The Four Pillars of Being an Independent Artist

Today, I want to share the four things that I believe need to be in alignment in order to become a successful independent artist. Each of these are connected to each other and to your own goals and dreams, and each of them influence each other.


These are the beliefs about lifestyle, about location, about day-to-day activities that all impact the amount of time you have available to work on your creative projects. For instance, if you cannot conceive of living in a home of less than, say, 2,400 sq ft, that will have an impact on the time you have available to work. You will need to have more income than somebody willing to live in a smaller place, which may mean that you need a full-time day job to make ends meet, or more income from your various artistic projects. You will also probably spend some time cleaning that house and taking care of its maintenance. There is nothing wrong with wanting a home of that size – I live in such a home myself – but it must be acknowledged that it affects everything else in the list. Similarly, if you like to cook, you will have more money available than someone who eats most of their meals out (reduced food budget), and you may be in better health as well (reduced health care budget). If you want to live in Boston, it will require more money than living in Boise – about 56% more, according to CNN Money. And so forth. This is not about “good” personal choices and “bad” personal choices, but rather simply an acknowledgement that your choices affect the path of your independent artistry.


These are your beliefs about what is “necessary” in order for your creative work to have value. If you believe that your work has to take place in a prestigious venue, that will have an effect; if you believe that your work has to be seen by a certain type of audience, that will have an effect; if you believe that your works requires elaborate spectacle, that will have an effect. Again, as above, there is no need to judge your attitudes as “good” or “bad,” but simply acknowledge those attitudes, judge their cost, and make certain that the pleasure you experience outweighs the cost of providing those things.


We are often taught that creative work is about “self-expression,” and that nothing is more important. But the reality is that most of us feel the need to express our visions in the presence of others, and that requires that there be something that connects to others. Part of your job as an independent artist is to address the problem or pain of your audience. That sounds grim, but it isn’t – their problem may just be “what can I do tonight that is fun?” Part of your job is to figure out who it is you want to be part of your audience, and then understand what they want or need; the other part of your job is to figure out what you have to offer, and then find those people who are seeking that thing. This requires knowing your audience, respecting your audience, communicating with your audience, and asking the right questions of your audience.


Unless you are independently wealthy, you need money coming in, of course. Usually, we think in terms of ticket sales for a single project – we want as many paying customers as we can in the audience. But independent artists need to think both more broadly and more narrowly about revenue. Broadly, in the sense that there are many different ways to use our creative skills to generate income; narrowly, because each individual is responsible for generating their own revenue streams.

There are two types of revenue streams that are most important to independent artists, and each requires a high level of creativity in order to break through static thinking to create something new. The two types are “active income” and “passive income.”

Active Income is money or goods that you receive for something you do that requires your presence every time that you do it. If you are doing theatre, your performances represent active income since you have to be there in order to deliver them (on the other hand, this is not the case if you are an actor in film or television – you only have to be there to create the show, and then it is broadcast without your presence necessary). Often, this is where we stop – we define ourselves totally in terms of the shows we do. But it can be very valuable to broaden our vision of how to use our knowledge and skills. Sometimes, the first step people take is teaching: perhaps you offer public speaking classes for community members or acting classes for their children. Lately, I have seen people offering acting coaching over the internet. Excellent. What else might you do? Perhaps you take community members on bus trips to see arts events in other places, and you receive a payment (and free tickets) as the leader. Perhaps you use your design abilities to help people decorate for a birthday party, and you receive a consultant fee. Maybe you are an inspirational speaker on a topic about which you know a great deal, or maybe you and your company write advertising copy for local radio ads. Maybe you organize and facilitate networking events, or coordinate conferences. And so forth. Think not only in terms of your theatrical skills, but any other skills that you have as well.

Passive Income is money or goods you receive than does NOT require your presence each time you do it. If you and your partners are comic actors, perhaps you create a comedy podcast and make money through the sale of advertising on your site. If you are a playwright, royalties paid for your plays represent passive income. Perhaps you record audiobooks that are sold on your site or on, or you write and record TV and radio ads for local stations. Maybe you are a blogger making money from affiliate sales on your site. Again, think not only about using your artistic skills, but any other skills and knowledge you might have. Do you knit during rehearsal? Perhaps you could knit items on commission or for sale in a consignment shop. No matter how small the revenue generated by a particular activity, it adds money to your income stream.

The goal is to generate as much revenue as you can doing things that you like doing, things that use your talents and abilities, things that you control. And when you are doing things that your audience wants, then you are providing a service for them that they will seek out.

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