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How to Survive in Memphis (or just about anywhere)…..When You’re an Artist

There is a definitive difference between artists and entertainers. The most common but erroneous difference is that most people think artists are broke and entertainers are rich. On the contrary, there are some rich artists and some broke entertainers. Artists are generally, although loosely, defined by their ability to create a work with a specific message that is uniquely their own while entertainers are largely driven by corporate intentions with their work. Artists also desire complete control of their art and cringe when someone offers their unwarranted input about what would make their work ‘better’. In addition, artists run parallel to mainstream entertainers. They don’t get the notoriety, airplay, and clout through those corporate driven entities. Instead, they get labeled ‘underground’, ‘indie’ or something like that. In actuality, they’re not underground or indie at all but rather popular among specific niche markets.

Before getting into the meat of this, I had to make the distinction because I’m not talking about all of you–just the artists, whether you write, sing, emcee, dance, sculpt, play an instrument, paint or perhaps design jewelry or clothes. Either way, you run parallel to the mainstream.

To do what you do, you need survival skills, mainly because your grind is greater than the entertainer with a cushion and rose-colored glasses that the Suits give ’em once they’ve signed away their souls. In addition, if you reside damn near anywhere other than LA or NY, you gotta know how to cope with being something of an outcast, in the eyes of the industry at large and in your respective city.

This leads me to Memphis, Birthplace of the Blues, home of Stax Records, Sun Studios, and a man who lived in a mansion called Graceland. With those claims to fame, you would think this city would be on fire with Hitmakers and World Class Artists. Well, it is. But let me set something straight. Memphis artists are NOT talented. Talented is the wrong word, hell, dogs can be talented. The more appropriate word for Memphis artists is GIFTED. The problem, however, is that most of them don’t realize, better yet, they don’t actualize it.

This leads me to Point #1.

Confidence.  In my humble opinion, most of the artists in this city are not as confident as I would like to see them. It seems like their need to be validated by some so-called major entity drives their self-confidence. Of course, this could be the case in many other cities as well. You have a gifted crop of artists who are on the same (or greater) level as the ones with pop appeal, but because they haven’t been afforded the opportunity to shine under those spotlights, they come off as ‘low grade’ and insecure. Just because your bank account doesn’t reflect your superstardom and/or you’re still waking up everyday going to some lame ass job, that doesn’t mean that you’re less of an artist.

You need to go about your work with the mindset that you have your own brand of greatness, then work on packaging that for your market. Being confident in your artistry will alleviate your insecurity of thinking you’re ‘not good enough’ (whatever in the hell that means).  Also, confidence will prompt you to present yourself in a serious manner. When you take yourself seriously, everyone else will too.

Create Opportunities. Don’t know if you’ve been paying attention, but major corporations are struggling to keep control of their zombies, er, I mean, customer base.  Many of us are awakening to search for our own lifelines.  Before, the Suits had to tell us what we wanted, but now, we tell the Suits what we want — and if they don’t deliver, we’ll get it ourselves. 

Take me for instance. I don’t listen to the radio anymore nor do I have cable television.  Between my Roku player, Netflix, Hulu, Crackle, and music sites such as SoulBounce, Wax Poetics, Giant Step, OkayPlayer, SoundCloud, ReverbNation, & Bandcamp, I’m ALWAYS finding dopeness. I’m not the only one like that.  There’s millions of people out there waiting on you to put your shit when it needs to be so they can cop it. But you wouldn’t know that if you’re too busy trying to find out when are the next American Idol tryouts.  Artists are now in the power seat of securing their very own slice of goodness — if they’re willing to think hard about the best ways to reach folks.

Another thing to keep in mind as you’re creating opportunities, you have to present yourself as a global brand — and stop wasting time trying to lock down your city.  Let’s face it, once you have cornered your local market, chances are, you still won’t make enough money to eat and pay bills — so developing a business strategy with enough room to grow past your hometown is critical.  Besides, once you have a website, you’re already global because anybody, anywhere in the world with internet access and Google can land on your homepage.  Keep that in mind.

Keep Your Business Acumen Sharp  Spend considerable time brushing up on the latest innovations and business trends.  It’s not about whether or not they fit into your immediate goals at the moment.  The point is to sharpen your insight and to remain well-informed. Besides, brilliant ideas are birthed through a process of knowledge gathering.  It won’t hurt you to know a little bit about everything because you never know how it can be incorporated into your artistic hustle.

Your Audience is NOT Your Peers. Lord. Where do I start with this one?  Ok, how about this: Your peers are artists just like you. Most of the time your artist friends are doing the same thing as you — creating and working.  Their support should not be regarded solely as participating at your event and/or buying from you.  Peer support is different from fan support. Your fans are those people who you create for — they love your work and support it monetarily.  Your peers are the ones you can lean on when the grind gets tough. Your peers already know you’re dope — how many times do you need them to tell you? No, you need to get your ass out there and move beyond your circle for the sake of market conversion.  Don’t know what that means? Your assignment is to research it.

Of course, there’s much more to this, however, this post is long enough. The point is if you’re serious about your artistry, then you will do what’s necessary to become successful — but according to your terms.  At the end of the day, an artist only wants to share their work with the people who desire it and willing to pay for it. As an artist, you have to commit yourself to doing these four things that I have posted here and accept the fact that this is WORK. So, chop chop.

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About Chandra Kamaria

Chandra Kamaria is a playwright, essayist, culture maven, educator, entrepreneur, and activist. To learn more, visit www.chandrakamaria.com.

Discussion

One thought on “How to Survive in Memphis (or just about anywhere)…..When You’re an Artist

  1. Thanks . I needed that.

    Posted by Tiffany Cade | August 31, 2011, 9:09 am

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