The performing arts industry can be a hard one to crack. Like most creative mediums it is an industry full of enthusiasm, but also exclusivity and cliques. Where one's quality of work can at times be trumped by the “no-what-you-know-but-who-you-know” mantra of modern-day business. Everyone is trying to standout. Budding artists, engineers and designers all trying to break into an industry as the “established” names compete equally as hard to keep themselves as just that.
This is where one's professional identity is crucial. Short term ‘project-based’ contracts are more likely than securing long-term employment or business with one company, therefore trying to “stand out” puts you in the same group as the others, and it is managing your professional identity that will help you achieve long-term success. Trying to stand-out can lead to just standing alongside the others sensationalizing themselves for attention, therefore it is those with credibility and a true quality of work that will gain the respect and thus truly stand-out above their peers.
(image from: www.trentoff.com)
Constant self-reflection can help one monitor their professional identity and I have done so by addressing a few (what I feel are important) questions. Who am I? How am I perceived? What can I offer? What are my long terms goals and what are the short term gains associated with reaching them?
At this point in my career I am not embarrassed by the fact I have a very little “on the surface” musical resume. I’m not sufficient in playing any instruments, am yet to produce any of my own tracks nor played any professional DJ gigs in this modern time of the “USBJ-era”.
I do however excrete enthusiasm and am very particular in my tastes. I’m influenced from being in a family of musicians (grandparents on both sides are traveling country and western singers; father, uncles and aunties all still play, or played in, bands whilst I was growing up). I feel this mixed with my experience of working for a) Australia’s biggest regional media company- Southern Cross Austereo- for five years, b) being a mobile DJ, catering to a range of audiences including weddings, schools, 18ths, 40ths and beyond and c) working as a DJ and Public Address Announcer/Commentator at basketball games in front of up to 2,500 people, has helped give credibility to my opinions. These experiences have helped me develop (what I feel is) an ear for what is quality across a range of genres, yet I also know how to appeal to a range of audiences, both the niche and the masses.
To help analyse the question of “How am I perceived?” I conducted a little exercise. By using the Johari Window (as referenced in the Week 12 “Creative Leadership” weekly topic for CIU112) I analysed myself then put it to a group of about twenty friends (who I knew would be honest and not afraid to be critical) to select words they felt best described me.
(image from: http://kevan.org/johari)
The mutual words that both myself and the group used were happy, silly and trustworthy with the additional top answers from the others as happy, loving and witty. This is the vibe I indirectly aim to put out, so it was nice to get back that analysis. However it’s from the next tier of answers from my peers that I feel I can really use to help my career. These included clever, confident, dependable, observant, reflective and witty. It’s a combination of these that helped me answer my next question.
What can I offer? Okay, so I’m not an artist or an established engineer… yet. I can however capitalise on my previous experiences in media and entertainment with qualities those close to me listed above and enhance my professional identity. My awareness (observant) and ability to assess, analyse, even report on situations (reflective) with honest feedback (trust) in an entertaining yet respected manner (witty) will help me continue to gain credibility and trust with those in the industry. By associating myself with respected labels, managers, booking agents, artists and attending fun, interesting, new (or at times the “hard-to-get-into”) events it continues to help build my credibility as an expert in the field. Even by showing a level of “VIP/behind the curtain” access without invading the privacy of the artists and events managers, it helps establish the perception of ‘Hey, this guy knows what’s going on’ (more on this to come later).
As mentioned earlier this is a very project-based, tick the short-term box to help gain the long-term deals type industry. One false step or knock-back can be a real kick in the teeth, but because it is such a short-term industry this means there are always many new and exciting opportunities on the horizon. One won’t go from uni student to platinum-producing engineer in the space of one job interview. It’s the baby steps and building from the ground up that will gain the best long term success.
One must be aware of the types of jobs they take on; sure Project A might pay 3 times as much now and get you slightly more mass appeal, but if it isn’t to your desired audience or you are compromising your artistic integrity beyond a level that you feel comfortable then one must ask themselves:
“Is this for long term gain?”
“Will I be proud of this?” and
“How will those I respect in the industry view my association/work on this project?”
Project B may pay less and take longer but it’s with people who are goooood, respected and I will learn and gain more in the long term by taking on this experience. It’s the internal psychological battle of the artist, paying today's bills whilst maintaining credibility and keeping perspective of the journey. I’ll take Project B ninety-nine percent of the time.
For it’s your professional identity that will get you to the promised land or halt you before leaving the starters marks. Being a flash in the pan may be fun but it’s not sustainable and often doesn’t work long-term. Building a quality of work from within and allowing that to grow is what will eventually stand-out. People like to experience excellence, and if you can create and maintain excellence it will get recognised and your brand will continue to grow- in the right way.
Personally, I’m sacrificing instant short-term releases for the betterment of improving my knowledge which will therefore benefit me in the creative process long term. It’s no good having all the tools in the shed with no key, nor is it worth having an open gate to an empty backyard. It’s important to know what you can offer, it’s just as important that others will see and respect this too.
To continue for Blog Post Part 2 click here