Listicles sound like a part of the male anatomy that should remain covered, but chances are you’ve seen them at least a dozen times today. They are the lists you see on blogs like ours, news sites, in fact, they’ve popped up everywhere in the last few years. 5 Ways To A Better Bottom or 7 Mics You Have To Try, for example.
I’m not opposed to them, I like a list as much as the next person, but in many cases, they only go so far. They are meant to be the reading equivalent of a quick snack, they have their merits but can’t replace a carefully prepared meal.
We’ve done a number of articles about building a successful studio business over the years, but I think, like many other sites, the list has replaced the really important message. So this list has one thing in it and it is the thing most people don’t tell you about running a studio or creative business.
It’s hard work. In fact, it’s unbearably, sleepless night, impossible deadlines, unreasonable clients, being completely broke and running out of creative ideas hard work.
Just this week we got our latest brief from one of our new clients. Like many creative briefs, it’s usually a blank sheet of paper with the client saying they need an original idea. When you are running a business, then there is little time for navel-gazing as you wait for a bolt of lightning to strike you with divine inspiration. You have to sit down and come up with an idea and fast. Not any idea either, but a song, video, album production, mix or other creative treatment that is great and makes your customer smile. That’s hard.
The end to that story is we did come up with the idea that they loved, but we had to, our business lives or dies on great ideas.
Even worse it’s not a once only moment, every new job is like that all over again. As if that’s not hard enough you also have to deliver great ideas in time and on budget.
Someone once said it was like riding a unicycle blindfolded, through fire, while being shot at. I happen to think sometimes it’s even harder.
Of course, as if that’s not all hard enough you also have to deal with the other parts of your business like paying bills and getting paid and chasing those who called you every day when they needed their master but now don’t return your calls asking for money. Then, of course, you have to find new work, make calls, answer emails, update your website and social media.
You also have to stay on top of your studio computer, the numerous bits of software, all your studio hardware and cabling, that means maintaining the current gear and investing in new stuff when necessary.
If you run a studio or another creative business, you are probably now smiling, crying or both as you read this and you say to yourself 'he's describing my life!' If nothing else it's good to know you are not alone.
But I haven't finished yet with my 'encouragement' because in the good old days of recording studios and post houses most of us went to a studio to do it with other people. It's highly likely you do it alone now.
So your commute is across the landing or down the garden, in fact you rarely leave the house or see another person. Home-based creative businesses have their own set of problems which include isolation and a lack of boundaries.
Take the story I told earlier about the new idea the client needed. When you are on your own how do you check those ideas are any good before you show them to the client? Who tells you it's excellent or stinks, or in many cases with a bit of extra work could go from good to great? Thankfully over the years I've got a team around me to have those conversations with, someone who can listen to a mix, watch a video, discuss how to email a client who is being unreasonable... or are they? If you are working on your own, you might be wrong about the client and then really screw things up.
Then there's the issue of boundaries, how often have you been working on a mix or an edit at 4pm and thought to yourself 'just one more hour and I'll finish for the day and the next time you look at your watch it is 9pm?' Those who don't work at home often think the problem for those who do will be laziness, in reality, it's usually overwork. If like me, your clients are spread across the planet then when the kids are getting home from school or time to sit down with the family for dinner, you are in the middle of a conference call. Working from home also has an effect on your health because when you 'go to work' then you move a lot more than you think, walking to the train, running for the bus or just going up flights of stairs several times a day is keeping you moving.
Some of you will know that I recently lost my beloved Wurly, setting aside the emotional pain, one of the immediate impacts on my life is that taking him for a walk kept me active. Now he's gone I have to make a conscious effort to take a one hour walk each day, he taught me how to stay fit, and that's one of his lasting legacies.
So in summary, listicles are a great way to take in pithy concepts that can help us in our work or lives; but sometimes we need something more substantial.
If you are thinking of starting a business running a studio, as a composer or a songwriter then here's something you don't hear too often - it's bloody hard, and a lot of people don't make it. Perhaps had someone told them then they wouldn't have started at all, maybe an article like this would have put them off. That's not always a bad thing, a friend of mine is currently climbing Mount Everest, imagine if she had tried to do it without the advice and preparation needed I imagine that not even luck would have saved her from almost certain death.
Running your own creative business is a lifetime of climbing Everest, so I see it as my duty to warn you to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
For all my fellow creatives who have found every word of this article to be a reflection of your own life, then know you are not alone. My advice to you is to find a friend or some kind of support group where you can go, not if things get hard but when.
Finally, if you have some of your own coping strategies, then please leave them in the comments, it might be just what one of us needs... and that includes me too!