This column has put a lot of focus on developing a healthy appreciation for your own work. One very important question remains to be asked, though. After spending so much time building up our artistic identity from the ground up, we need to ask: what is the ultimate goal? What exactly does ‘the end’ look like? If you don’t know the answer, that’s okay. This question is less about provoking existential dread and more about contemplating the future—which is always in motion. However, as fortune would have it, we have a great deal of influence on the present. Appropriately, in this final episode of Leveling Up Your Artistic Identity, we’re going to look at some future-proofing essentials.
Many of us are all too familiar with the age-old dichotomy of creative liberty and financial security. Artists have struggled to strike a balance between these warring factions for centuries. It’s quite possible that there is no true resolution between these disparate elements. Like with all things, however, the practical pursuit is balance. Even good things can exist in excess. Too much idealism can quickly lead to a drought of practicality. Similarly, you can spend so much time worrying about the logistics that you neglect to put time into your craft—which is what it’s all about, isn’t it? So what does the middle-ground look like for your music?
On the subject of relevance, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. An ‘extreme’ and overly-simplified example might be to adopt elements of popular music. While this easy solution could certainly be appropriate for your work, there is likely a nuance to your style that isn’t captured in this narrow scope. As a result, it probably makes the most sense to take a more pragmatic approach. What is relevant in the context of your music will undoubtedly depend on a number of external factors including (but not limited to) your audience’s listening habits, the proximity of your project to adjacent art movements, and even sociological developments. The point here is to examine, identify, and adapt. In contrast, while ensuring that your music continues to be accessible, it’s also worth observing the significance of consistency. The premise of your work must persist regardless and the energy going into it must be constant.
Just as it is important to budget time for your own well-being, it is equally important that you reserve some of your faculties for creating music (for some, these are not mutually exclusive either). Whether this means playing a show every month, writing a new song each week, or hopping onto social media every evening – stay as active as you possibly can! Your art is an organism and you are its caretaker. Don’t forget to nourish it! To extend the metaphor further, a proper diet for your music needs to consist of some staple foods:
All of the above are finite and non-optional resources. Episode VI has already touched on the importance of making purposeful use of your time and energy so there’s no need to rehash what has already been said. Money, however, is not something we have talked about an awful lot. Though each of us face unique financial circumstances, there is no denying that at least a portion of your income needs to funnel back into your craft in some way. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to constantly buy new instruments or expensive advertising campaigns. Of course, there’s value in making these sorts of investments, but the chief concern should be quality over quantity. Having all the gear in the world will not make your music better nor will it make your fans love you more. Sure, those things can help, but when weighed against the plethora of other financial obligations, they may not be the most pertinent. Without trying to offer unsolicited financial advice, it can help to prioritize the current needs of your project. Make a list and iterate through it one-by-one. Do you really need that shiny, new plugin? Do you really need to mod another Game Boy? If you can answer no with any degree of confidence, move to the next thing. Through a process of elimination, you’ll surely arrive at a handful of must-haves.
Mentioning respect in our list is not meant to suggest that you wrap your creation in a layer of ego and self-admiration. Rather, the key ingredient here is reverence. It’s okay to acknowledge that your work is fallible, but remember that it is also undeniably valid (see Episode V). Treat it with the importance that it deserves. if you don’t value your work, no one will. Thankfully, value is a matter that deals purely in perception. If you want someone else to believe that what you have has worth, you have to believe it yourself! The more unwavering you are in that belief, the more likely others are to think: ‘there must be something to this.’
Thank you for reading Leveling Up Your Artistic Identity! Hopefully, these articles have served you well and have opened up some internal conversations along the way. Remember to love yourself, trust your abilities, and put in the work. As always, if you have any questions about this article (or any of the previous ones) and want to discuss things in greater detail, leave a comment below or join the conversation on Discord!