Dear Upcoming Creator/Artist,
I hope you find your target audience, and I hope you realize early enough who your target audience is even composed of. Some of us are fortunate enough to start our creative endeavors from a community we have long since been entrenched in. However, some of us have not. Some of us are programmers whose friends don’t give a damn about apps or code. Some of us are aspiring fashion bloggers whose friends don’t give a hoot about the concept of color blocking. Some of us are poets whose friends honestly care nothing for wordplay. Thus, your friends are not always your target audience – which is not to say that they can never be. But, I hope you realize this sooner than later: your friends are not necessarily your fans. And I know how painful it can be sometimes when it doesn’t look like your friends are giving you the support you think you should be getting from them. But you must understand that sometimes, they simply and innocently do not care, not because they dislike you, but because your interests and theirs don’t align. I hope you get over this quickly. I hope you realize also that your brand will never grow wildly if it is composed solely of your friends. Perhaps you should focus more on pushing your work to its relevant audiences than you should concern yourself about whether or not your friends are paying attention. If thou art a photographer, push to the photography lovers (not just the friends who want free profile pictures and the opportunity to add the word “model” to their bio). If thou art a musician, push thy work towards music lovers, and so on. Hopefully, in time, you will build a legitimate base of genuine admiration, as opposed to occasional polite smiles and obligatory retweets.
Sometimes you will have to choose between being real and being successful. I do not intend to condemn either side, at least not here. This choice will depend on what you entered your industry for. If you entered to get rich or famous or both, well then do what you got to do to get there; you can’t be a “sellout” if you were never anything different before your “sellout” phase, because there was nothing to be sold in the first place. However, if you came into your game with the intention of changing it, I want to let you know how likely it is that the opportunity to sell out will present itself to you many times, and in those times, you will have to choose. Although it may not be lucrative, I sincerely hope you choose to be real. But listen, and this part is extremely important: sometimes, being real and being successful may happen to you at once. If it ever happens, you need to hold fast to your integrity and shut your ears to the BS that is almost certain to start flying around. Some people get their highs off spreading rumors that all success is a result of selling out. But I need you to remember that there are people who do get successful from being consistently authentic, or likeable, or useful, or different. Thus, if you know for a fact that you have been what you are without compromise, don’t beat yourself up or give yourself crap about not “deserving” what you’ve gotten.
You do not need to be friends with everyone. Sycophancy lands you in trouble – and it may be covert trouble, trouble that the whole world does not see, trouble that they may even perceive as part of your success. Trouble comes in many forms: deals you can’t get out of easily, obligations you can’t refuse, collaborations with people you had no intention of ever working with, the release of products that do not align with your own brand or ideals, debt, and the list is never-ending. The people who propagate all the supposed rules of all our industries constantly harp on about “networking” – and while it is true that a lot of progress is dependent on relationships with people, you must know that they must be the right people. There ought to be no condemnation for attempting to get close to people who are already doing work that you admire. There is, however, much danger and tiresomeness in trying to get close to people because you’ve heard or seen that they are “important” in your industry. You may have nothing in common with them. Some of the most lucrative connections might also be the ones that require you to sell out. Additionally, in every industry, naturally, not everyone will agree all the time. You will lose yourself faster than you can blink if you go around trying to please every damn one – even those warring with each other, those who don’t like you, and those you disagree with. Don’t burn yourself out; learn to be comfortable with surrounding yourself with people around whom you are comfortable. (Note: being comfortable around a person or company is not equal to agreeing with them 100% of the time. Do not make that mistake either.)
It is very likely that there will be seasons. Seasons are as natural for the creator as they are for the weather. You may have peaks, where you are the hottest thing on the charts, or getting booked so much, you have to start turning things down. In such periods, it is as easy to get over-whelmed as it is to get complacent, or think you’ve finally “made it.” Thus, it might surprise you when, in a few weeks, months or years, the attention begins to dry out and you are no longer at the forefront. You may feel prematurely washed out, or irrelevant next to what appears to be a new wave of popular creators on the market. But don’t stress yourself out; no one act should expect to be the most relevant at all times. Instead of getting discouraged, use your time in the shadows to practice and improve on what you do best: creating. You can only market the same product so many times, or ride off the wave of your hit single for so long. At some point, you are going to have to sit down again, in solitude or with your team, and get back to trying to produce some excellent material. In your driest seasons, when it starts to bother you that nobody is paying attention, you should probably ask yourself, “Would I still want to do this if no one paid attention?” Your answer needs to be “Yes.” If it is not, you may want to re-evaluate your career choice as a creator. Let your dry seasons not shake you.
Don’t plague yourself too much about relatability. In my humble opinion, creating with the intention of portraying one’s personal truth is eons more important than creating “relatable” content. An obsession with relatability may lead to some of the most inauthentic content a person could ever create. And there is a reason why “mainstream” content is both as popular as it is and is insulted as often as it is: at the same time that people consume what the mainstream offers, they have an acute awareness of things that appear to be geared towards falling in line with some sort of trend or majority. I think, more than anything, the person whose relatability you should aim for the most is yourself. Because, as obvious as this fact is, you are a human being – and for just about anything a human being experiences, I assume there are other human beings that will be able to relate. You may think I have just asked you to do the very thing I previously told you not to do, but I entreat you to re-analyze it. Telling your own truth the way that you know it is very different from approaching from the angle of intending to create something “relatable.” For the former, relatability is a fortunate, treasured consequence. For the latter, relatability is the goal, and consequently, the content might be generic. Also, here’s a fun fact: not all humans have the same experiences, and there will always be people complaining that there’s some certain group to whom your creations are not valuable. I advise you not to care too much all the time. In line with this point, here are some wise words from Jayso:
“Listen miss me with the punning and the criticism
I be going ape on every take, that’s lyricism
What’s up with all these Cupid basic writers
Talking ‘bout your verses no dey mean a thing to trotro drivers
That be cool but who said I am right to rap for all you hypers
I am hyperactive lyrically
I write like it’s for cyphers.”
PS: the song the lyrics came from is “Pop Mandem” by Bryan the Mensah.
Remember that the industry doesn’t love you. And neither do the people. Whichever industry you’re in does not exist to be especially interested in your success. If anything at all, it is bent against you, set on your demise, like every protective being is bent on preserving their property or community as it is, and wary of allowing entry to strangers. If your entry and rise is too easy, it may be cause for concern; you may have to deliberate upon whether or not you’re being exploited and decide what to do about it, even if that ends up being “nothing.” Remember sycophants are real. The people who want to get close to you if they see you as famous, or with the potential for fame, are vipers. Don’t inflate from how much they gas you – even if the gassing is genuine. The industry loves no one, not even the people at the top of it. That being said, kill your ego, your sense of entitlement. It is not the duty of those higher up to pull up those lower down, although it is noble to support upcoming creators in whom one sees something worthwhile. And that’s the main thing: whatever you create needs to be worthwhile, and even when it is, you must still expect nothing from anyone. The industry doesn’t love you, but three things remain key:
- Mind your business (which is creating)
- Do your work (which is creating)
- Make good art (which is your business, which is your work, which is creating).