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Creative Industries - From Surviving To Thriving Artist

05 Nov 2017

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Dr Adam Casey, Melbourne Polytechnic's Head of Program for the Master of Creative Industries tells us about his creative journey - from surviving to thriving.

I’d put in the training; I’d completed my schooling; I’d played 100s of shows at venues all over Australia; I’d played alongside and in collaboration with some of the country’s best musicians, songwriters and composers. I decided to tour my new album in the US. I had a record deal with an independent Illinois based label, I had a few strong anchor shows confirmed with relatively well known acts…what could go wrong? Four years later, I began to realise that this wasn’t going according to plan. I’d racked up a large credit card debt and felt deflated and low on confidence. I went on an indefinite hiatus and fell into a deep depression.  This depression wasn’t just a case of ego betrayal; in my travels, I spent time on the road with so many people like me – artists who had put in the work, were highly talented, were making compelling art, yet, were barely surviving on shoestring budgets and having trouble finding an audience.  Initially, I felt angry that this world didn’t support strong creative work; that these artists were working in vain.  But, over time, I realised I had focused all my time on my development as an artistic practitioner, on my discipline specific skillset, however, I had not spent any time conceiving of what I was trying to fundamentally achieve with my music.  Where did it belong?  Why did I have such strong belief in it?  Were there role models in my field who’d gone that extra step, and if so, how did they do it?  Why did I implicitly believe that when I took my music on the road, it was a sure-fire path to success?  Were there other, perhaps less explicit, approaches to success?

Thriving as a creative practitioner

And here lay the biggest conceit; I was a creative practitioner pouring all of my focus on developing new ways of writing, performing and listening to music, yet, I wasn’t paying attention to anything outside my immediate practice.  I wasn’t transferring these adaptive, divergent skills to a holistic, sustainable outcome.  The desired outcome?  To not just simply survive as a creative practitioner, but to thrive. Why do so many creative practitioners struggle to make ends meet?  Because, outside of their creative practice, they’re not utilising their brilliant, divergent mind-sets, instead, they follow the road most travelled and hope for the best.  I’ve detailed the archetypal journey of the troubadour, but it equally applies to visual artists, designers, writers and any number of creative arts disciplines.  We all have the well-trodden path laying before us, yet, here we are, living amidst a digital revolution that has collapsed craft definitions of disciplines.  Our ‘sure-fire’ approaches are under attack by a fluid new system that is rapidly changing by the day.  For the musician, touring was once the ‘bread and butter’ that one reaped after making a record in a studio; but in the digital age, there are musicians making money who never leave the home studio.  It was time to adapt.  It was time to stop feeling sorry for myself (and my fellow artists), and approach my problem obliquely. What do I mean by ‘obliquely’, here?  Well, attacking a problem head on usually implies the problem solver isn’t thinking about what the problem is, instead, they just tackle it as anybody else would, which means, following an accepted procedure, that is potentially outdated, because ‘that’s what you do’.  Turning this around required a shift in mind-set, not skill-set.

Sustainable Art Practice

So, I stepped out of my depressive haze, and began thinking about ways I could remain true to the integrity of what I wanted to create, while also supporting myself, and in turn, supporting the sustainable practice of my art.  The first step I took was recording other artists in my studio; I was shocked at how quickly this took off.  Why did it take off so quickly?  All the years of playing show after show, building my network, and more importantly, building my community, was paying off.  Previously, I’d not really used this network other than to get more shows and put bills together, but now, a commercial pathway was opening up to me.  And my community connection grew richer: I began seeing more of my community, began working and caring for their creative practice/journey, and became known for offering a service. From this, my confidence grew, I was playing more than I ever had before; I was actually expanding my own creative practice while also commercialising it!  It was happening!  And further opportunities arose from this, as my community began realising I was someone who came with a cost, I was soon been offered paid work as a session musician on lucrative tours and recording sessions and I was being asked to do sound design work for theatre and film.  In a single year, I went from a struggling song writer/performer with a rising credit card debt, to an independent trader who my community, both nationally and internationally, were willing to pay. My next two tours I came home with money in my pocket, I had a string of commissions and my studio was bustling.  It wasn’t my skills that paved the way: they were already developed; it was about changing my mind-set, thus placing my skill-set in a context that worked for me, and my community, on a multitude of levels. In my new role as Head of Program for the Master of Creative Industries, I’m excited at the potential to change the trajectory of many creative careers from surviving to thriving, through the facilitation of a new mind-set, bolstered by applied research and tangible commercial development of your creative practice.  The way creative disciplines are often defined is by what people do, but we believe it’s time for a change; it’s time to develop the way you think about your creative practice.

You can find out more about our Master of Creative Industries here.

  Pic: Thomas Kelley