Here is a breakdown of the differences between a creative business and a creative hobby – how do you stack up?
There is no correct answer to this question. But getting it clear for yourself has psychological and practical benefits – such as eliminating the “shoulds” and resolving the conflict in your mind about how you spend your time. For some of you it can be a relief to realize, “Hey, I have a hobby and I’m totally cool with that. I’m going to stop pressuring myself for something more.” For others, you may realize, “I’m just a few steps away from making my hobby a business, and I’m going to run with it!”
Profit, Risk, Reward
An important distinction between someone running a creative business or pursuing a creative career vs. pursuing a creative hobby is that the business person is appropriately and seriously focused on profit (they have to be, otherwise they will fail), and will amend their business plan when something isn’t working to ensure they are meeting market/audience needs OR are working on actively creating a market for their product or service if one doesn’t exist. A business person is realistic about constraints, does their market research, understands the financial big picture and health of their business and is willing and able to take on and absorb risks.
Phew – that sounds like a lot of things to know and do well. But they are all vitally important to a successful career! While I won’t cover all aspects of running a business in this post – I will continue to write about them in this blog.
“But I don’t want to be commercial!”
Related to the concept of making profits is the fear of being too “commercial” or perceived as a “sell-out”. This is just an unhelpful psychological barrier you need to ignore. Think of your favorite artist. You wouldn’t know who they are without some basic level of commercial success. Also, good marketing is what really contributes to being perceived as “commercial” or not.
I think a lot of times artists use this complaint as a foil for just not doing the work needed to be successful. It’s a lot easier to explain to someone, “I just don’t want to sell out and be so commercial.” Instead of, “I am working so hard and it’s just not working out right now.”
Once you can shed this you can start acting like a business person (this post is an excellent read on this topic). So, what does a business person do? Most importantly, they treat creative pursuits just like a 9 to 5 job – and all the things that go with it: consistency, appearing professional, networking, making goals, meeting deadlines, focusing on the bottom line.
Twyla Tharp, one of the world’s most commercially and artistically successful modern choreographers writes in her book The Creative Habit, that she has rigorous and regimented ways she approaches her performance art. From her daily workout and choreography practice to the way she researches and builds each individual choreographed work – it’s really fascinating and I encourage you to read that book sometime for creative as well as business inspiration.
Philip Glass, in his autobiography, talks about how he “trained his muse” to come to him when he needed to work and compose. He said he would refuse to write down a great idea if he was settling down to bed at night, because it would render him incapable of living a consistent life. He would instead only work regular, daily hours, and this technique enabled him to be one of the most prolific, and again, commercially successful modern composers.
“But it’s just not working out.”
Well, this is the tough part. There is no guarantee of success in any business, and the arts in particular are saturated with highly talented people and competition is fierce. I would never claim, “If you can dream it, you can achieve it.” Because it’s not that simple. However, I do assert that those who are prepared and consistent stand a much higher chance at achieving their dreams.
Like that famous Woody Allen quote says, “Eight percent of success is showing up.” It’s true. More people give up on dreams not because they were impossible, but because they didn’t do the work, the real work required to get there.
What questions or barriers do you feel you have to making a successful career as a vocal artist?