Exerting Professionalism for the Commercial Creative Artist

I read Ning’s blog post on “Good vs Great” and I agree with her that “good” is the enemy of “great”. And a lot of business and professionals fall prey to being complacent and remaining just “good”. Commercial Creative Artists (CCA) are no exception.

There are many factors that can prevent one from being “great”. A number may not be easily under your control – resources, luck, connections or opportunities but factors that are in your complete control are your mindset and attitude towards your art. A lack of positive professional attitude is what holds a lot of CCAs back and in turn it affects them from getting the things that may not be under their control (resources, luck, connections, opportunities).

If you are into your art as a pure enthusiast or hobbyist, this is not critical – just have fun! Although it never hurts to approach it with a professional attitude if you are presenting your art to an audience other than yourself.

One thing I’ve always stressed to CCAs (not just new ones) is that you have to exert your professionalism and do your best to ensure you can present your art in the best possible way. If you are hired to present your art (whether you are a singer, photography, designer, magician or chef), you are hired not just as a talent but also for your professional expertise.

As a CCA, you are supposed to advise your client or create an environment so that you can present your art at the highest level – after all your client and ultimately the audience rightfully deserve that. You are not a “Yes Man”! You should be a “Yes I can… but listen to what I think based on my experience and expertise” man… or woman!

It surprises me when CCAs allow their client and environment to dictate how they should present their art.

Early in my career, I remember being appalled when an event producer expected me to do a show on a small stage cluttered with other items (rostrum, band equipment etc). Understand, that the items were not fixed and could be moved if necesssary. But, the event producer felt it would be too much trouble to clear the stage. His vocalized mindset was: “If you are a professional, you can entertain the audience regardless of the stage size!”

My thinking was: “Yes, I CAN entertain the audience on this small stage… but DO I want to? I don’t want to do a good show, I want to do a great show! Will the show look great for the audience if the show is presented in this manner… I don’t think so!”

Bear in mind, the event producer was a “professional” event producer with many more years of experience in the industry than me, at that time. But even then, I could tell there was something wrong with his line of thought. Rather than to debate with him, I simply requested (insisted) that items be cleared as much as possible and I delivered a show the audience deserved… to the best of my ability at that time. I knew he thought I was a hassle but I also knew that I knew what was needed to do a good show and make myself and the event look good (or better than what it was).

Since then my shows have gotten much bigger so I’m unable to work with that same event producer. I also have a 2-page-long technical rider that accompanies our contract for all shows. However, I still see this event producer from time to time where he is providing secondary event support at different events. He always remarks how I started out small with his events compared to the mega events and shows we do now. I do jokingly say that our stages have gotten bigger! And I always thank him for his support early in my career.

Here’s some insight into the industry: All world-class artistes (such as singers, acting/dance troupes or magicians) have technical riders . This covers everything from the size of the stage, to the loading facilities specifications, audio, video, lighting and all the technical requirements that are necessary for the artist to perform a show.

Higher end artists will have additional riders (demands) to ensure that there are comfortable to do a good show. This can range from specifications of a dressing room size, its facilities and refreshments made available by the show organizer. While the luxury rider is dependent on the clout of the performer and value, all (professional) show organizers know that best efforts need to be made to ensure technical requirements are in place because they are necessary for the execution of the show.

Unlike the luxury rider, technical riders will make or break a show. The lack of sound reinforcement, theatrical lighting or video coverage can made a world-class A+ show look like a cheap B-grade production. Imagine if you took away Lady Gaga’s costumes, lighting, pyro and stage sets away. Even the Internet’s top pop queen would not be able to present her show in the way one would expect.

So, while it is the responsibility of the show organizer or event producer to ensure requirements are in place, it is the sole responsibility of the artiste to ensure the requirements are clear and that the show organizer understands what is needed early.

Of course, there will always be compromise based on the degrees of expectation from both the performers and organizer, depending on the value and scale of the show. For example, if a CCA charges $500 for a show, it is unrealistic to expect $10,000 worth of technical support. But, if a CCA charges $20,000 a show, that same value in technical support is not unexpected. After all, a client has already invested that much in the talent, it makes no sense that the talent is not supported to allow him or her to deliver the show that matches that fee.

While the demands will always have to be compromised due to practical reasons, the level of professionalism does not. Accepting what is there and working with it is lazy and complacent, especially if you can do something about it.

Let me give you some examples for a variety of CCAs:

A good cook does not need fancy ingredients, spices, utensils or a posh dining setting to cook a good meal that can fill the bellies of a table of guests. After all, a hamburger meal from a fast food restaurant technically will make you full just as a 5-course meal from a 3-Michelin Star restaurant would. But a gourmet chef knows, he needs all the elements (what may be considered frills and unnecessary by lesser cooks) in order to deliver the meal he/ she is paid to cook. And, that is why you can spend 20 times more (and are willing to do so) at such a restaurant as compared to a hamburger joint.

A photographer will adjust the lighting, position of the subject/ himself/ obstacles, barriers of light and type of lens to get the perfect shot. Now, a good photographer can still get a good shot regardless of the environment. But, the great photographer knows how to create the best environment to capture an amazing shot. This allows him to deliver an exceptional product to a client and differentiate him/ herself from other photographers who do not go the extra mile.

From personal experience with working with many photographers over the years, I can see the difference in the attitude of true professionals. While many use the same grade of camera, what differentiates the good from the great is the amount of preparation work that goes to getting a single shot and arranging the environment so that the subject looks good. The difference? The resultant photo and the extra “zero” on the end of the photographer’s paycheck.

In a nutshell, to a large extent, a positive professional attitude is what starts you off on the journey from good to great! I unbashfully feel that I have taken the first steps in that journey… the “problem” is I don’t know how far that journey is and when it ends!

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About J C Sum

International Headline Entertainer, Content Creator and Investor
This entry was posted in Commercial Creative Artist, Media and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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