Artists: It's Time To Treat Yourself Like A Startup (ECA)
My Sagittarius sun teamed up with my Capricorn moon for this one. (ECA = Entrepreneurial Creatives Article)
If you’re anything like me, your worst nightmare is the school of thought in which your art is purely transactional. The realm in which your art can only be impactful or live out its potential if you go viral on social media. You probably also hate the idea of only caring about the payout you receive, yet you believe in an ideology that you deserve to be paid for your artistic contributions. You, like myself, probably weigh these very often and push reels, hashtags, and more in an effort to find the big lottery ticket out of this catechism. As artists, writers, and all in between - finding the harmonious balance in this digital marketplace is nothing short of an uphill battle. So how do you reach monetary success in artistic industries without incessantly worrying about your views on Twitter? In a saturated market where we’re all on social media, this question is not going away. As artists, we are usually looking for our next series of sales to airdrop from the sky so we can continue to create more art. Realize: the goal of an American startup is actually not much different. The research is there and it’s time to glean a roadmap from it. Because let’s face it, the answer isn’t found in another f*cking hashtag.
You Need Angel Investors & Seed Funding: Not Likes & Views
And I don’t mean these terms in the traditional sense. While I realize this is a bold claim, I’d like you to hang with me for the punch. As an appetizer, I’m going to provide the Investopedia and Quickbooks definitions of an angel investor and a seed round before we transfer them into totally new ideas inside the art world.
An angel investor is usually a high-net-worth individual who funds startups at the early stages, often with their own money.
A seed round is an initial round of raising money and a great way to gain investments to fund many of your startup expenses such as early product development… Your business can use money from the seed round to iron out financial wrinkles in your business model, which helps lay a solid foundation for your business’s success.
And you might be thinking: Lindsey why are you talking to me with your business degree this no longer feels like a safe space. Hang tight. We’re not actually going to pitch Mark Cuban. It’s important to know these definitions so we can reapply them in a new direction.
The problem I have with an artist’s reliance on likes and views is this: they are often not real indicators of anything. (Unless consistently had.) There is no real data point that lives inside of them. They’re based on unreliable algorithms and discriminatory practices. As artists and creators, I see a huge problem in the ideology that we also need to be the best-used car salesmen on the platform. It puts very skilled craftspeople who are not master marketers or e-girls, at an insurmountable disadvantage. I’ve spoken with many highly-skilled people who feel hopeless in this vortex of a digital football field that has a division one defense. You hear the success stories of a few one-man touchdowns that we’re able to weave their way through to the goalpost and you buy into that as the game you’re playing. These conversations always end in the same way: a sigh of “is this really the only way” and the artist sulking back to their phone to create a half-hearted post they really did not want to make in hopes it’s headed to that goalpost. (And I realize that I am not speaking for everyone, as some artists really do enjoy using their platform and sustaining the viral requirements for their art to be “recognized.” I’m only speaking for the many people that do not enjoy this game.)
So what’s the way out? If you’re asking me, getting the artist version of an angel investor and seed round funding. An angel investor is a fancy way of naming someone who takes a risk. In business, these are typically high-dollar and high-profile people. In art, these do not have to be the Mark Cubans and Peter Lynchs of the world. Narrow down the idea that an angel investor in art is one person that could give you a chance. In my case, my first angel investor was WordCrafts Press, an LLC that gave me a publishing deal when I had very few data points to offer about the marketability of my work. Instead, my publishing partner named Mike, was there to make a decision about the quality of my work. I will have more angel investors in my career. However, WCP will always be my first. Angel investors in art industries can be mistaken as gatekeepers like publishers, editors, studio spaces, live shows, cast roles, collaborations, agents, agencies, labels, and so forth. These are going to be the big guys that you’ve probably already dreamt about. These are also the big guys that can ask you to get more sales or ask about your following before offering you any sort of partnership. And to be frank, that’s really effing annoying and can push us back into the social media post trap. So here are my tokens of advice around getting solid artist angel investors:
You do not need to land the giant on the first swing. In fact, you probably shouldn’t. Realize your angel investor can be a small publisher, a small art studio, an art show, poetry reading, or a live show that is focused on just getting your work out there or matching you up with opportunities: big or small. Don’t immediately go up to bat against their publicity team or measure the length of their marketing arm. Decide if this angel investor can get your work out there and if they believe in you enough to respect your artistic process. (Can’t stress that enough) The “big guys” will always be looking for the next big thing. You don’t start the staircase on step fourteen. You just start on the first step you can comfortably reach. And when you’re on stair ten the “big guys” might see you and pull you up. You don’t only get one. You’ll be attracting them your entire career.
Start with a seed round before the angel comes along. We will get to what I mean by this in a minute. But if you can remember one thing, it’s that it is never too early to start your “seed round” in your artist career. A seed round can help you attract an angel investor.
Remember the humble-beginning journeys are eight out of ten times more successful than the overnight model. And by overnight model, I mean expecting your career to blow up overnight in the digital marketplace. (And while this can happen, realize everyone else is also attempting at that. You see it often but it is less common than you might think.) Don’t rule out your humble beginnings. They’re a long road trip and not a direct flight. Stay on the journey anyways.
Let’s get into the seed rounds. I define an artist’s seed round of investors to be small to medium-sized communities that allow you to be showcased to an interested and in-person audience that can give you data. Take note of the keywords there. Many of your supporters are going to grow your “seeds” because this is where your sales list, your initial downloads, your streams, your whatever: is going to initially be planted. One of the communities that I chalk up to being outstanding at giving artists their seed rounds is Almost Real Things Magazine in Austin, Texas. ART magazine is designed to showcase local artists in Austin, Texas while connecting them with a huge community of art buyers and other artists through in-person events. It is a fantastic example of the type of organization that focuses on giving you data points. Before I moved from Texas, this organization plugged me into my first ever live event. In this live event, I got several new email subscribers and a handful of sales on a singular night. (An increase that more than a week of posting would have got me) From there, I got involved in another small community that was designed for just writers where I got more email subscribers and was able to get into my first bookstore. And from there, I was able to say I got my first bookstore and again, get more sales and email subscribers. All of this came from small seeds that already existed in my community and yet, are very impressive against other data points like social media likes or views to those big angel investors. If you can show that you can get sales, streams, reviews, etc. in communities that already exist: you’re much more likely to grow than if you were constantly fishing for your next viral tweet. Here’s why I think that is:
People are much more likely to give you your next lead when you’re physically in front of them. Call it science, but people are much more generous about giving you a new link in the chain when you’re not something they can scroll past. These links can lead to more data that attract those angels we want to secure. Plant your seeds in your own community first. They grow quickly.
In these communities, you will want to support others on a similar journey. You will find your friends and you will help each other out with a resource pool. Artists supporting artists has been a powerful and impactful truth in my career. Other people on a similar journey just get the struggles without ever having to speak of them. And when they win, they often will share their blueprint and help you win too. Plug yourself in.
Building connections in person is a much more stable way to build the base layer of your platform. A base layer is a keyword. We still want to grow our numbers beyond a seed round. But, when your base is built around people who know you for more than a face online, you’re more likely to have stability in the data around the first few projects of your career.
IPOs suck. Treat it as math when it happens to you.
Remember when I told you in my debut substack article to treat some things as math and move on? Well, this is likely going to be one of them. In the past few years, if you take a look at initial public offerings online you’ll notice many of their stocks tank when they go public. Many startups, when private, are overvalued. That’s fine. It doesn’t mean that they’re all just going to fail. It means the market didn’t yet see them as valuable as their angel and seed investors do. Our angel and seed round people in our artist career, much like in startups, are often going to be the people we develop an emotional attachment to. They believed in us, they backed us, and they want us to be the right pick. Of course, there’s going to be a higher value involved. There’s a level of emotional stake. That’s a good thing.
When we turn into an anticipated IPO as an artist, (or in plain English: when we break through to our next step and we have our angel investors and they’re ready to take our projects to a bigger audience) the market isn’t always going to reflect what we had hoped and dreamed up when we were still private. We often won’t immediately land a bestseller, a platinum record, or a huge runway. Understand that’s okay. Look at literally every IPO on the stock market in the past five years. It’s just how it goes sometimes. Not all the time, but most of it. What you need to remember is that even if your success falls short of your huge public offering plans, it is still PUBLIC. Your art is now consumable on a larger scale than it was before your angel investor came along.
If you want to laugh you can, but I literally thought Better Off Guilty might land an Amazon bestseller list the first week it was released by some hand of Tiktok God. For my IPO, I actually had great debut numbers. My publisher immediately told me he was pleased with the sales my book did in its first few months and let me know most books cannot do that in their lifespan. Yet, it wasn’t on a bestseller list. It was not even close. My big IPO dreams did not put me on any marketable high-profile lists. But I got good sales numbers, a great start, and my career finally had a professional backing it. Remember during your own IPO, your expectations will likely be overvalued against reality. You still made the right choice and are on the right path. The goal was to get more data. In your artist career, favorable data tracking your art’s public consumption is your superpower. Your IPO can get you more data. Trust it, even when your expectations come crashing. Treat it as math.
Some startup stories that I love are those of the Angry Birds and Airbnb iPhone applications. I would encourage you to read them if you need a little inspiration about your own journey. And while this article meant business, please don’t adopt the work 16-hours-a-day model. Your art needs you to sleep. And for you to stop worrying about your views on Twitter.
Thanks for reading. Your support means a lot.