This is my first post of 2012 written for the Commercial Creative Artist (CCA). Sharing experiences and helpful information was one of the goals of this blog when I started it in 2008.
Whether you are a magician, visual artist, fashion designer, writer, photographer, stage performer, musician or actor, all CCAs need to find ways to distiniguish themselves and brand themselves to stand out in their field… just like any professional business, product, service or organization.
Here are 3 “simple” (simple in concept, incredibly difficult to execute but nevertheless possible!) ways to stand out as a CCA, regardless of your art or craft.
Develop truly UNIQUE content that sets you apart from anyone else in the world
To be successful at a high level, you need to differentiate yourself from others in your field. When you first start out, you have to be different from other similar CCAs in your locality or region, then expand to your country, neighbouring region and eventually the rest of the world.
For magic specifically, I cringe everything I see young performers performing a “copycat” acts or “strongly inspired” acts that look like known performers’ act or types of acts that everyone is doing. The cane, silks, parasols, doves, kabuki/ snowstorm template act ran its course a few years ago, but magicians are still doing the same old things. Imagine, if all that time, effort and money was put into developing an original act!
Hopefully, this cold hard fact will motivate non-original performers to try something different. You will not achieve mainstream commercial success at a high level with a non-original act. Changing the colours of the birds or silks makes no difference.
If you have a hard time being original with your content, here is some good news! You can still differentiate yourself without necessarily being original (in the traditional sense). What I’m saying is that you can be unique even if your content is not original but your presentation, packaging or medium of your content is.
For example, if you are photographer, the most obvious example of being unique is to take photographs that are different or with a special technique that produces unique photographs. But a photographer who takes quality “standard” photos can be unique if he/ she finds an original way to showcase his/ her photos.
Imagine that if instead of showcasing his/ her photos in a traditional art gallery that tends to be visited by a niche crowd, the photographer’s works are exhibited in the toilet stalls of a popular fast food chain. This unique showcase venue will help the photographer get noticed by more people and have greater impact than if he/ her were to go the traditional route.
Of course, your ultimate goal should be to develop original content but an approach like this will help buy you some time and build a brand of being creative or embracing a culture of innovation.
Ning & I have strived to be different in multiple facets. While we do not have the sheer creativity to develop a complete show of 100% original acts & illusions like Franz Harary or Peter Marvey, we do our best to have a number of signature pieces that are unique or seldom seen. In addition, our delivery, presentation and style as an equal male-female duo applied to the illusions make the overall content unique. That was recognized by the producers of Le Plus Grand Cabaret Du Monde!
You must have a commercial and marketable image/ style that the mainstream public/ media will accept
This seems like common sense but many CCAs forget this. As a CCA, you have to appeal to not just the core audience that sees/ experiences your work but a majority of people that might not even have any direct contact with you and even people who have not even seen your work but whose opinions matter.
While “artists” may only want to make themselves happy and expect audiences to appreciate what they the “artists” want to do, the CCA has to ensure they can reconcile their own artistic aspirations anf integrity with what the mass public/ media likes. The first step, of course, is knowing who you have to appeal to as a CCA. I explored this important topic here.
You can’t please everyone and should not try. But, as a CCA, you must appeal to a large percentage of the masses or to the small but powerful group of people who influence buying, media and public perception. Show producers and talent bookers literally make decisions within a minute of seeing a CCA and determining if they have the “X Factor” that they are looking for. The space between bland and too extreme is grey and you have to figure out what may be considered to “vanilla” to be different and too extreme that is not palatable by the masses or powers to be.
Constantly Develop your Knowledge
A couple of weeks ago, Ning & I worked with 12 magicians for the filming of “M for Magic” season 2. The ones who we think have the most potential are the ones who have a wide knowledge of magical techniques, magicians, magic history and products in the marketplace. If you are a specific type of magician like an illusionist, you must be in the top bracket of your illusion craft in terms of illusion knowledge, techniques, design, staging and wide knowledge on all other illusions/ illusionists in the world.
Regardless of your art or craft, extensive domain knowledge is vital. I have yet to see any top CCA of any field who is not knowledgeable in their field. As a CCA, you have to constantly develop and expand your knowledge; in your own field and all related fields. It is a lifelong learning process you have to be up to date with the latest techniques, approaches and trends in your field, in order to stay relevant and current.
It does surprise me sometimes how uninformed or narrowly-informed some CCAs are. The irony is that many know they should be better educated but don’t and at the same time do not understand why they are not as successful as they think they should be.