The fight to break through

In a perfect world, creatives would be able to sell their art directly to consumers. But this is not perfect world.

One reality that every graduating student will be faced with, is the monolith of an established industry waiting for them on the other side of the door. The arts and entertainment industries are some of the most fabled, with their shrouded customs and gilded halls. In this world, the artist has to break in; if they are to garner the wealth, fame, and power that they desire. With that knowledge and power comes the permission to produce your own art, and to present it to the world on your terms.

But in fields so saturated as those, how can you differentiate yourself among a throng of like-minded, well qualified, would-be stars? How can you show the right people that you are worth the investment?


“As you move toward the dream, the dream moves toward you.”

Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

In the arts, it is not uncommon to see a great deal of talented people fall by the wayside because of a lack of work-ethic. Talent is an exceptionally devious thing, because it can lure us into a false sense of comfort. Into thinking that our success is a fait accompli, just waiting to be recognized by the people around us. But talent, as many people come to realize in the harshest times of their lives, is only a single footpath down a more arduous journey.

The very first thing that an artist must ensure, is that they understand, and can draw upon, the technical fundamentals required of them by their craft. And consistently.

Technique is the refining process of talent. Without refinement, talent is crude, unstable, explosive, and eventually fleeting. When you have a strong grasp on the fundamentals of your craft, it is like being able to produce any tool that is needed from a tool bag. Every medium, and every individual artist, has its litany of standard exercises; coupled with unique or inventive solutions to problems.

The obvious way to hone fundamentals is through education and repeated practice. Wash, rinse, and repeat. If you are a flutist, and you need to work on evenness in your runs of 16th/32nd/64th notes, then you have to make sure to practice your double and triple tonguing technique, your fluidity of transitions through fingerings, and your breath support. The way you would set that up is by warming up on scales in various modes and keys.

That is a long winded way of saying that every problem needs an appropriate, methodical solution. But sometimes the solution isn’t so cut and dry, and the artists needs to create a special process. One that, perhaps, only works for them.

An anecdote that comes to mind is that of an actor who, in order to bring themselves to the emotional point of sadness/crying, would produce a small bag that contained reminders from hurtful experiences in the past. Of course that is a specific example, but the principle is the same.

You have to have a logistical way of producing, before you ever get in front of anyone important. You have to be consistent. The way that you know that you this is paying back is by tapping into the feedback of your “team”; or a group of people who you trust of give you honest, constructive criticism.

Walk the well-trodden path

Now that you can create the art, do the other things that the people in your community are doing. Inquire about the process, look to see who the major players are, network, start to market yourself, set up meetings, build your CV. This industry is probably not going to come to you, seeking your snowflake-like genius, you need to make sure you go out and meet it.

In the New York City opera community, I found that the single-most effective thing that I did to gain interest was to make sure that I was checking into the local art community. The faces in these industries change so rapidly, that if you are out of sight for a year, you are out of mind.

For me, that meant making sure that I partook in several of the yearly voice competitions (most of which have several judge panelists in common), and trekking out to see any performance I could.

Good performances, on a smaller scale, beget interest from representatives in agencies; who will, in turn, put you forward for ever-more exclusive opportunities (at least, that’s the idea anyway). There are a multitude of ways to segue into these firms, and into the offices of studio/theater/orchestra execs; here’s some of the common ones.

  1. Filtered in by recommendation of an instructor at the school where you attended. This is one that is relevant to the classical music industry, which is particularly incestuous, and who’s big players often wear many hats; both as coaches/teachers and as professional executives. This isn’t that uncommon in the world of straight theater, either, as agents and managers will attend productions in more reputable schools.
  2. Open calls aren’t glamorous, but they are your time to shine. Do as many as you can, and make sure you are always on your game when you do. You never know who will be watching, and, if you don’t get the position you audition for, you might be perfect for another position that the audition panelist has coming down the pike. With this process I like to do a little mantra that one of my ex-girlfriends bestowed upon me, “It ain’t personal, it’s just business.”
  3. Networking. You have heard it before, and, before this blog dies, you will have heard it again a thousand times. Networking is such an important part of your professional development. One of my favorite examples of networking gone right is that of Will Smith. He got his first major acting break by getting kicked out of the house by his girlfriend, and hanging out around the Arsenio Hall Show; which led to a party, which led to an impromptu living room audition. Go to where the people are, and keep in touch with people.

You cannot become a staple of a community, if you don’t participate actively in that community. That being said, a shittonne of people have talent, and go through all the conventional motions and channels…and most of those folks aren’t rich or famous. Which leads me to my next mode of attack…

Be a master of one trade and a jack of few others

Masterful eyeglass puppetry going on here.

This piece of advice is more geared to the actors and singers in the artistic crowd, but can apply as a general rule in life. It really never hurts to be unexpectedly useful.

You never know what skill or life experience can be put to use on stage, whether that be on the front-end or back-end. If being present is half the battle, then being able to help people get things done in several different facets increases the chance that you will be more useful than the next person.

Quirky “useless” talents can make all the difference on a resume; and can also help enrich a character, by infusing a little something extra. Coming from the south, as well as a very short stint in the military, I remember during the first show I sang in at Juilliard was colored by my particular knowledge of range shooting pistols. Since I was the only one in the cast with any experience in that area, it was up to me to choreograph stance, hand/finger position, and movement for that scene with my partner.

Knowledge of languages and accents is never a bad thing, and always sets the interpreter apart. RP (received British pronunciation) and Mid-Atlantic accents are great for going out for any period pieces. Those accents are also generally used by actors speaking in English, who’s characters wouldn’t be speaking in English. A wonderful tool, and one that I and my colleagues in the opera industry are well familiar with, is International Phonetic Alphabet; or IPA. This is a written language into which you can transliterate any foreign language, and replicate a speech that is consistent and idiomatic. These symbols are used by all of the worlds great diction coaches, and can be invaluable in a situation where you are acting/singing in a language that you don’t speak.

During grad school, I made sure to take the obscure classes in Czech and Russian diction; so that I would have a skill-set that is uncommon for most singers. As a result, I was able to parlay that as a singing diction coach in those two languages; despite speaking neither of them. When I would go home to Georgia, this meant that I had a de facto little monopoly on in-depth Czech or Russian diction training.

A great example of triumph out of personal hardship is that of Michael Bentt, recently featured on the Netflix series Losers, broken from a reluctant career as a heavyweight champion boxer. He was pressured and abused by his father for his entire life int order to get him to box; a subject he had no interest in. After his inevitable defeat, he parlayed his experience into a career as a writer, and eventually as an actor opposite Will Smith in Ali. He now works as a trainer and consultant to actors in LA.

Embrace and sell the things that set you apart, even if that means you have to embrace the painful things. It could be someone else’s inspiration.

Create an opportunity

You don’t have to be Truman Capote, Pablo Picasso, Mozart, or Zed to create an interesting piece of work that can excite and inspire people. If Sylvester Stallone can write Rocky as a destitute, quasi-homeless man, driven to selling his dog and acting in porn, then you can draw something up in your mom’s basement.

The main thing is that you just have to get started. get an idea in your head, and then just spit it out onto paper. When you do this, it is important that you don’t get too bogged down by unnecessary (read: immaterial) details. The important part is manifesting something first and then refining it.

Not a writer? Well it is important to flex this muscle, but if writing isn’t your strong suit, just get it down any way you can (coherently). You can always have someone come back and help collaborate with you; to get things up to professional snuff.

The Youtuber generation is another great example of old-fashioned, American-style, bootstraps capitalism. Produce your own content and upload it, let the people decide whether or not they think it is quality, and the industry people will take notice. The 21st century is the best, most easily accessible period in history to be able to realize artistic vision on a personal budget. Jake Paul bought a 7 million dollar mansion in Calabasas by vlogging and borderline personality disorder. The point is, don’t wait to try to make things happen for yourself; there are too many ways that you can enable yourself to do so.

I will be writing more in depth, in future blog posts, about my creative process when it comes to fictional writing. So be sure to subscribe by email, and stay tuned for that.

Do you have a question or issue that you’d like to address? Shoot me a message at /!

Ciao for now!

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