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.
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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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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.