As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a huge fan of music industry guru Bob Lefsetz. His daily newsletter is packed with inspirational and thought-provoking takes on the changing nature of the music industry and how the game has changed for artists and creators. Even though it’s ostensibly about music, almost everything he says is directly applicable to comedians as well.
A couple days ago, Lefsetz wrote a fantastic piece about the importance of credibility for an artist these days and I wanted to share some of it with you here. I highly recommend going and reading the full article, but in the meantime here’s some highlights from what he wrote and my take on them.
In a news cycle on steroids everybody gets five seconds, not fifteen minutes. And then you’re forgotten, for months, if not forever. How long does a movie play? If you’re not constantly stunting, the mainstream doesn’t care. But the mainstream doesn’t count, your audience does.
Before you sign anything, do anything, look at it through the eyes of your audience. Is it going to bring your core closer to you or push it away? And don’t think casual fans can replace your core. Casual fans come and go. The core is there forever, if you treat it right.
Trying to go “viral” is great, but it’s meaningless if you don’t use your viral content to build a core base of fans. Don’t measure the success of your creations by how many views you get, or how many retweets you get – measure it by how many true fans you get from it. What’s important is not how many people see something you do, but rather how many of them stick around to see the next thing.
Gain fans. You do this by allowing them to partake of your art for free. And giving them tools to spread the word. Know where to charge in the food chain. At first you pay your fans, then they pay you, it’s not the other way around anymore.
He’s absolutely right. You don’t build your career by putting up barriers to people engaging with your content. The more you give away, the more people will connect with you. There’s plenty of time to monetize them later by offering them things they will then value more. Personally, I’ve discovered this first-hand through Connected Comedy. I give 99% of my content away for free and the more I give the more fans I attract. And many of those fans eventually become clients.
Continue to reward the core with product and access. If you aren’t reachable by your fans, you’re too big in the head.
It’s not about being a “celebrity.” It’s about bringing your fans into the process. The more they feel a part of your success, the more they’ll want to help you succeed.
Don’t try to blow it up too soon! If you’re not willing to wait, you’re not willing to have a career.
I understand the frustrations of trying to build a comedy career – it’s not easy. But I also think that too many comedians are looking for that instant success and waiting for somebody to hand it to them, as opposed to going out and concentrating on slowly growing their fanbase. Do you have more fans than you had a month ago? If so, you’re succeeding. Be proud of that and be patient. If not, did you do anything to attract new fans this month? Why not?
TV is overrated. Only do it if you want the YouTube video. You’ll sound bad, you’ll have no charisma, and you’d be stunned how few are watching. It’s broadcasting in an era of narrowcasting. It’s controlled by a man who just needs to air something, who doesn’t care about you. And you look hungry for fame like the idiots on reality shows. Anybody can be on TV, few can hold an audience captive live. Focus on the latter.
I agree 100% and I think the same goes for the comedy festival circuit and bookings at comedy clubs. Those things meant more in the old media world than they do now. They’re great for your ego, but essentially meaningless for your career. I’m not saying that getting cast in a TV show or landing your own sitcom is overrated, but booking a 10-minute standup set on Comedy Central or getting into the Just For Laughs festival isn’t going to change your life as much as you think it is.
Know that now, more than ever, rewards come to those who wait. YouTube is filled with rockets into space that have fallen back to earth in locations we do not know and do not care about. When few could play, in the MTV era, this instant stardom paid dividends. Now, it doesn’t.
The game has changed. You no longer need somebody to give you permission to have a career. But along with that incredible freedom and opportunity comes a responsibility – it’s up to you to create your own career now. And that will take time. Be patient. And persistent.