Struggling artists blame the market, successful artists leverage it

How to make it as an artist today. 

I wanted to speak some today to creators and artists directly, as I am in this category.


My last post was about revolutions, with the point being that everything is changing.

So now the question is, how does a creator or artist make money today? 

How do artists and makers thrive during this revolution?

The truth is, commoditization is happening across every market, from content to software. Because of automation, because of a low barrier for entry, and because of an increase in efficiency for discovery which leads to winner take all markets.


What I mean is that if you’re a creator today:

  1. Your startup costs are low, and getting cheaper. This means more competition (everyone else has the same tools as you).
  2. Some of your work is being automated, which means there’s no value left. Leave it to the machines. When it comes to software, we see it being replicated cheaply. (Cough Instagram ripping Snapchat features).
  3. Your competition is easier for your customers to discover, and so the “#1 place on Google”, matters.

So if you’re a creator, this is bad for you, right?


Well there is some upside.


While products are becoming commoditized, because of the efficiencies and removal of a middleman from markets, creators who are creating “differentiated” content can get paid higher wages (in some cases) due to the removal of the middleman.

What I mean is that while photography is becoming commoditized due to the rise in supply, because photographers are individualizing themselves away from brands and agencies, they are able to capture the full value for their product directly without a middleman.


Ditto for the music industry. The music business is incredibly competitive, the barrier to entry is free, and often the content is free. But for those that do rise to the top, they do so with more leverage, and a more direct connection to the customer. This allows them to capture more value than ever before.


This means that…

  1. As a market, creators are moving closer to our customers.
  2. As a market, competition is increasing
  3. Differentiation and discoverability is key.

Those who are able to “win” value with their product creation (differentiation), are gaining more value than ever, because they are acting solo or often without large infrastructure, which frees up their expenses and allows them to prosper.

This is why on one hand, it’s never been a better time to be an artist, and on the other, you’re facing an entirely commodity market.


If you can differentiate, and build a niche for yourself with a direct connection to your customers, you can prosper enormously.


Of course, this only works when the type of work is still able to be differentiated. When it comes to, say Uber driving, commoditization is going to happen all the way to zero, because the “work” will be fully automated by computers. There’s no extra value to capture when the work cannot be differentiated.


A driver taking you from point A to point B is no different now, and no different than a computer doing so. So it will be done for free.


What can we do about this?


The first step is simply understanding what the market looks like, so you can analyze the risks and rewards.


It’s my personal belief (speaking to other artists, makers, creators), that if you CAN carve out value for yourself within a niche — your upside potential is actually even greater than it was a decade ago. There’s more opportunity to break in (because costs and risks are lower) — but there’s also more overlap between industries and the total “network” is more connected.


This is why I have friends who are booking photography gigs all over the globe. The discovery for their work has been unleashed by our connection through social networks. The tools at our disposal are much greater.

Just yesterday I had lunch with a friend who told me about his targeted Facebook advertising campaigns driving wedding photography business across the world. Because of the tool of Facebook, his sales process and customer discovery opportunities are much easier and greater than before. Because his work is quality and differentiated, he speaks to a specific group that’s eager for his work at a premium (the wedding industry).


I can’t overstate how stark this contrast is. To see it, just hop on youtube. You can watch a Jake Paul Video and forget the fact that he’s making $15 million a month using a $300 video camera. You click to the next video and its a creator using a $1,000 rig but is making $0 per video. They’re both living in the same market, yet one is thriving beyond what would have been believable just 10 years ago. One artist a millionaire, the other making for free. Which is the power of differentiation and discovery. 

How do you make it as an artist today? 

In step by step order.

  1. Focus on your work. (Supply)

My best guess here is to start by focusing on the one thing you can control, supply. As a creator, you are directly able to build supply of your work, be it painting, video, music or writing. This could take years, depending on your skill, and your street-smarts about the market your entering for what people want, as well as your originality and voice.

How do you know if your supply is good?

You know it when you see it. 

2. Focus on aligning with the right outlets (Discovery)

Once your supply is at a level that is bringing in interest and attention, and it’s reached a certain level of quality standard, you want to exercise your options for making the right contacts. This could be higher-ups at agencies or brands who might hire you for work, or it could be aligning with others who are a step or two above you in success but would still align with your work. The goal is to get in front of the right people, and connect with those who will help you with discovery and distribution.

This alignment helps the right audience discover your work and begin to share. This could also be like I mentioned, utilizing the tools of networks like Facebook, social, Reddit or distribution through channels hungry for new work to get your work out there and seen as credible.

3. Focus on creating connection to your work (Demand)

With quality, differentiated work, and the right contacts who you can partner with or share audiences, your ready to keep your stream of production going while engaging with your fans. This could be list building, commenting with followers or connecting in person. Realize that this customer attention and trust is your most important asset. It stems from your product supply, which leads the charge, but the connection thereafter is the real ticket for leverage for your future. Do a great job here, and you will have more stability and an asset that goes beyond your product. Tastes change, but connections can last. *This is my favorite part, happy to chat on this with you directly should you be looking to develop here.

4. Rinse and Repeat, starting at supply.

Now that you’ve got some audience build up, and you’re growing, you need to return to the bread and butter and ensure that it’s still breaking the mold. You can’t stay stale with your supply, as consumers tastes change, and you want to lead that charge instead of react to it. This is difficult to jump back into because it means breaking what works and reinventing the wheel. You do so smartly, in way that shows your fans the future but also give them a line to follow.

So it this going to be easy? No. Are the tools available to you if you take action, yes. 

I'd also like to note that there are many benefits to artist beyond monetary success. By sharing our art, we create connection. Not only is that satisfying in it's own right ("Wow, I helped someone's day today because they listened to my podcast") – but it also leads you to have a more serendipitous and interesting life. 

We can share our art simply for the joy of doing it. We can connect with others because it's enjoyable to do so. And we will see new forks in the road, twists and turns that were only available through the vehicle that our work provided us.

And that makes it worth doing.

**Pt. 2 Coming soon,
On how companies and brands make it today.


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