by David Carus
Once in a while an artist comes along that changes everything. Michael Jackson was that kind of artist. His influence on popular culture continues to resonate and his legacy is as rock solid as they come. People will be talking about Michael Jackson for generations; but why? What was he able to do that set him apart? How did he go from intensely shy to the greatest entertainer in the world? He was so famous he couldn’t walk the streets of any country without people recognizing him. How did he do it? His story may surprise you.
Most people look at someone with talent and say things like, “He’s a natural,” or “He was born with that talent,” and in the case of Michael Jackson you’d be tempted to say these kinds of things. However, there is no talent gene or magic dust sprinkled on a few lucky folks. When you see talent, know that it is the result of practice alone, and in the case of Michael Jackson he had lots and lots of practice. He not only had to work hard to sing and dance like he did, but he had to fight his way in from a very young age. Many people remember he got his start performing with his brothers in the Jackson 5, but he was never supposed to be in the group. His older brothers wanted to form a band and make music and when young Michael came into their bedroom, they’d kick him out. He was too young, just a kid. But he kept knocking on the door and eventually he became part of the group when they heard him sing. He had music around him his whole life. His father was a musician and his tight knit family always had music around and he’d been listening and learning.
The Jackson 5 didn’t explode onto the national scene right away. They performed lots of shows, practiced to get better and worked hard to get signed to Motown Records. Once there, Michael Jackson became surrounded by musical greats like Diana Ross, James Brown, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson and others who all influenced him. As a child he got a priceless education, recording and performing during one of music’s greatest eras. His career wasn’t founded on natural born talent or luck, it was the result of study, practice and hard work. And what makes it even more incredible is the fact that Michael Jackson was one of the shyest people you’d ever meet. He’d spend so many hours practicing that by the time he went on stage he completely owned it, exuding tons of confidence.
Michael Jackson achieved great success performing with his brothers but no one could have foreseen just how successful his solo career would be. One of the key factors in his success, aside from the hours he devoted to his craft, was writing his own material and consciously creating his image. Michael Jackson and his brothers had been restricted at Motown. They were told which songs to record and never got the chance to produce their own music. By the time Michael went on his own, he believed in his ability to write songs and determine the course of his career. He was the one that chose to work with Quincy Jones and from his first album “Off The Wall,” music would never be the same again. The follow-up “Thriller” would sweep the Grammy’s and go on to sell more copies than any album ever had. He went on to dominate music and change its entire landscape.
How was this achieved? Michael Jackson had a vision. He knew what he wanted to create and all those years of hard work and practice paid off. This didn’t mean now he then coasted and took it easy. He worked even harder, spending countless hours recording and performing to give the world what we now know as Michael Jackson. This image was his total creation. From the fedora hats and sparkling glove to the groundbreaking videos and moonwalk, Michael Jackson knew what he wanted and made it happen. There were no favors, no back room dealings, no luck, no connections, just 100% working on art. Michael Jackson chose to be an artist and achieved such phenomenal fame because he dreamed more, imagined better, worked harder and practiced longer than most people dare to do. The next time you watch him effortlessly glide across a dance floor understand all of the effort that went into making it happen. There’s no reason you can’t moonwalk like Michael Jackson. You just need to practice.
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by David Carus
If someone is not an artist they might think success as an artist works like this: you’re born with talent and it secretly waits to pop its head one day when, quite through accident, you find yourself performing or creating art and there’s a talent scout watching who rushes to meet you backstage, whips out a million dollar contract and sweeps you away to Hollywood and you wake up to your picture on the front page of every major newspaper in the world. That’s pretty much the idea of overnight success, right? Wrong. It’s time to reveal the actual secret to overnight success by looking at a couple of artists that actually had the world’s attention, seemingly overnight.
Man can fly, but that wasn’t always the case. At the start of the 20th century there were plenty of ambitious minds tackling the problem of flight, but the general public thought man would be limited to traveling by land or sea and laughed at the funny looking contraptions they saw being tested on the tops of hills. The Wright Brothers came along and changed the whole game. What did they do differently than everybody else? They not only took the road less traveled, they ditched roads all together. Like Doc Brown said in “Back to the Future II,” “Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads.” Their story is truly inspiring.
Wilbur and Orville Wright’s father gave them a toy helicopter when they were younger. It was made from paper, bamboo, cork and a rubber band and the boys played with it until it broke but they figured out how to build their own, sparking an early interest in aviation. Wilbur Wright was an athletic guy with plans to go to Yale University when a hockey stick knocked out his front teeth, causing him to withdraw from people. Instead of college, he stayed indoors caring for his terminally ill mother, and considered himself lacking in ambition. However, while at home caring for his mother, he began studying aviation. Orville Wright had dropped out of high school to open up a printing business, using a printing press designed and built with Wilbur’s help. When bicycles became a national craze, the brothers decided to open up a bicycle shop, designing and building their own bicycles.
Up until this time there had been many attempts to build a flying machine but no one in the world had solved all of the pieces to the puzzle. The Wright Brothers decided to tackle the problem and used money from their bicycle business to fund their experiments. They used some of what they’d learned building bicycles and applied it to flying. While everyone else was focused on stability, the Wright Brothers knew the real problem was steering. They understood an airplane in the sky wouldn’t handle like a boat in the water. Their grasp of bicycle design helped them find a steering solution. And another breakthrough came when they abandoned using the aeronautical data of one of their biggest inspirations, the German aviation pioneer Otto Lilienthal. Realizing his data was incorrect, the Wright brothers decided to start from scratch to discover the correct formulas behind wing design. After more than a decade of experiments, filled with failures, injuries and plenty of self-doubt, on December 17, 1903, the Wright Brothers flew the world’s first, truly working airplane. Were there swarms of reporters watching the historical moment? No, there was only one other person there, a guy Wilbur found to take photographs of the flights and the film wasn’t even developed until the brothers returned home to Ohio. The world eventually found out but it was an overnight success that had taken well over a decade to create; longer if you count the toy helicopter.
The airplane was the result of years of study, experimentation, hard work and thinking outside the box. For a couple of guys without college degrees or even high school diplomas, all they needed was to keep pushing through the barriers, ignore the limitations and focus on their dream, so fragile that the whole world didn’t think it possible. The next time you’re watching a famous artist or creator on TV and thinking of yourself as a failure for not being there yet, remember the story of two brothers who spent years of getting it wrong until they finally got it right. Imagine them pushing their flying machine made of canvas and wood into the wind until it was conquered, seeing their masterpiece soaring above the world. Overnight success is great, but not as great as the everyday success of chasing your dreams. The pleasure is in the doing, not the having, so get out there and do whatever you gotta do because that’s the secret to flying.
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by David Carus
For many artists the idea of marketing means acting like a used car salesman, hounding people with annoying pleas to “come on down and look at what I got!” They wouldn’t be alone because there are plenty of people that have this viewpoint from so many salesmen not treating their profession as an artist might. I’m here to tell you that the used car salesman model doesn’t work and isn’t what anyone should be doing, not even used car salesmen. When done right, marketing is an art.
Marketing is more than just selling. There are many parts to it. Think of it like a big machine, ironically, like a car. You have your wheels, tires, body, frame, brakes, engine, windows, etc. The machine called marketing basically has these parts: the thinking up of an idea for something, the making of it, the distributing of it, the packaging of it, how people perceive and discover it and how they go spread the word about it. It includes things like selling and advertising too.
Once you know that marketing is not just putting up a sign or shouting at passers by, but an overall big picture of how you get a product from being a lightbulb over your head to getting it into the hands of lots of people, you can now move forward with some success. You’re probably already doing some marketing but in order to really take flight as an artist you’re going to have to be an artist at marketing too.
Let’s take a look at an example of successful marketing. Apple. They gave us the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad and are easily one of the biggest companies in the world. Why? They are artists at marketing. They created a concept for a product no one even knew they wanted. How could anyone imagine being able to carry thousands of songs on one small device called an iPod? We were used to portable CD players and thought we were hot stuff if our CD player had anti-skip protection! Apple came up with an amazing idea and then rolled out a marketing campaign that captured the idea. Remember those great ads of black silhouettes over colorful backgrounds rocking out, earphones swinging? The iPod was fun, creative and something new. People had to have it and it spread by word of mouth too. But there was also the packaging. Have you ever walked into an Apple store? It’s nice being in there isn’t it? From the sleek look to the workers in blue t-shirts to the way the packaging feels when you hold it. Apple has made the entire experience of being a customer of their products into something amazing. That takes skill and those guys are true artists.
You might say, “well Apple is a big corporation, they can afford to hire professional advertising agencies and designers, but what can I do?” They are a big company but they started as two guys in a garage. Walt Disney was a struggling artist trying to break into a new field called animation and started by reading one book on the subject. Today the Walt Disney Company is the largest entertainment company on Earth. My point is that everyone starts somewhere. So don’t feel limited. Feel empowered with the possibilities of what you can create and how you can create it.
You probably already know what kind of artist you are. You might be a fine artist or a novelist or a singer-songwriter but no matter what kind of artist you are you need to master the art of marketing. Hell, there was even a very famous car salesman that you could easily call an artist of marketing. What he’d do was simple, brilliant and got him the Guinness World Record for number of cars sold. Whenever someone would find their way to his car lot he would always remember to write down their name, address and birthday, then, like clockwork on their birthday he’d send them a birthday card. It got to be a major production where he’d send out thousands of birthday cards, but people loved them! He might not sell them a car right away but they’d always remember him and eventually they’d buy from him or refer a friend when the subject of buying a car came up in conversation. Why wouldn’t he get their business? He did something no one else was doing. Often, people don’t remember to give birthday cards to their family or friends and here he was sending a card year after year. He turned the idea of a used car salesman from the guy to avoid to the guy that always sends you a birthday card. Think about what you could do with one simple marketing action.
When it comes to marketing your art, the sky is the limit and it’s one big empty canvas for you to paint into a masterpiece. The internet makes it even easier to market your work. You now have the ability to reach millions overnight with the right work or message behind you. You must treat marketing like an art because it is. You have to continually work at it to get better. Over time your skills will improve until you have an assembly line of masterpieces being pumped out.
Tackle the marketing of your art as an extension of the art itself, not even because you want it to sell, but because there is further pleasure to be had creating in the field of marketing. Steve Jobs took an interest in not only building iPods but in building stores. Walt Disney looked beyond his movies and envisioned theme parks where parents could bring their kids.
Look beyond the empty canvas sitting on your easel as your only form of art to create at. Talk a walk outside and try imagining what the world will look like as you market your art in it. The ways are as limitless as your canvas at home because the canvas of the world is so much bigger. Get those lightbulbs glowing and start flinging that paint!
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I recently decided to ask the following question to all of my artist friends: “What's the one thing that stops you the most from being a successful artist?” I got back more than a hundred responses and I was actually surprised to discover that one answer was overwhelmingly at the top: lack of confidence. It was so popular that it more than doubled the number two answer. I was surprised for two reasons, one, I consider myself confident when it comes to being an artist and two, I consider artists extremely talented and skilled individuals, which should make them automatically confident, right? Well I quickly realized having confidence is something lots of people struggle with and artists more than anybody, and here’s why:
Simply, artists have to communicate their ideas but other people not so much. Artists put themselves out there (with their heart and soul embodied in their work) and when you do that it’s like waving a big sign that says, “Hey everybody! Look at me! I’ve created something new!” We live in a world where too many people are comfortable and don’t want the boat rocked and here you come with your art, rocking it! Anytime they see an artist you’re reminding them of what they should be doing: creating! So what happens next? “Oh, that’s nice.” “I had a friend that tried doing that.” “Is that what you do for a living?” “What’s your real job?” “Well, that’s nice.” “Good luck with it.” There’s this inescapable tenseness that travels from them to you leaving the thought, “I should keep practicing because maybe I’m not good enough yet.” Let me tell you something. YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH.
Why? Because no matter how bad you might think your art is, at least you’re making it. All of the people you’re worried about pleasing probably aren’t artists and if they are they’re probably not making much art. Here you come with your finished piece of art. There they are without one. Luckily, they don’t have to matter much because there are plenty of people that support artists. If that wasn’t true then you wouldn’t be able to watch a movie, listen to an album or read a book. There are millions if not billions of people on this planet right now that support artists and the art they make. You just have to weed out the ones that don’t by standing strong, flourishing and prospering in the face of opposition. You just have to keep lifting up, extending out and presenting your art to people. No matter what. Don’t let one hater prevent all that will love it later.
Finally, Rome wasn’t built in a day. You don’t have to be Bob Dylan the moment you pick up a guitar. So you’re not Hemingway yet and they haven’t put a Nobel Prize around your neck, who cares? Know that you’re always going to make the best art you can, so why beat yourself up over it? The real reason any of those haters or critics can set you on fire is because you’ve got some small pile of firewood laid out somewhere inside you. Guess what? You don’t have to be society’s idea of what a successful artist is, you just have to be YOUR idea of what a successful artist is. As long as you can do that you won’t have any problem walking up to somebody and showing them what you made. Be confident knowing you’re doing something most people can’t and every time you do it you’re getting even better at it. Build confidence like you’d build a house, one brick at a time. And there’s no reason you can’t be a skyscraper.
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Please read this to the end my friend. I should have listened to you long ago. Remember when I first mentioned how much I loved art and you saw that sparkle in my eye but tried to set me straight? You were smart enough to know that life as an artist is only met with struggle and starvation and you wanted to protect me from all of that. You said I should get an office job, something safe and secure and then work on my art on the side. Oh, I should have listened to you! I was such a fool!
I spent years of my life making art. I put my heart and soul into everything I created just to be met with rejection after rejection. At first it wasn't so bad because I could say I was new to being an artist and I needed more experience at it before I was good and before people could value what I was doing. But then more years passed and I knew I was getting better but people still rejected my work. I showed it to friends like you. You smiled and nodded and told me it was good but I could always tell you were being nice and didn't really mean it. You never bought my art and in the beginning that was okay because we were friends anyway and I didn't care about the money so I'd offer to give it to you for free but I could tell you didn't really want it. I started to realize that I must not be good enough so I foolishly took more lessons, studied and worked even harder! I was such a fool! I spent thousands of hours getting better, not to mention thousands of dollars, in the hopes that I could somehow make it and prove you wrong. I really believed in what I was doing and I knew that being an artist was in my blood and I couldn't imagine life without it so I actually continued on, ha!
One day my hard work paid off and someone not only loved what I was doing but they paid me money for it! It wasn't a lot of money but it was something. Remember that day? You told me it was great but that the money I made compared to how much time it took to create my art still didn't make it profitable. You pointed out I'd have to make lots more art and that I needed way more fans than I'd probably be able to find. You told me most people didn't care about art. You said people were too busy working and trying to survive themselves and how could they possibly hand over their hard earned dollars for something they didn't really need. You pointed out that my art wasn't food, it wasn't clothing and it wasn't shelter. I had to admit that you had a point and it really put me in quite a state. I spent weeks thinking about what you told me and it really started sinking in: the idea that I'd just wasted most of my life pursuing a crazy dream that was never going to happen. I started to think about going back to college. I researched which jobs paid the most. I grabbed all of my art supplies and materials, every book I had and every scrap of anything that could possibly remind me of my life as an artist and I put them in large boxes and was ready to take a trip to the thrift shop. I sat there upset, angry and frustrated. I thought about how you tried to help me so many years ago when I first had this foolish notion of being an artist. I remembered that look you gave me and continued to give me. I decided to make a wish.
I wished for a time machine to take me back in time so I could have a conversation with myself back when I was younger; back when I first thought of being an artist. You know what I would tell the old me? I'd say this:
"Don't listen to anyone doubting you and what you want to do. Don't call someone a friend who doesn't support your goals in life and who doesn't want you to succeed as an artist. No matter how much it all seems to make good, solid "sense," never let anyone convince you that what you are doing is not important. You see, artists run this planet. Without people coming up with new ideas and creating new things, the world would never grow or get better. Without artists the world would be a boring, stagnant place that no one would want to live in. You are one of the most able and gifted people on this Earth right now. It's up to you to not only make art but to make as much of it as you possibly can. The world needs you.
It's hard for some people to have as much courage as you do. They wish they could do what you can do and what you will do. It's up to you to help bring about a world where they feel they can also face all of the obstacles standing in the way of artists. The biggest ones don't come like bulldozers or Godzilla stomping towards your house. They knock at your door very politely and smile every time they sit in your living room. They put one hand on your shoulder while the other one moves ever so covertly. No matter what they do, how they appear or when they come, you must know this: they are cowards.
Just keep doing your thing and do it with all your might. Oh, and one day, years from now you will write something that you can send to any of these "friends." You'll start by telling them you're giving up being an artist. You'll be using the words they most want to hear from you. Then, once you have them believing this you will do a complete 180 flip and send them falling down into apathy about trying to harm you. Why will you write this? Because 1) you don't need those kinds of "friends" and 2) it's fun to create isn't it? (Not to mention some of your artist friends may enjoy reading it too, or you for that matter if you ever need some motivation. You don't want the bad guys to win now do you? Good, now stop reading this and get back to making art. You've got worlds to build.)"
Many Americans, not to mention the millions around the world, watched last night's VMA performance by Miley Cyrus and were shocked. People were confused, upset, disappointed and angry that the sweet, innocent "Hannah Montana" star had suddenly become a raunchy, drug taking, sex pistol. Her performance may just be one of the most glaring wake up calls the American people have ever had and may prove to be more significant than 9/11.
Terrorists kill people and that is definitely something to be alarmed about but what should be even more alarming are the factors which influence culture. I have long coined the motto "Artists Run This Planet" because I truly believe artists (creators, inventors, dreamers) are the people that most influence culture because they set a path towards the future by creating ideals worth working towards. However, like any artist knows, there are enemies of creativity, sometimes twisting art for their own ends, those that would have the world canvas-less, colorless with no more art than a barcode.
What happened last night at the VMAs was nothing new for the music industry. When I say music industry I don't mean the millions of musicians across the world. No, I mean the music industry: the businessmen making money from musicians. Some people think the music industry changed because of the internet. It did, but it also changed in another significant way back in 1996 with the passage of the Telecommunications Act which broke down limitations of how many radio stations someone could own and through a wildfire quickness of take overs and buy outs the radio stations in America became a monopoly. There is a reason you only hear a handful of artists on any given station and why their songs are played over other artists. It's not because of their talent. It's because they were picked.
Any message, whether it's true or not, if it is repeated enough times, will be accepted. Music and television programming is not a blind man throwing darts and hoping for the bullseye of people becoming fans. Instead, it's more like making the audience blind and throwing the darts at them instead. We've been hit with so much degraded content that the culture has definitely shifted. Over time Miley Cyrus' performance may prove to be a welcomed event. Why? Look at how many people were turned off by her. It was as if the whole country said, "Enough!" People are not docile lab rats or hamsters that are supposed to run around in endless circles. We are lovers of life and we want to experience elevation, not degradation. We want to feel inspired when we look to our artists, not be repulsed by them.
Hopefully this event is a milestone and people finally decide that enough is enough and demand more from the music industry, radio stations, MTV and all the rest. In fact, we should be so outraged that we write letters to President Obama about this because any war he is fighting with guns in foreign lands is no where near as important as the war that needs to be fought to ensure we have an inspiring and uplifting culture, in America and across the world. Artists wage this war each day and there are some casualties like Miley, but we have to push through and do even more. Maybe I'm a dreamer but I sure as hell know I'm not the only one.
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What is a blog? It's slang for "web log" which is basically a journal or diary you publish online. In the past, diaries were something private you kept in a locked drawer but today lots of people are using blogs to communicate to the millions of people surfing the internet for content they can connect with. A blog is a great way to create something meaningful that can be discovered, shared and grow into something bigger. Want to promote your work? Want to have a place to express yourself? Looking to establish yourself in your field or start a movement of change? You're gonna need a blog.
A blog is one of the easiest things to do online. There are literally dozens if not hundreds of websites where you can have a blog for free. There's Blogger, Tumblr, Wordpress, Yahoo! and tons more. Once you have one set up you can write as often as you'd like, you can write blogs that are as long as a novel or keep them as short as a couple of words. You can also add photos and videos and music. You can pick any topic. There's no limitations to what you can make your blog about but if you pick something that is specific, unique and focused you'll soon find out that there are lots of people online that are interested in exactly what you're blogging about and you'll have a growing audience you can continue to build on and even make a living from.
How can you make money from a blog? It's pretty easy because there are a ton of ways to "monetize" your blog. You can place advertisements on your site which make you money when someone clicks on them or buys that particular product. You can sell your own product like ebooks, t-shirts or art prints. I make music so I sell digital albums. You can also ask for donations from visitors who might feel compelled to help the cause. There are even more ways to make money from a blog, like booking speaking gigs from establishing yourself as an authority on a subject. But all of this boils down to one important thing: you have to create good content.
You don't have to be a great writer like Ernest Hemingway or a great marketer like Seth Godin to get going. Any blog is better than no blog and someone will always be interested enough to read. However, you will get better and better the more you blog and your success with it will continue to increase. In the beginning you may find it slow to build an audience depending on how many people you know etc. but I have some tips to get you on the fast track to being a great blogger.
1. Make sure your blogs have social media share buttons at the bottom for sites like Facebook and Twitter. This makes your blog easier to share and go viral. It also gives you some numbers to look at to know where people are sharing your blog.
2. Reach out to other bloggers and offer to write a guest blog for them or get them to write a guest blog for you. What is guest blogging? It's a smart way to leverage the power of another's audience and traffic. When you get another blogger to write for you, your audience discovers them. You write for them and their audience discovers you and your blog link.
3. Make sure you have a title and image attached to your blog that are attention grabbing and shout: "Hey! Bet you didn't know this! You're gonna like this and want to share it immediately after reading it!" This is where the creative juice has to come out. If you struggle with stuff like this it's a good idea to find someone to work with that can help you find the right approach or angle. (I'm available for hire if you need help getting started, want someone to write a blog for you or anything else). I like helping people create and it's why I started my blog.
The internet is literally a blank canvas and your blog is one of the most important ways you paint your masterpiece on it. Have fun creating, finding the people that love what you create, keep delivering your art and in a short time you'll find yourself with a pretty swanky art gallery filled with admirers. The show opens any day you want it to. I hope to walk into it one day and see your paintings hanging where they should, with spotlights and people talking.
It happens to us all. You put yourself out there by showing the world something you made, something you believe in and just when you are at your highest, happiest, proudest moment, someone says something or maybe they don't say something, but the communication is clear: you suck, you're not that special, you're not that talented, it wasn't a very good idea, and so on. At this moment we flare up inside and then get that feeling of wanting to hide, to escape, to get the hell away and make the suffering end or quite possibly get mad and verbally attack back. However, I would challenge you to take another look at what is really happening. You should know something: You should be feeling on top of the world. Huh? Let me explain.
Not everyone puts themselves out there. In fact most people sit idly by wishing they had something they could put out and had the courage to actually show people. They don't but you do. Congratulations, you are indeed special. Yes, that's right, your mom wasn't lying to you and deep down you always knew too so take a moment and give yourself a proper acknowledgement. Okay, good. So you've got a few guys putting themselves out there so that must mean everyone else hates you, right? Wrong. Like I said, most people wish they had something to put out, something to believe in and go after passionately so they're not actually bad people, they're just trying to find something to believe in and be passionate about. That's where you come in with your idea, your painting, your novel, your song. So who is the guy hating on you? There's not many of them and it's probably your best friend. Huh? Let me explain.
You see, there are heroes in the world. That's guys like you and me. Artists, creators, doers, the guys that make stuff happen and help people. And you see, there's also bad guys. Sure, these are your Adolf Hitlers, rapists, murderers, serial killers, etc., but they are not always so obvious to spot. Why? Because they are COWARDS. What would a coward do if he didn't like someone and wanted them to sink? Would he come right out and tell you he hated you? No, that wouldn't be very smart. What would he do then? He'd cuddle up to you, get as close as he could and slowly stick the knife in as he smiled the most genuine smile he could muster, pretending loyalty but always looking for ways to make it hurt more. You've seen the movie lots of times right? Isn't it always the guy the hero never suspected? Of course we see it because we're the audience, but he usually doesn't.
A funny thing happened to me once. I'm big into comic books and love the hell out of them. I like to follow writers and artists that I like. I like their fan page, I might follow them on Twitter (I'm @David Carus by the way) and I like to keep up with the guys that are creating universes filled with heroes. I started a friendship with one writer that was kind of a big deal. He was a New York Times Bestseller, he wrote comics that I enjoyed and was working in the industry, a real professional. One day he posted something that was pretty scary, that went totally against stuff I knew to be true and I commented on his post. He came at me like a vengeful, hateful, slobbering, slimy bastard that wanted to shrink me down to nothing, and he did this in the name of helping me. He wanted me to know how wrong I was and when I didn't take the bait the real guy came out. Now remember, this is a guy I had admired up until this point and it was shocking to see him act like a hateful monster. He called me names, he belittled my core beliefs and I was supposed to be left feeling like an idiotic piece of crap. But I didn't. I quickly unfriended him, laughed it off and turned my attention elsewhere. But, it's not always so easy. You know what I mean, right? That feeling was still there. That feeling of being slimed. I didn't like it and something had to be done. So what did I do? I immortalized him in song. Huh? Let me explain.
I make music and it's hip hop music and the one thing you don't want to do is piss off a rapper. You see, rapping has one interesting element to it: the diss song. When someone upsets a rapper he just writes about him in his next song. Heck, even Taylor Swift has used this method, taking her bad ex-boyfriends' actions and turning them into million dollar hits. So what did I do? I wrote a song about him. I'd been working on this idea for a song called Copy Machine because I thought it was a cool metaphor for how people just like to spew out stuff they heard somewhere else without really coming up with anything original themselves. The best example of this is when people watch the talking heads on the news and then stand at the water cooler at work the next day giving the exact same opinions they got from their TV. But this happens a lot. So I decided I would take this critic, this hateful individual, this guy that had tried to make me small and I decided to make him big. I put him in a song that will survive longer than him. He'll forever be known as the Copy Machine guy. And the kicker? I never mention his name. He's not going to get one new fan from me. But I got and continue to get new fans because of him.
The next time you get someone being critical, ignoring you, telling you that what you have to say isn't important, look a little closer and really listen to what that person is saying. All of those things are not directed at you, they're really directed at themselves. Deep down they know what they're doing is wrong and if they can't be right they don't want anyone to be. You just have to know they are Copy Machines spewing out the hate of people that were their Copy Machines at some point. Then, you just smile because you must know this: they thought you were important enough to target because you are. You're the most important kind of people we got on this planet: an artist. And you know what? Artists Run This Planet. The Copy Machines don't but wish they did. Get happy, take it as a win and make art because ultimately that's what will help everyone, including these guys. Even they want to see you win, deep, deep down. Don't ever let them make you small because you're not. You're a giant and you leave big footprints. Just know that sometimes people will fall into them and get hurt. When they do, and climb out trying to murder you from every angle, just keep your head up in those clouds and make a beanstalk. When someone climbs it, that's your real friend.
Hope you enjoyed this blog. Make sure to join my mailing list if you haven't already and if you get a chance, check out the music video for Copy Machine below. It was a lot of fun and if you watch closely, that's me in the mask :-)
When I was younger I knew I should go to college. How did I know this? It was encouraged at every turn I took. My parents, my teachers, the television; seemingly everywhere I looked the message was clear: go to college! I did. I was well on my way to a promising career as a lawyer and then into politics where I would someday work up the ranks of elected office until one day I was President of the United States and then I could save the world. It seemed like a perfectly logical and reasonable plan that everyone I knew was totally backing me up on.
So what happened?
Well, I was interning on Capitol Hill, flying through all of my Government major at record speed and was confronted with the opportunity of throwing on a second major. I chose English. All of a sudden I was reading tons of novels again, discussing their importance and meaning. I realized I had way more fun and passion for books and poetry than I did for politics and then an idea struck me: who impacted the world more, a politician or an artist?
I knew government extremely well and I had to honestly say that the work of any one President could easily be wiped out by the next guy and very few politicians made lasting legacies and how valuable were any of them really? I looked at famous writers and thought to myself, wow, someone like Shakespeare has been influencing the world like crazy and he's been dead for centuries. Hmmmmm.....the answer was clear. Ideas were the thing. Whoever created them and could have them spread won. And when it came to expressing ideas there wasn't a better person to do it than an artist.
I started writing poetry which turned into spoken word poetry and by the time I graduated from college I was determined to be a novelist. I returned home with my degree (everyone was happy) and got a job as an English teacher at my old high school. I would write in my free time until I could make a full time living as a writer. It was a logical plan and once again all was right with the world.
So what happened?
Let's just say it wasn't an ideal place for a politically minded, self-determined individual such as myself to make into any kind of a permanent home. I did my best though. I was most proud of one thing I used to do with my students. I took a stack of blank white paper and gave each student a sheet. I then told them they had 15 minutes to come up with something, an idea, anything they wanted. At first they were like deers in headlights but I encouraged them with further explanation. I told them that the piece of paper was their only barrier to having whatever they wanted. I asked, "Who wants to be a millionaire?" and practically all their hands went up. I said, "Good, so here's your chance. Put a million dollar idea down on that paper. You can write a song, an idea for a movie, the start of a story, invent something that will change the world for the better." The lightbulbs shined brightly above all of their heads and I walked around the room for 15 minutes continuing to encourage them.
As time went on I left teaching in very dramatic fashion (I wrote a whole book on it called Hip Hop Will Save The World, look out for it) and found myself having to confront making a living as an artist. You see, I had started recording hip hop music just months before I decided to leave teaching. I was making about $100 a day as a teacher and I quickly realized that if I just walked around and talked to people I could easily sell 10 CDs at $10 each and make the same amount of money. Once again it sounded like a logical plan and it was!
I spent the next several years making a living as an artist selling my music one by one to the people I met. I set my own hours and I met tons of interesting people. And this was before the era of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube! Anytime I walked outside and communicated with people it was a successful action.
Fast forward a few years. I'm married now. I have a son. I live in New York where it snows. We have the internet on our smart phones so..... Yep, I stopped going outside like I used to. My music and my art was still reaching people but not enough that I could make a living off of anything. I scratched my head and wondered what I was doing wrong and then it hit me. There was a time when I was making a living being an artist and then I stopped. I realized that what I was doing back then held an answer to all this. It did. It could be boiled down to one word: Communicating.
What does an artist do? He communicates! But, what does that mean? Well, to communicate you have to have something to say, sure, everyone knows that and boy do people have a lot to say, but it's more than just talking and saying stuff. Communication is a two way thing. Someone on the other end has to listen, duplicate you, understand and then they get to say something back! This is basically how people become....wait for it....friends. Friends? You might say, "I have 2,000 friends on Facebook but they don't pay me to be an artist!" My response: Have you really been COMMUNICATING with your "friends" and are they really your friends?
We all have something we want to tell the world and in getting our message out we know it would enhance the world and make it a better one to live in but in order to be heard we all have to do a better job hearing other people. They have something to say too and when you listen to them they listen to you. I know you have friends, real friends that you'd support if they all of a sudden had a book they self-published or were performing in a local play. Who wouldn't support a friend? They're your friend after all. When you have lots of friends boy you can get stuff done. Selling a book, an album, a movie, anything, is super easy when you have lots of friends. Real ones that care. In order to get those you have to genuinely care too. (Think about all those big stars that thank their fans and seem to genuinely care about them.)
Now, not everybody is going to be a perfect match to be your friend so you have to go find your friends by communicating with lots of people. With the internet it's now incredibly easy. You can find people's entire profiles filled exactly with what they like, and if you like what they like, there's a good chance you'd be friends. Imagine if you made tons of friends, how easy would it be to make a living as an artist or at anything else for that matter? Real power comes in numbers. It doesn't come from staying locked indoors or not interacting with people.
My approach is now completely different. I don't just post my stuff and expect people will respond. I post other people's stuff, interact with them, become really interested in what other people are doing and somehow they become really interested in what I'm doing. This isn't a trick, it's not something faked. It's all about finding people you can connect with and communicate with. An artist communicates and when you look at any great artist, what did they do other than communicate with a lot of people? You have that opportunity every moment. When you go to the store, when you pump gas, when you go online, when you visit your kid's school. Make friends, communicate, build an army of support for yourself and not only will you make a living doing whatever you really want to do, you can topple any opposing force with ease because it's not just you at that point, it's a whole army fighting for you to win.
This isn't an easy solution. It takes hard work to be a good friend. But isn't that what makes it valuable?
I hope this blog has helped you. I know it's already helped me just writing down what I'd been thinking about the last few days. I hope you reach out and leave me a comment on this blog, send me an email (I'm firstname.lastname@example.org), follow me on Twitter @DavidCarus, etc. because like anyone else, I could use more friends. Also share this blog with anyone you think it might also help. I truly hope you get what you want and you help make the world a better one because there's no excuses anymore right?
P.S. If you enjoyed this, there's a good chance you'd enjoy my songs. They always carry a message of being at cause and making things better. You can download my music for free here: xraypoetz.com
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After hearing Arcane Insignia, and especially after watching videos of their performances, I decided I had to experience a live performance of their sweepingly surreal music. With a couple friends I ventured into the Village and we made our way into the Lit Lounge on a Wednesday night. The place was alive with an energy that you can only find in New York City. People were at the bar, lost in the music as well as their own conversations and surprisingly an art exhibit bounced with activity at the back of the place. We made our way down some old stone steps as if gaining admittance to some old speakeasy and found ourselves in a dimly lit, long room with huge speakers and microphones at one end and bench seats built into the walls. Before a single note was played I knew I had walked into something exciting.
James Alexander and Antoinette Ady are two remarkable musicians. The coupling of guitar and violin completely engaged me from the start. Their sound grabs you and doesn’t let you go, as if moving you around the room and transporting you to magical places. The songs were passionate, emotionally charged stories that James Alexander’s vocals do an excellent job of communicating. He sucks you into his intimate world and then carries you up and down like a wild rollercoaster. Antoinette Ady’s music shines through with her strength and commanding power of her violin strings. Her playing is comparable to romantic and epic tales of centuries past yet somehow carry with them the flavor of modern genres.
Strings are the weapons of choice for this powerful duo and their harmony together is what is liberatingly fresh and brand new. James Alexander strums his guitar with a powerful, aggressive force that turns his instrument at times into almost a sort of drum or bass and his voice carries over his hard hitting playing so one is left with the feeling of being in his grip. While, at the same time Antoinette Ady’s strings weave in and out, creating layers of insightful, soothing and beautiful echoes that put one at ease. It is interesting and surprising to discover that the music overall captures the very essence of communication between man and woman. Alexander with his power and force delivers a very male perspective to the sound, while Ady with her smooth, beautiful tapestry of playing gives us the female counterpart to their musical conversation. This is not to suggest there is romantic love in these songs, instead they rise above that to reach a more basic level of communication. In doing that the music becomes romantic but also becomes anything you want it to be because the two styles are there for you to grab hold of and play in.
It is easy to get lost in this music because Arcane Insignia does an amazing job creating and shaping a musical landscape that is rich, alluring and makes you want to explore. If you’ve ever wanted to have songs really move you so you felt it in your chest and wanted to experience something musically unforgettable, then you have found your magic carpet to ride. Don’t be afraid of heights, Arcane Insignia won’t let you down.
I'm David Carus. From overcoming one of the most dangerous cities in the country and graduating from one of the most prestigious colleges in America to leading an educational movement as a teacher and running for Congress at the age of 25, I decided the best hope our world has is through art.