organizers, “Hey, have you thought about having music at this event? Or what about an art show? Or a live performer?” One of the easiest ways to create opportunity, is to make one. Put your money where your mouth is and if you’re that hot, put on your own event/concert. If you can’t draw enough people on your own, then hire someone “bigger” than you and open for them. Help them get bigger. They just might become your friends and help you too. At the very least, they’ll know who you are. Mission accomplished.
If you’re getting ignored by a media outlet, have you ever thought of just helping them? Do you know that blogs, YouTube personalities, popular podcasts etc. all get a barrage of emails and comments every single day? It’s overwhelming. As soon as someone creates a channel where there’s attention, everyone wants to grab onto their lifeboat, and they themselves start to sink. Maybe that team or person needs help. Maybe they need to go through some emails, reply to comments, or need some street team people. Maybe they need some graphic design or photography or a video made. As you serve, you’ll develop relationships, which helps better positions you for what you’re doing.
Build with those who want to build with you.
This brings me to the next topic. You may reach out to different people and get no response. People are busy and they may take a while to respond (most common). Sometimes they are lazy, or they just straight up may not like what you have to offer. Fine. Find people who do respond, who do appreciate your art, and who value you. It’s way easier to build with those who want to build with you, than those who don’t have the time, don’t care, or have other people with whom they’re working.
Stop paying the people who are not helping you.
Sometimes we crave attention so much, we’ll pay anything to get it. We MUST be on that website, or that TV show, or that radio station, or to perform with certain artists. Believe me, I’ve paid for tons of advertising on media outlets, to professional organizations, to be on showcases, etc. I’ve paid organizations for years when I finally realized, “They’re not helping me.” Sometimes those places have so many customers and people trying to get in, they don’t need your help or money. No problem. Go somewhere else. “But, without THEM, I’m nobody!” you might be exclaiming. There’s a big lie in artistry: that the ONLY path lies in one tastemaker, or set of them. The truth is, the world is a VERY BIG place. There are limitless opportunities to be seen. You just need to be creative in how you use what you have to create opportunities.
Work top-down AND bottom-up.
We’re all looking to get “discovered” or get that boost from a tastemaker in our corner of industry or artistry. However, looking for that stamp of approval is just the same as giving someone permission over your success. Don’t do it. The SURE way of having success is from the bottom up. You must create great content, get better at your craft, convince people to get on board, build alliances, and create an audience. You can only do this by publishing your stuff, releasing it into the wild and seeing if people comment on it and share it. If they don’t, then you either need to get better at it, or you need to rework it. Don’t give up. Pivot. Shake it up and keep going. However, work from both the top-down through influencers, and bottom-up through your fans and audience. Optimally, you’ll get both. But if you work from the bottom-up, eventually the “top-downers” (the influencers) will eventually get on board.
Embrace your favor.
Although we may have a set way in our own minds how things should “blow up,” the truth is, it VERY rarely happens that way. Each person is different. Each artists’ career is different. How God chooses to show favor on each of us is different. Don’t get upset with God that He hasn’t treated you like someone else. You should embrace what God is giving you right now. The problem lies in the fact that we can’t see it. We can’t see the blessing and favor that God is giving us. That bit of favor is the bit you should build upon. Lecrae, for example, found favor within the Reformed theological movement. This led to several pastors endorsing him. He could have said, “Naw man, I need radio!” and then ignored the pastors who embraced him. Instead, he embraced those pastors back WHILE radio was ignoring him. In the end, those pastors had way more to do with his success than radio ever did. It’s not supposed to happen that way. That’s the beauty of it.
Create your own fun island.
I live near a lake. On the lake, I often see “fun islands.” A fun island is a big inflatable inner tube with a big stretchy tarp strung over the top of it, so that you can have a bunch of people hang out, sun tan, and jump off it. Having a fun island is like creating your own scene on a lake. Metaphorically speaking, creating something lasting in the arts is like setting up a fun island. If you’re in a geographic area where there’s not a lot going on, or if you’re having trouble connecting with people nationally, then create your own scene. Do you have to make a big splash out of the gate? No. You just must build one brick at a time. If you create video, start with videos. If you are a producer, then produce or make and sell beats. If you are good at making phone calls, then book artists. Once you have something going, then move onto helping other artists and signing them onto your roster by helping them be successful. Your roster could be a record label, or an art gallery (for visual artists), or a booking agency, a ministry, a theater company, a non-profit, or a management company. It really doesn’t matter what form the roster or collective takes. Just bring together like-minded artists to create together. From there, you can decide who is good at what. And if you can create together and support each other, then you have successfully created what I call your own “fun island.” Create tours. Create events. Create a fundraiser. Get volunteers. Support a cause. When your fun island is going then all kinds of people will want to be a part of it too.
Be the future.
So, you’re not happy with the way things turned out? Upset about how streaming has wrecked your earnings? Upset that you were ignored by industry insiders? Upset that you can’t make a living doing what you love? Well then, be the future. I mean, change the rules of the game. In Washington D.C., there are lawmakers and there are lobbyists. Lawmakers are voting to change the laws, while lobbyists are telling the lawmakers what kind of laws to make. You can be either one. Just because you didn’t find the success you want doesn’t mean you can’t still make a difference and change the world for the better. You can be the change. How do you do this? You can tell people your story. You can work with people who are willing to make changes that would have helped you, or still could help you. You can also help train and motivate the next generation of artists. Give lessons. Be an instructor. Be a coach. Be a consultant. Be an organizer. Be a promoter. Suddenly, you’ll wake up one day and you’ll realize that you’ve been creating the change that you’ve always wanted.
There are a whole set at of things you also need to be doing to propel your career forward, including blogging, interacting with fans online and via video, doing crowdfunding campaigns, booking yourself everywhere, shooting videos, selling your products wherever you go, and getting sponsors and donors. However, this list of “inside-your-head” thinking will hopefully give you a new view on what you’re trying to do. Let us know what you’re up to and how it’s going.