I’m addressing a performance art graduating class tonight. A class of musicians, actors, dancers and singers. I remember being in their seats. A hungry-for-life, embrace-the-world, chomp-down-the-nerves and go-for-it young adult. For me, that was a few Presidents ago, and hey, I’ve done it. Continue to do it. I’m a working actor. A voice actor. I love my art and I love my life. What would I tell myself, if I could, when I was the same life-point this graduating class will be tonight?
1. Watch and listen – Your art, whether it’s music, drama, dance or visual arts is the interface between you and your world. Notice people. Notice what they do, say, how they sound, how they move. And then take notes. That practice will help you unlock what’s in your mind-creator and be able to transpose it into your art and feed it out into the world. Your education is not over. Your art is something you will continue to craft for the rest of your life. Look for ways to learn more everywhere. From each other, from the Masters (that is, whomever you deem to be a master in your field), on You Tube, on Skype. Take classes. Your learning never ends. And that in itself is an amazing gift.
2. Be friendly & respectful – Your conduct with each other, and with whomever you work with in the future, whether peer, director, choreographer, conductor, producer, etc. It follows you and becomes part of your brand. Which will help you or harm you when getting work. I once camped in the Rockies with a very successful visual artist. A watercolor painter who claimed five figures a piece. When people said to her, “You charge a lot for that painting. How long did it take you to do it?” She replied, “About 3 weeks. And 30 years.” Be respectful of the experience of those who have more of it than you. If you’re respectful to them and lucky, they might share their wisdom with you.
3. Make and keep connections – You are each other’s first contacts. Work with each other, recommend each other. Help each other. Begin a list of your contacts and grow it. You’ll often hear, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” It’s actually both. If I, as a voice actor and director am going to produce a commercial ad campaign, and my client says, “Hey, I think I want original music for this jingle. Do you know anyone?” I immediately say “Yes.” The more yeses you can honestly give your client, the more valuable you are. Then go into your contact list and connect with your composer friend. The one who’s friendly and respectful and will work as tirelessly as you will to make your client happy, so you both will get hired again. And recommended by your client to her colleagues. And so on. And so on.
4. Brood and nest – The late wonderful Carrie Fischer, (you young ones probably know her as Princess Leia from Star Wars) said “Take your broken heart and turn it into art.” If you need time to brood, to go inward, to nest cozy at home or mend a broken heart, respect that. Take time for yourself. Listen to your body and your emotions. If the creative force burns bright in you, you will be tempted to overdo. Which often leads to burn out. When you’re young and starting your path, you’ve got this inner volcano of energy to do, and yes, putting in many, many hours on your craft will help you improve. They say it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at any given thing. But, taking time away from your art for family, friends, spiritual renewal, fun, keeps you balanced. Healthy and happy. Rejuvenates you. When you’re refreshed and crawl out of your cave again, then you can blast off and pioneer your art in a different direction.
5. Embrace the facts & figures– Not the negative stats, you know, the “It’s so hard to make a living as an artist,” but the positive ones, which I’ll get to in a second. Yes, it’s true. Many students who graduate from the arts will switch into something that brings in a steady income. That’s a fact. But I challenge you to use a healthy fear of the negative stats to drive you. Become good with the money you get from your art, so you can keep making more of it. Be frugal at first. Reinvest in your materials and your education. If you need to take a rent-paying job, get one related to your field, that may bring you more contacts, or give you insight into another aspect of the business of your art. Here’s the positive part: It’s show business, the music business, the art world business. You can tell what the operative word it here. Don’t be afraid of looking at your art as a business. Math may have been your least favorite subject in school, but make it something you love from now on. Because everything you do each of the preceding tips, your continual crafting of your art, your personal presentation and the connections you forge, the self-care that you undergo, it all supports your business, your brand, and your art.
A working female voice over artist for almost three decades, I coach others and share whatever I can to give back and foster my community. I wish you well.
Now, go do what you love.