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Business Considerations for Budding Artists and Creatives


Wes Hughes '11
Wes Hughes '11

The most valuable thing I gained from my Hamilton experience was a super human amount of love from my collegiate community. It gave me the courage to admit music is what gives my life meaning and I have since endeavored to make a career out of it.

To my knowledge, I am the first alumnus from Hamilton to pursue film scoring as a full-time job. Which is pretty dope. It was also exasperating trying to get a foothold in my career while at Hamilton. I had a wonderful support system, but the entertainment business is largely only accessible through experiential learning. You need to do the job in order to learn the job. That isn’t an opportunity readily available on the Hill.

So my hope with this brief little piece is to give current students considering careers in creative ventures some advice to help you get started. If you read this and are serious about pursuing a career in film, music, or film music, feel free to drop me a line at weshughesmusic@gmail.com. The biggest part of mentorship is paying it forward.

You Will Need to Become Financially Literate

The entertainment business is just that – a business. The moment you decide to sell your services making art, you become an entrepreneur. Congratulations! You are now the CEO, CFO, accountant, sales rep, foreman, HR rep, caterer, marketing consultant, and intern of your own little startup company. You will not be able to make money until you learn how to manage it. This includes having a complete knowledge of your business expenses and a cursory understanding of your taxes. Start by learning to record and balance your personal finances if you don’t already. You can then use the same skills to keep records for your business. There are many ways to become financially literate. The easiest and fastest way is to seek out a few popular finance gurus and read their books on entrepreneurship and managing money. Just remember authors have biases. Entrepreneurial authors especially.

You Will Need to Create Every Day

Before you even consider monetizing your art, you must discipline yourself to create everyday, especially if you don’t feel motivated or inspired. In order to meet deadlines and accommodate clients, you must learn to lure your muse to you at the drop of a dime. This might mean creating a firm daily schedule of when you create. It might also mean regulating your sleep, exercise, and dietary habits, and decorating your workspace to put you in a creative mood. If regimentation compromises your artistic process, creative entrepreneurship is not for you. Projects move at the speed of your client’s deadline – decidedly not your comfort.

You Will Need to Choose the Right Location

Especially with the film, video game, and music industries respectively, the abundance of well paying work exists in specific geographical hubs. It is incumbent on you to learn where the epicenters of your industry are and weigh the advantages of moving in proximity to these areas. To close deals and cement future relationships, it’s essential to be in the same room as your clients and be a short drive away at their beck and call. There is no substitute for this and it does make the difference between landing big opportunities and nearly landing big opportunities. While it is possible nowadays to be successful anywhere, the entertainment industry is still very location-based. Understand you will have to make serious compromises to your work if you do not live in the thick of things.

You Will Need to Seek Out Mentors, Partners, and an Audience

It’s absolutely impossible to make it on your own. You will come to rely on a small village of people who support you and raise you up. Never be afraid to ask others for help – you will fail miserably without them. Here are three types of people who will become central to your work.

Mentors

You will need the guidance of those with more experience to help you break into your field, give you feedback and constructive criticism on your work, and help connect you with a network of peers. Prioritize finding two types of mentors. You will need an older, veteran mentor with at least 10 years of experience in your industry to coach you. You will also need a younger rising mentor with closer to 3-5 years of experience in your field to give you perspective on the industry’s current trends and nuances. The more guidance you can accumulate for yourself, the more likely you are to succeed.

Partners

You simply will not be able to exert mastery over every area needed for your business to flourish. In this way, you will need to team up with others who have complementary skill sets to your own. You may also need to work as a team to meet severe deadlines or accommodate large-scale products. Do what you can to create a network of friends and like-minded professionals who you can work and grow with.

An Audience

There needs to be a demand for your supply. Be sure to cultivate a following for your art. Nowadays that often means creating a following on social media. Art always needs patrons.

For You to Succeed, You Need to Win The Broke Race

The first phase of starting a creative business is straightforward but incredibly difficult. You need to earn a livable wage but have a full set of living expenses and business expenses to contend with. So until you can make money, you are working with personal and business budgetary deficits. What will happen over time is your expenses will increase. This is especially true as healthcare, family, relationships, pets, and other personal expenses come into the picture. Your goal is to make a living wage at what you do before you price yourself out of working as a creative entirely. This takes anywhere between 10-20 years, if it happens at all. Expect to work 12-16 hour days, 6-7 days a week until something happens. You will need at least one other job to help you pay your bills. It can help to do something relevant to your desired field like assist a bigger name artist or company. It’s not an easy life and many decide it’s not for them. I admittedly have a lot of bad days, but the good days are magic, and the magic grows stronger every time.

To Land Clients, You Need a Website and Nice Business Cards

Landing clients works a bit differently for me than it likely will for you. So while you do need to learn how to obtain new clients, it’s going to be a bit different for everybody. However, in all scenarios where you might encounter prospective clients, you will have a few seconds at the end of a networking conversation to leave a lasting first impression. A good business card can create the impression of a tested, reliable business that comes with a price tag attached. What is worth noting is that a callback from handing out a business card can take anywhere from a few hours to a few months. Giving away something permanent helps keep you fresh in the minds of your prospective clients. This card should also lead them to your website.

Your website should be something clean, user friendly, mobile device compatible, and trendy. This website should contain your portfolio of work, credibility indicators for your field, and an easy way to reach you. More than anything else it should show off your personality and that you’re fun to work with.  Suffice to say I landed my best client to date on the strength of my website. At the time it was pictures of me on mountaintops playing my saxophone. I stand behind my brand.

Don’t Delay, Start Today

More than any other factor creativity and business both take time and dedication to master. You don’t need to know everything before you begin; you just need to begin. Gather the courage necessary to put yourself out there and do so, ignoring any inner monologue that screams in awkward humbugging. It is a hard upwards climb but you might discover you love it. Find a small-scale project you and friends can take on for free or cheap and start to build your portfolio. You only see a payoff once you start seeing projects through to their end. That number of projects is about 28.


Wes Hughes, who graduated from Hamilton in 2011 and majored in music, went on to earn a film scoring degree from Berklee College of Music. He now works as a film composer and music production consultant in Los Angeles, Cailf. His credits include work for Samsung, Metta Mindfulness Music, and Bridge the Divide Media. His most recently completed film, Life in Color, will compete in this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

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