As the son of an artist, a parent of two creative kids, a student–and sometimes teacher–of martial arts, a trainer, and all the many other things I’ve had to be as a working class guy, I’ve seen a lot of different angles to the things that go on in our weird world. There are moments where I’m less patient than I might otherwise be because I’ve seen this all before. There are also many instances where I’ve been more patient than others around me because I’ve seen this all before.
My Dad was a painter, and every so often things would get better for the family when he sold a painting. When he wasn’t working on his art, he was usually working at least part time as a night auditor at different places. The short film script I wrote entitled “The Auditors” was at least partly inspired by this. Not so much as that it features much in the way of what he did, but it was the first time I heard the word, and it stuck with me. It is not a word I have heard often since, and this made it more memorable to me.
Recently, my daughters were discussing social media (they are both YouTubers) and they went into great detail about not only what content they wanted to create in the future, but all the other things that platform entails. They were seriously talking strategy for building their brands and growing their respective audiences. This led to a discussion of follower numbers on different platforms, and questions about why they differed so much. The same person or business could have a strong following on one social media, and get no traction on others. I have seen this firsthand, and it is hard to fathom. You can see social media engagement that doesn’t always translate into subscriptions, or ad revenue, or whatever you are hoping it will do. Some of my own projects did get their share of likes and click-throughs and all the usual things that are supposed to lead to Internet prosperity, and yet did not.
The amusing part of that discussion was where they asked what my highest follower number was on any platform, and then they declared that I was famous when I told them. It’s not even remotely the case, but from their perspective, it must seem that way. (They are teenagers, after all!) If you are measuring your followers in the dozens or hundreds, seeing a subscriber number over five digits has to seem like a lot. I tried explaining all the various reasons why it doesn’t mean much. There are indie writers I know that have hundreds of thousands…but then, they are also following nearly that many accounts themselves. It is a type of marketing approach for them, and doesn’t by itself make them well known. There are also many published authors with multiple bestsellers that have far fewer followers than that.
So these were some of the things I was contemplating when I was at a presentation this past week on the importance of branding for creative artists. As someone in the room asked “how many people do you know with fourteen million views on YouTube?” Well…I still don’t really know him, but now I’ve been in the same room with one guy who has. He had some excellent suggestions of course, and really knew his stuff on all the major social media sites. I’ll absolutely keep his advice in mind going forward.
To bring this full circle, some of my earliest memories are from when we lived in a ghost town in New Mexico. It was kind of like an artist’s commune in a way. There were several painters that I remember besides my Dad. For all of them, art was something done for it’s own sake. They didn’t have “careers” though they did most often have jobs while working on their art. Their influence is one of the reasons why I rarely place great importance on what society thinks. Art was what they lived for, making a living was just a necessity. Once I saw that society only wanted to pay them for their time rather than their art, and that all sorts of people within our culture were rigging things like a shell game, I was no longer interested in any part of the rat race. The sort of thinking that it produces led some publisher somewhere to declare Jack Kerouac as “unpublishable” which is laughable now, and should have been then. He is not my favorite poet, but only if you are thinking of everything as a commodity, and how you might market those commodities, and those thoughts are the absolute limit of what you can conceive of–could you possibly come to such a conclusion. There is a long line of rejected writers of various genres that went on to become bestsellers or outright legends later on, that attest to how wrong people can be when they are thinking with their business hats on.
Relating that back to the meeting, they always have an “introduce yourself” part of their events, and one of the attendees who mentioned making short films as far back as the 1970s, and as recently as a few years ago described himself as a “wanna-be”. Someone else chimed in that that’s better than a “has-been”. Most of the people in that room are creatives, and all of them just want to do their thing, whatever that is. There are writers, actors, directors, producers, cinematographers, musicians and composers, stunt people, grips, make up artists, and every other skilled position anyone would want on their squad. They all have different backgrounds, and differing levels of experience, but I would not call any of them a “wanna be”. Most of them that I’ve spoken with “wanna DO”. Most of them have done something, and would like to do more.
That is all there really is. People doing stuff. I’ve been backstage at all sorts of things: theatrical productions, grand openings, tournaments, demonstrations, banquets, auctions, a parade, and probably some other things I’m forgetting. I’ve never seen glamour anywhere. Attempts at appearing glamorous, definitely. Everything is a slightly different kind of show biz. The Internet hasn’t changed much of what is out there, it just amplifies some things. Often as artificially as any old school roadside attraction. Things still go bust. Hype still sells crap, or fails to. Same as it ever was.
So, when all is chaos around us, and the sky is falling once again after the latest app redesign, just try to focus on what you want to do. Some of us have seriously lived through the death of entire technologies. A new app GUI isn’t that bad. If it’s not dead yet, and you aren’t either, it’s all good as long as you have a goal you are working towards.