Lesson #2: Stay Connected to Artists Who Are Better Than You

I’ve called Atlanta home since 1998 when I moved here to attend Spelman College. One of the reasons I haven’t moved is because of the thriving arts scene here. On any given night there is spoken word, soul music, singer/songwriter open mics, art gallery openings, dance and theater performances going on here.

For 15 years, I’ve had the privilege of performing at churches, conferences, festivals, colleges, and tours, and sometimes I would leave these events with the applause and requests to sign CDs still ringing in my ears. Then I’d go to Urban Grind or Java Monkey for an open mic and hear so many other amazing poets (too many to even name here!) whose work challenged me to better my craft that I’d remember I still have a lot of room for improvement. It’s a blessing to be able to what I do full-time, but I wouldn’t be able to do any of this if it wasn’t for fumbling through new pieces at my local open mic, for hearing the amazing stories and unique angles my fellow poets have to share.

Hearing other dope poets keeps me humble, keeps me writing, teaches me to give credit where credit is due. All of us as artists need a regular dose of that.

Lesson #3 - Full-Time Artist = Entreprenuer

I grew up in the 1990s, an era when having amazing talent meant a huge record deal with a big advance plus inheriting a team of people who could manage you, PR you, A&R you, produce you, write you, and style you. This trend made many of us believe that all we needed to do was have amazing talent and somehow a big record label exec would be waiting for us by the stage when we finished, ready to pay us millions of dollars just to be awesome.

By the time I graduated college, the iPod had replaced the CD player and record labels were scrambling to keep up with how fast technology was changing. I realized the dream I’d watched happen to so many artists, wasn’t going to happen for me.

The days of expecting some entity to come in and do everything for you so all you have to do is sit in your room and create are long gone. I learned that being a full-time artist meant I had to also begin to think like a businesswoman. I had to think about how I wanted to create my brand, who I am, what I feel called to do, then I could start assembling a team of people to help make my business a success.

To Do List

1.    Find a place to connect with your local artist community: open mic, gallery openings, dance and music performances.

2.    Connect with artists whose work challenges you in your craft.

3.    Read Michael Gerber’s book Awakening the Entrepreneur. This book helped me to begin to think more like a businesswoman.

4.    Ask yourself, what is a first step you can accomplish with the current resources and relationships you have. If you want to be a writer, maybe you can start a blog. If you want to be a performance poet, perform your work at an open mic or a poetry slam. If you need a mentor, look around in your community for someone who can give you great advice. If you want to work in film or television, maybe you can utilize YouTube, Vimeo and podcasting to try out some of your ideas.

Next up: Lesson #4 Set Aside Time to Create for Fun and Because You Love It