With love, from XOXO.
When faced with the industry surrounding our art, it’s easy to get discouraged, indignant, confused. It’s easy to blame others and dwell in the past, instead of looking to the future. Last week, I had the privilege of attending a festival here in Portland, OR celebrating disruptive creativity, which was a welcome break from those dissenters and naysayers that so loudly preach on the internet. Organized by Andys Baio and McMillan, the excitement was palpable, and the pervasive feeling was one of infinite possibility.
Covering everything from gaming to music to 3D printing, the current pulling it all together was the theme of disintermediation - the removal of the middleman between creators and their fans. What struck me most was the commonalities between the different creative fields. Here are a few lessons musicians can take away from XOXO:
Start small, and see what works.
Several of the speakers were ones that had grown a full-fledged business from one Kickstarter or Etsy seed. They all started with a small idea, got it out quickly and without fanfare, and learned from their successes and mistakes. As TV writer Dan Harmon put it, you have to “follow your bliss”, and the founders of Studio Neat memorably said that “constraints are liberating”. We can’t please everyone, or second guess what will be popular - we just need to do what we love, focus on making something that is the best that it can possibly be, and then connect with the fans that get it.
Keep calm and carry on.
When you find out what works, learn from it and keep moving. Design firm Studio Neat exemplified this principle - they put out one great product (the ‘Glif’) that filled a specific need, and moved on to the next great product. They could have rested on their laurels, they could have been devastated by exact Chinese knock-offs, but that didn’t happen. They kept on.
It’s all about doing the best you can with the resources you have, yet knowing when to call it done. I have seen too many artists kill their career by obsessing over their grand opus and never actually finishing it.
Share your process.
A commonly quoted source was Kevin Kelly’s “1000 True Fans”, which is based around the idea that with just 1000 True Fans (with a capital T and F) that will follow you to the grave, you can make a living as a creator. But how do you get “Lesser Fans” to become “True Fans”? One way to do this, and another theme amongst creators at XOXO, is to share your process. After all, if the point is not the destination, but the journey, shouldn’t we be sharing that journey with our fans?
Jamie from video streaming platform VHX spoke about the importance of the creator’s brand, which speaks to the fan’s all-encompassing interest in the creator’s day-to-day. The ‘True’ fan’s fascination is often less about the project itself, and more about the person making it.
Over the course of the weekend, I began to think that maybe the narcissistic music industry has been staring at it’s reflection for so long, it has forgotten the other creators out there struggling with the same painful disintermediation process. In fact, the music industry is farther along than many - unlike the gaming and film industries that are still trying to figure out how to circumvent gatekeepers that inhibit creativity and slow down distribution, we already have a multitude of great tools to reach and share and sell to our fans directly.
XOXO was a beautiful reminder of what we, as creators, have in common, and that we’re all in it to incite change for the better. If we can look to and learn from each other, we’ll get there that much faster.