To start, I want to ask you a question – you, the artist. This question is for you. Don’t worry. There is only one wrong answer. There can be a million right ones. But only one wrong one.
Question: If I saw you perform and came up to you afterward with a ten dollar bill in my hand wanting a part of your art, what would you sell me?
Did you answer?
Remember, there is only one wrong answer. That answer is: Nothing.
Unfortunately, it is the answer many artists have, even those that take themselves seriously. I have been beating the drum about ‘product’ for a long time now. I have a poetry book. Others have CDs, t-shirts, pins, stickers, DVDs. The point is: have something.
Having a product is the next step on your route to legitimacy. Not for the rest of the world, but for yourself. Because, it hurts you in more ways than one when you don’t have a product to sell someone when they ask. When you have to tell someone, “ No, I don’t”, it does several things. The first thing that happens is you feel shame or disappointment, even if just a little bit. You may be honored that someone asked, but when you have to voice those words a little bit of you feels that burn. It’s that little voice that says you’re not enough. Not good enough, not ready enough, not far enough, not moving fast enough. Believe me, there is enough going on in your artistic life without that cropping up all the time. A product is an instant self-esteem boost.
Another thing that happens is this. You quite possibly have lost a fan. You may have a business card to give them. Or you shouted from the stage: Follow me on Twitter, on Facebook, on Google+, on Pinterest…
And they are going to totally want to, totally intend to, but this:
The next band is going to come on and they’ll forget.
They’ll get in their car on the way home and they’ll stop for gas and they’ll forget.
They’ll get on Facebook and then that funny cat video with the light sabers will pop up and they’ll forget.
This was your groupie. This was your greatest fan. This was your first stalker. But you didn’t have an album to sell him.
So, here is point number one. ALWAYS HAVE SOMETHING TO SELL THEM. I don’t care if it is a solitary poem on a postcard or that one single you recorded in your cousin’s basement. You have something. I don’t care what it is. Be creative. But give them a piece of you. Don’t let them walk away empty-handed. Make it the most important and the next thing you do in your career. It’s that crucial.
Okay. I know. You know. You know all this. Everyone knows all this. Well, now I want to relay one other bit that you may not take to mind.
Shift of scenario. Maybe you have an album. Or maybe you just have that single. But you have that single only on your Soundcloud. Of course, you do. Why not? It’s the digital age. Why would you spend money burning CDs when people can just download it?
Here’s why. They’re not going to do it. Okay, so maybe a few of them will. But let’s revisit that Follow Me scene in another context. You shout from the stage: go to iTunes or go to my SoundCloud at soundcloud dot com forward slash I am an awesome artist, and download this song.
And they’ll totally intend to. They totally will.
But the next band will come on and that cat video and – and it’s all over.
To tell you the truth, I have sold more of my books hand-to-hand than I have online. I have sold many, many times more. And I bet you, if you ask most any hustling artist out there, he’ll tell you the same.
Because afterward there’s all the distractions, all the real life, all the reasons why they shouldn’t buy cause the rent was late or the moon wasn’t full or any other every little thing.
But hand-to-hand, eye-to-eye, right there, there’s something. There’s something about being there, in the moment, right after the performance, with it all fresh and pulsing through their veins, when you’ve touched them. And they’ve gotta have it. They’ve gotta have a little bit of what you do to them. They’ve gotta have it now.
And when they hand over that well-earned, well-worn crumpled ten dollar bill, and you hand them that notch of your heart, they are going to go home and remember you, and re-experience you, and they’ll find you, and they’ll follow you. And then, you’ve made a fan for life.
All because you took their ten dollars.
Stay hungry. Stay Well-Fed.
The Well-Fed Artist – featured in the 9 o’clock hour on Radio Soapbox every Monday night. Listen live or listen to the archives.
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