by David Carus
Today’s artists may consider it a challenge to get noticed and build a fan base. You’ve heard that people don’t buy like they used to, there’s a million things competing for their attention and what you really have to do is know the right person. The picture being painted is that your chances of making it big are about as good as winning the lottery and you’re not successful unless paparazzi chase you. It’s easy to get discouraged if you think you need millions of fans to be a success. The truth is you only need one.
Ever hear of these four guys from Liverpool? The Beatles are widely considered the greatest rock band of all-time but before they had thousands of screaming fans waiting for them at the airport and the British Invasion taking full effect, they needed a hit record to catch on in America. Beatles records were sent to radio stations and they were all huge failures. Nobody was interested in listening to the greatest rock band of all-time! That is except for one 14 year-old girl living in Maryland who discovered the Beatles and called her local radio station and asked why they didn’t play their music. The DJ she spoke with obtained a copy of I Want To Hold Your Hand and the record took off like a rocket, establishing a foothold for the Beatles in America that quickly spread to other cities. In a short time they were the biggest musical act in the country and had thousands of screaming fans, but it started with only one true fan.
How about the story of Sixto Rodriguez? Who is that you might ask? He was a little-known folk singer from Detroit in the 1970’s with a couple of albums that sold practically no copies in the Unites States. He thought his music career was done and went back to working construction. But someone liked his music and began making copies of it and gave it out to friends. His music became huge in South Africa and an entire generation of people grew up on his music and he became bigger than Elvis there. Rodriguez had no idea until decades later. His story became the subject of the Academy Award-winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man and the Dave Matthews Band has even covered his music. Dave Matthews, one of the biggest musicians in the world said he grew up listening to Rodriguez when he lived in South Africa. All of this happened because of one true fan.
Don’t focus on the fans you don’t have. Focus on the ones you do have. So David Letterman isn’t interviewing you on his show tonight and you’ve only got 24 likes on your Facebook Page and the only people that follow you on Twitter are from Indonesia — it doesn’t matter. Make great art and find one true fan that loves it. You never know who they might share it with and how far the word might reach. So forget the sold-out audiences that aren’t there and see the audiences that are there. You probably already have a true fan and have been too busy to notice. Speak to them. Smile and wave and let them know they’re important — because they are.
To read more inspirational stories of how great artists have made it Subscribe to my Free Newsletter.
For a huge boost of inspiration pick up my book Super Artist - How To Take Flight As A Creator.
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.)"
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.