The Australian composer and publisher shares the tricks of his trade.
Some artists get employment contracts allowing them to perform and earn doing what they love, while enjoying the benefits (and challenges) that come with being an employee. But for most professional artists, there are the pleasures of being a freelancer, sole-trader or the director of a business. When you’re starting out on your career as a creative professional, it’s important to know your Bs from the Cs and have an understanding of your market value.
Whatever you want to do is your business. And believe me, it IS a business.
Your professional activities are the creation, promotion and communication of content or services delivered from your art form, whether that be composition, historically informed performance, conducting, acting, dancing, stand-up comedy, contortionism – whatever you’ve chosen as your discipline. What’s crucial is that you think of your professional life as an artist in corporate terms, to understand the value and marketability of the skills you’re offering.
Here’s business-speak 1-0-1:
Your content can be an artistic “product” intended for the general public (a business to consumer relationship), or a product meant for a business-to-business transaction, otherwise known as “B to B”.
Under an artistic umbrella, B to B could mean you’re designing the set or the costumes for an opera, or working as a commissioned composer for an orchestra or ensemble. But it could also mean you’re putting on a concert or event paid for by a for-profit corporation, or you’re providing education workshops for a school (which is different to teaching, where you’re providing your skills directly to a student in a business-to-consumer relationship).
This style of thinking is not necessarily popular amongst an artistic crowd – indeed, it can seem sterile and extremely non-artistic. However, if you get over the lingo, you’ll find that, as an artist, you probably already think this way, and this will help guide who you approach when offering your services.
One point I want to iterate here is that there are many people who make art, but there is a difference between making art, and being in the business of making art. The distinction should be clear: a professional artist is not only someone who performs or creates, but also someone who financially transacts that creative effort. If you want to have an income from your creative life, you are in business – especially if you are not an employee.
If you’re not sure, get diagnostic.
I find it useful to occasionally ask myself some questions as a diagnostic exercise – sometimes every 6 months, sometimes daily (when I’m feeling particularly lost!)
What do I do? What is the nature of my skill set (am I a composer, dancer, actor, etc.)? What does that mean to me? What skills do I need to improve on? What can I outsource that I don’t care to learn? What basic things do I need to do what I do?
Who wants to buy it and what motivates them? What promoters or presenters align with what I create? Which audiences like what I do? Who funds my art? What is the purchasing capacity of these groups? Is this enough capacity to sustain my business and its expenses on its own or do I need a portfolio of different business efforts?
How do I market what I do? How do I maintain my profile with the public and presenters? What language should I use and how often should I communicate with them? What are my touchpoints and how do I optimise those interactions?
All of these questions will lead you to the answers of the most important questions of all:
What is my business structure and what do I need to improve its profitability?
Or put another way
How do I sustain my career as an artist?
Know who your team are.
The good news is that you don’t have to do the business stuff by yourself. In my case, as a composer, I have an agent who gets me gigs, as well as negotiates fees and gives career advice. I also have a great accountant, a label, a technologist and a copyist for typesetting my scores. Using so many services might sound extravagant, but outsourcing these tasks allows me to focus on writing, which in turn allows me to earn, which in turn provides the funds needed to maintain my team as well as pay myself.
Whatever structure you want to create around your artistic business, it helps to have a goal, and a realistic plan. Although it may take you longer than you’d hoped to get to a certain stage, I can assure you that you’ll get there – just keep asking yourself the right questions, give yourself a realistic series of steps to achieve your aims and always maintain the passion for your art.