Ten years ago, if you were an artist or creator or any sort, you needed to one thing to get your work to a large enough audience to support yourself: suck up to a gatekeeper.
What is a gatekeeper?
Gatekeepers are middlemen. They are publishers, lit agents, record execs, gallery owners, magazine/newspaper writers, etc etc. If you have your book in Barnes & Noble or an album published on a label, you’ve gone through a gatekeeper to get there.
Up until ten years ago, we needed these distribution methods to bring our change to the world.
The Internet has made these people unnecessary.
While it’s still possible that one of them can help you find success, it’s somewhat similar to winning the lottery if they do. If you log on to any blog that covers any of these worlds, it’s not uncommon to read doomsday stories about the end of these industries.
Most of these stories assume these industries are dying because people won’t pay for media anymore — this is far from the truth that I’ve discovered.
People pay for my media all the time, I just get to keep 50-100% of the profits on every sale.
The reality is that the gates are gone.
This means you’re free to create and distribute your own material. In fact, I’ll go as far as saying that you must do it.
No one is going to hold your hand and lift you to success. You can’t keep playing shows hoping that an A&R scout will attend. You can’t keep sending blind manuscripts to lit agents hoping that they’ll sign a book deal.
From what I hear, there’s very little money to be had by taking that path anyway!
I have artist friends in New York who are still trying to play by pre-Internet rules in the Internet age. They’re amazing artists in their respective industries, the problem is that by aiming for gatekeepers, they’re dooming themselves to consistent failure indefinitely.
You’ll wait tables forever if you don’t start adapting to the modern world.
Alright, so the gatekeepers are dead. What do you do instead?
The brilliant thing about gatejumping is the fences keep getting shorter.
There’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t try to navigate around the establishment to get your message to the world.
Here are the primary skills you need to bypass gatekeepers and bring your change to the world.
1. A digital home base. You need a website, ideally a blog, which can support your work. It’s incredibly easy to register a domain name and start publishing. I don’t need to go over the specific mechanics of how you do this here, because there are many excellent resources available on the net to help you get started. Google it.
2. Maintain a social media presence to support your work. Get on Twitter, upload a photo of your face (your actual face, this is so important,) and start promoting (retweeting) the work of people who you admire. People ask me how much time I spend promoting my own work, the answer is none. Spend your time helping other people (who are doing great work) and they will help you.
3. If you’re an artist, chances are you’ve made work. Your album isn’t doing any good getting dusty under your desk. Put it on the Internet, and give it away for free until you have a sizable audience. Once you have people who like your art, then you can start charging. If you insist on making every one of your fans pay the premium price for your work, you’ll never get to the point that your work will support you. Simply put, there are too many people going the freemium route that you cannot compete if you withhold the good stuff.
4. Once you have a sizable audience, make new good stuff and charge a small amount for it. If the work helps people, they will support you. This obviously needs to be work that matters — crummy work that doesn’t matter won’t support you. Create the change you want to make in your life and the world.
I realize that the way I’m saying this that it sounds easy. I know it’s not. The point is you have to try, and mailing half-finished manuscripts to publishers isn’t trying anymore. Doing it the old way is just a handy way to give up early. You tried, you failed.
Playing with gatekeepers isn’t trying anymore, it’s setting your work up for commercial failure.
And of course these people with gatekeeper positions are going to try to maintain the idea that they have power for as long as possible. How would they survive without the endless hordes of people who idolize them? The answer is that they won’t.
It’s only a matter of time before we have a world where none of these middlemen are needed.
Don’t take their word for it if a middleman tells you they have power. The talk doesn’t mean anything until the money is in the bank. I’ve met plenty of supposed music A&R people who are all promises and no follow through. Why? Because being a gatekeeper is a great way to take advantage of artists.
[Sidenote: if you’re aiming to be a middleman, now is not the time to go that route either, for obvious reasons.]
There already is no bottleneck on distribution, why are we still aiming for the narrow and difficult path?
The funny thing is, when you successfully avoid gatekeepers, do you know what happens? They come knocking.
This doesn’t mean I won’t accept a book deal one of these days. However, the truth is that once you gatejump, it’s hard to go back. If I do allow a publisher to distribute my work, they’d best make it worth my while. I didn’t do all of this work for one minimum wage payday and for them to stick my e-book in some digital bookstore that no one uses.
And they’d better make it worth your time and effort too. Because we don’t need them anymore.
If you’re interested. My friend Chris Guillebeau is re-launching his Empire Builder Kit for a second time today (May 18th 2010 from 10am EST until May 19th at 10am EST) for 24 hours only.
The premise is simple: case studies including actual monetary figures by people running very small businesses who make tons of cash a year. In addition to that, you receive one email a day (that’s 365 tips!) that will help you build a business destined for world domination in at least one year.
I’m also an affiliate for this work, so you’ll be supporting my own blog if you purchase Empire Builder through this link.
Anyway, I’d love if you’d check it out. It’s quite an investment, but if you’ve been following my blog you know that I hold Chris’s work in very high regard. He’s one of the best very small business teachers out there.