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You Are Not a Product

Imagine you decide to make artisanal pie for a food fair. You put hours into making sweet, gooey filling and flaky crust and you’re convinced it’ll be a hit. But then when you set up shop, you have to compete with dozens of other food vendors, and no one is buying your pie. What would you do?

You’d probably start shouting at passers-by to make them aware of your presence. You’d call over someone attractive to help you sell yourself. Maybe you’d start offering limited-time discounts to people talking, and discount yourself even more as you got down to the last stale slices. You’re feeling desperate, but it can’t be worse than the horror of your pie going unappreciated.

Fortunately for you, you are not a desperate pie maker. But you may have been acting like one.

Being an artist is an anxiety-producing state (to say the least). Everything that goes wrong feels like a judgment on our character. Our successes or lack thereof fill us with self-doubt.

If I don’t get recognition for this album, someone else will steal my idea and get all the credit.

If there aren’t enough people at this show, it means my music isn’t good enough.

If I don’t achieve this level of popularity by the time I’m 32, I’ll be too old to become successful.

So sometimes we get into this place where we start thinking of ourselves like that pie, a limited quantity losing value as it grows stale. We start thinking that if we just shout loud enough, give away enough tickets, send enough email reminders, people will come consume us.

But you are not a product. You are an artist, with — believe it or not — an unlimited supply of creative ideas. Treating your art like a commodity product limits you to a flash-in-the-pan relationship with your fans when really you should be going after fans for life.

Keep this in mind next time you’re trying to sell more tickets or get more fans. If you find yourself shouting, take a step back and think about what insecurities you’re feeling right now. Then remind yourself that you’re an artist after building relationships, not a stale pie. Here are a few tips:

1) Maintain your dignity.

When ticket sales are low, no one’s entered your contest, or only a few people have downloaded your album, resist the urge to start shouting. Express your gratitude for those who’ve supported you so far. You’re in this for the long haul.

2) Let people come to you on their own time.

Part of the joy of being a music fan is feeling like you “discovered” a particular artist or album. Make your music easy to find, but give your fans the space to decide to listen on their own terms, not because you held them at gunpoint with discounts or whining.

3) Don’t devalue your product.

Giving art away for free can be a strategy, but be careful with discounts and sales intended just to move product. If you suddenly make your music super cheap, your fans might feel like it’s not worth paying attention to.

4) Give yourself a pep talk.

Being an artist is a tough job that requires a ridiculous amount of bravery. Give yourself some credit for the fact that you’re strong enough to create something and put it out into the world. If you’re not getting the recognition you feel you deserve from the outside world, take some time to give it to yourself. Nurturing yourself is the most sure way to get through this with your head held high.

Published in Online Voice

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