What Comes Next?

by seanlow on November 28, 2016

I have been gone from the blog for a while and I am not sure why. Perhaps it is about what has happened in America’s politics or that other business matters took over. No matter the reason, I just felt like I needed to step away to consider what comes next. For me, for creative businesses, for the United States, for all of us.

What I have come to is this: I have no idea, none of us do. The Serenity Prayer has been screaming at me, as I am sure it has for so many of you. That said, it still sucks when I have the pit in my stomach that comes with change and an uncertain future.

I am a liberal, a student (literally) of Elizabeth Warren and believe in the ideal of a nation that nurtures and protects diversity, equality and a global community. That said, I respect those who believe in self-determination and autonomy espoused by conservatives. What I cannot abide as a man, a husband, a father, a son is to be complicit in a world where “other” is normal state of being. I am so with Charles Blow on this one.

What I have come to in my own small way is this: Art will forever change the world. The stronger creative businesses are, the better they will be able to serve as the voice of change. Art is itself intolerant, outrageous, transformative. We all have clients, patrons and serving their vision does not mean compromising ours. In fact, quite the opposite.

Whether you are horrified or elated by the turn of events in the United States, it cannot matter in the context of your creative business. Yours is to do the work so that you can have your voice. Use the fruits of your voice however you choose. Just do not give up your voice.

The absurdity of the cake maker refusing to serve gay couples on moral grounds (cheap press notwithstanding) is the same as a performer refusing to perform at President-elect Trump’s inauguration. The work is the work and, unless you think it a way to garner a market for those who share your beliefs above all others, let it stay there.  But if you choose to go there, appreciate that you are marketing first and foremost, not taking a stand.

I realize many might vehemently disagree with me here, that is fine. My point is only to say that your work, your creative business gives you a voice, the stronger the business, the stronger your voice. And I do have to say, I was once firmly on your side. Principals over business. Then came Preston Bailey.

Preston has done business with many (yes, many) clients that are among the worst perpetrators of human rights in the world. Regimes that would stone him and his husband to death for their relationship and their identity. So why do the work? His answer: because it is his stage and if he can show beauty and what is possible from someone like him (a black gay man) perhaps there can be a shift. And if not with them, then with those that can see what can be possible. It is about the work and it ends there. And Preston is by far not alone here – count almost any designer of note (graphic, event, fashion, interior) and they will likely have done work for clients whose personal politics and beliefs are directly contrary to theirs.

History is literally littered with patrons of art who are less than scrupulous. Ahem, the Borgias to name just one. Doctors operate on murderers all the time. You are not your clients.  I am not complicit in hate if I help a creative business that creates for bigots.

So what comes next for me? All that has come before, except with more conviction. Help make creative businesses stronger, more deeply committed to their story, to fully understand why they matter – to all of us. And to make sure they get paid what they need to create ever better work.

Art matters, today more than ever. My work is to make the megaphone forever bigger.  I will do the work and just leave it there, that is more than enough for me.

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Behind The Scenes

by seanlow on October 20, 2016

We have all seen behind the scenes work by creative business owners. Countless videos, television shows, articles and even books of how a particular project comes together, be it an event, a home, a show or even a photograph. We, the audience, love to see what it takes to make “it” happen. Rarely, though, are the behind-the-scenes created for a specific audience, whether for a particular kind of client or business. I can appreciate that from a media and entertainment perspective. From a purely business perspective, however, it is an opportunity lost.

To paraphrase Seth Godin, talking only to those that matter is all that matters. With our ability to communicate infinite and free, content is not the issue, relevant content is. Enter Jeff Antoniuk.

Jeff is a brilliant jazz musician and has a terrific business running jazz groups for avid adult jazz musicians in the Washington, D. C. area (mostly amateur but some semi-pro members too). He has begun teaching music entrepreneurs how he has created what he has created so they can start their own jazz group business. It is all based on the specific community of avid jazz musicians, both amateur and professional, who live to play (and maybe teach) jazz.

Recently, Jeff got offered to be a part of a jazz group that will perform Tchiakovsky’s The Nutcracker set to jazz (ala Duke Ellington) in front of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Jeff will be playing alto, tenor and baritone sax for the performance that will have many solo spots. He has decided to create a Facebook live video series, archived on Youtube documenting his preparation. Although he is a professional musician, he has not played the alto or baritone sax for years. So quite a journey to relearn the instruments, learn the music and get ready to play on a very important stage in six weeks time.

Here is the point: 99.9% of people will not care about watching Jeff get ready for his performance. The videos are highly technical and if you are not an avid player, you will get bored quickly. I know nothing about music and, were I not a fan of Jeff’s, I would have clicked away pretty quickly. However, the video series is not for people with a passing interest in playing music generally or even jazz specifically (definitely not for me) and Jeff knows it. The videos are for those musicians to whom playing jazz is everything.  Instead of talking to the audience to make sure they understand as most teachers would (music or otherwise), he stays at the level of players who can appreciate his process. So far 23 people have subscribed to his Youtube channel in the week or so he has been doing the videos (there are 3 so far).

Teeny tiny, who cares you say? I say he has 23 people that matter, several of whom he says he does not know at all in his very large circle of fellow musicians and students.   Maybe more will subscribe, maybe not. The point is that Jeff has defined his community and they have responded to say that they want to be included.

What opportunity lies ahead for Jeff with this series? Who knows? What I do know is that his business – teaching jazz groups and teaching teachers is sure to benefit directly. Then there will be what he cannot yet see.

Of course it takes courage to expose your creative process, to let the world see an unfinished, flawed product. You have to be vulnerable and that vulnerability can be very hard on the ego. Raw vulnerability is so eminently watchable.  Move beyond mere watchabilty though and towards only your specific community. To take the risk that your specific community might reject you and what you hope to organize for you and your art. This is the risk of creative business. Using the tools available to say “I built this for you.” is easy. Being willing to say and be okay with: “This is not for you”, that is where the work is and where all the rewards lie.

If you were willing to be fearless in this way, what would your communication be then? If two of the wrong clients left because of it, but only one of the right one showed up, would that work for you, your art and your creative business? If it does not, please look yourself in the mirror and ask what exactly it is that you are doing. If it does, keep going and go further every day.

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Do What You Have To Do

October 11, 2016

We are all a little bit crazy. We have our tics and quirks that make us, well, us. You can probe the depths of your crazy in a therapist’s chair. Doing work on yourself is always fruitful. But there you are. For creative business owners, it means that what you should do and what you […]

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The Next Level?

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Is Personal Communication Dead?

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Personal communication demands a personal response.   If you take the time to write or call someone, they should respond reasonably quickly and personally. There is something about the digital world that has, ironically, removed the necessity of real conversation. Maybe it is because we are bombarded in an exponentially increasing manner with someone trying to […]

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Two Sides Of The Trade

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Do You Believe Your Story?

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Are You Willing To Be Left Behind?

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Ten years ago, the IPhone (and all of the smartphone technology behind it) did not exist (at least not on a consumer level); Facebook was two (in 2005, News Corp. bought MySpace for $580million – it was supposed to be Facebook – not so much, today it ranks 1945 for web traffic); Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, […]

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How Human Are You Willing To Be?

July 22, 2016

In 1988, my brother, 10 months younger than I, died. He was 20, my very best friend, full of life and dreams, a free spirit to my intensely narrow, driven nature. He fell from a roof. Gone in an instant. The end of his life shaped mine forever more. I became more driven, more intense. […]

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Who Defines Success?

July 13, 2016

Your creative business did exactly everything you promised. You executed flawlessly, there were no hidden anythings. Yet your client was underwhelmed. The “Wow” they wanted did not appear in their eyes. Was the project successful? Who gets to decide? Does it matter? Easiest question first, of course it matters who gets to define what success […]

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