How to Make Money as an Artist
Loyal Lounatics know that many of the lessons brought to the hotlou show were learned by building the Twig the Fairy business. In this episode, host hotlou discusses the essay that took 5 minutes to read, but immediately changed his life forever by teaching him how to make money as an artist. And subsequently helped Twig transform from a veritable homeless person to the owner of a 6-figure business.
From Homeless to How to Make Money as an Artist
As oft-discussed on the show, hotlou was building a business around the children’s entertainer Twig the Fairy.
Well, once upon a time in the journey, Lou said to the fairy, “The fairy thing is cute and all, but you know you’re going to have to get a real job someday.”
How foolish young Lou was. But fear not, loyal Lounatics, enlightenment soon followed.
Sometime not longer that stab-worthy conversation, Lou stumbled upon an article by WIRED magazine founder Kevin Kelly entitled “1000 True Fans.” Linked here for your convenience.
It’s a quick 5-10 minute read, but if you aren’t so inclined, here’s the gist:
Aspiring to become a famous artist so you can make a good living is in all likelihood an entirely futile cause. But you don’t need to be famous to make a good living. Instead, use this formula:
- Define a “true fan” who will buy anything and everything you create
2. Instead of aspiring to become famous, make your mission to collect 1000 true fans
3. Create $100 worth of product every single year
Apply the formula and Voilà! 1000 times $100 is a 6-figure business!
So you’re a musician? Aspire to create:
- One $20 album ($20)
- Two $20 t-shirts (+ $40 = $60)
- Two $10 posters (+ 20 = $80)
- Two $10 concerts (+ $20 = $100)
So you’re a painter?
- Three $20 painting prints ($60)
- Three $5 post cards (+ $15 = $75)
- One $25 set of greeting cards (+ $25 = $100)
Oh, you’re a sculptor? Just try to work the formula a little differently. Focus on fewer true fans and a higher price point:
- Try 100 true fans and $1000 sculptures
- Or 50 true fans and $2000 sculptures
- You get the idea
Lou has referenced this essay in literally hundreds of consultations over the last decade. Plus, the essay is now a common part of the advice you’ll get from some of Lou’s favorite podcast hosts: The Tim Ferriss Show, Noah Kagan Presents, etc. An addendum/update appears in Tim Ferriss’s Tools of Titans.
How to Create True Fans
This is obviously much more difficult, but the best advice here is that by focusing as much energy as you can to allowing new fans to discover your work, you increase the chances that a true fan will eventually discover you.
In the episode, Lou and Mike discuss how common it is for musicians to get upset with illegal streams of their music or painters having images of their art appear all over the web without attribution. And they too often respond to these events with vitriol and accusations of theft.
Put yourself in the shoes of someone who maybe shared that music or art. Will that compel them to become a true fan? Or will it turn them against your art forever?
Take as friendly an approach to seek credit as you possibly can and see if you can convert them into a fan!
With Twig the Fairy, Lou often asked for credit and thanked the sharer for helping with the stated mission of the company: to spread fairy magic as far and wide as possible. This friendliness frequently resulted in acquiring a new fan! One of those people eventually ended up pledging $1500 for the naming rights of a character in one of the books!
If you’re a new artist, explore ways to get your art in front of as many people as possible. And find ways to connect with them or inform them with ways they can connect with and follow you. Mike and Lou touched on the impact of both MySpace and Spotify on artists’ journeys.
Tom from MySpace
MySpace was one of the first sites to enable this concept of exposing art for free to the entire web — especially for musicians — by embedding music and art on the profile pages.
Perhaps Tom could have written 1000 True Fans and how to make money as an artist long before Mr. Kelly ever did. Because Tom sold Myspace to News Corporation in July 2005 for $580 million.
In June 2011, Specific Media Group and Justin Timberlake jointly purchased the company for approximately $35 million.
Co-host Mike Available for a Reasonable Fee
Thanks as always to one of our long-standing sponsors: Weber Johnson Public Affairs.
Accountability versus Responsibility
While not exactly related to the contents of the episode, our host and co-host casually remarked on responsibility.
A favorite saying of our host was briefly mentioned:
Everything that happens to you may not be your fault, but it is your responsibility.
Again, not very relevant to the episode, but this advice has helped our host through many challenges and he hopes it helps you, too.