The Artist CEO – Part I

Artists rarely think they’re starting a business.

Building something is difficult in any setting. But more than other industries, creatives struggle with the ambiguous path to success. The economics of creativity are dizzying. Most artists know how to create, but fail to recognize that art is only one part of their job.

“If you build, they will come” is a dangerous myth. Comedians believe it’s all about the jokes. Musicians believe it’s all about the music. Writers believe it’s all about the words. And it is…until it isn’t.

Talent and great art only gets you so far. Even (and especially!) the best artists put substantial work into customer development, audience engagement, marketing, and ultimately monetizing their creative output.

Making an analogy to the corporate world – your art is the product, and you are the company’s CEO.

CEO

GOOD ENOUGH?

Before anything else, you need confidence that your product is good enough to support a business.

You’ve recorded music, painted, or written jokes. Great. But that art was made in a vacuum. How do you know your product is good enough? What data tells you that you should be building a business?

In technology, we frequently talk about product-market fit. Meaning, you need to make a great product that satisfies the needs/wants/desires of a market. Enough to get them to part with dollars.

But how do you know if you’ve hit product-market fit? I contend that for artists, it’s a balance between gut feelings and data:

GUT

  • How does the audience react at your shows?
  • What do artist peers say about your product?
  • What do fans tell you via YouTube, Soundcloud, or DeviantArt comments?

DATA

  • How many audience members come to shows specifically for you? Are those numbers consistent, growing, or declining?
  • How are your social, newsletter, and/or website metrics trending? Have you surveyed fans to get a sense of their affinity to your product?
  • What do your online conversion rates of email capture or content sales look like?

The list goes on and on. It boils down to whether you’ve proven that people want and will pay for your product. That’s the golden ticket.

Be willing to do anything and everything to find product-market fit. Hold down a fulltime job, while practicing every night. Perform as a street musician in the downtown area every weekend. Show up to four open mic nights a week, ready to jump in with a ten minute set. Keep learning, iterating, honing your craft, gathering more data, and producing better content.

It’s worth mentioning that there are also a couple services to help in this process – Fluence and Clarity. Both are marketplaces for advice and constructive feedback from industry experts. Fluence is focused on creators and artists. And though Clarity is dedicated to business experts, you can find fantastic advisors in music, art, comedy, writing, and more to connect with. Get a fresh set of eyes on your project.

Be real with yourself – can you honestly say that you’ve hit product-market fit? If so, let’s talk about building a business…

Continued in Part 2, where we’ll discuss making money, putting a team together, and setting up a sustainable business. Dig this post and want more? Subscribe to get notified about new releases.