The Artist as Entrepreneur: Two Questions to Help Build Your Path

I have this theory that artists and entrepreneurs are one-in-the-same. Entrepreneurs seem to recognize this. But a lot of artists seem to be so steeped in their art that they aren't likening themselves to entrepreneurs and so aren't learning from the trails successful entrepreneurs have already blazed.

To test and explore this, I've been interviewing artists. We're talking about their journeys and their obstacles. Why do they do what they do? Who is their art for? If anyone could help them along the way, what would that help look like? It seems to all center around two key questions.

What does success look like for you?

This seems to be the first major differentiator between artists and entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs have clearly visualized their success and how it'll be measured. Some artists are uncomfortable with the very idea of being successful while others seemed to have a pretty clear or clear but evolving definition. 

How each artist defines success is as unique as the artists themselves and the art they create. What differentiates these versions of success from each other is the locus of control: fully within the artists' control, somewhat within the artists' control, or fully beyond the artists' control.

There's the viral fairy tale (think Owl City or Lily Allen getting discovered on MySpace). Or building a healthy residual income from passive sources like music libraries (you know, those websites we marketers go to when we need a punchy track to beef up that client testimonial video). There's the band steadily scaling to better gigs in bigger towns in larger swaths of the country...or the band continuing to be a band and thriving and enjoying playing together while its members also do other work. There's the freelancer whose success is integrally linked with the caliber of the artists he partners with. For some, it's about finding their tribes - the people who have the inclination and the money to buy the art they're making - whether or not that's ever the thing that fully supports them. And for still others, it's about building massive tribes who then go out and build their own tribes -- like opening up their own schools big.

Each of these has a different position in the locus of control model, and each is influenced by obstacles.

What are your obstacles?

So far, the most common categories are these: Scaling the business. Managing the interpersonal. Beating your own resistance. Finding your tribe

Let's focus on those last two.

"I'm not a digital native. Nothing I've tried has worked. I don't have time. I don't know where to start. Getting the art to the people isn't as fun as making it. I don't get social media. I don't engage in social media. I don't know if it'll work so why put in the time. I think I want to do other things."

It's striking how many of the instances I've heard of hitting your own resistance have more to do with tribe building than art making.  

So...What now?

I'm continuing these interviews to map out where artists are; where they want to go; what's in their way; and how connecting with each other, with entrepreneurs in other fields, or with me, can help. Give me a shout if you'd like to add your voice.

And this summer, check out the (free!) Creativity & Entrepreneurship MOOC from Berklee's Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship. I've enrolled. If you're interested in this stuff too, I hope you'll join me!