The Business of Creativityon April 16, 2013 at 7:34 pm
The business of creativity has changed dramatically from the good ole days of perhaps five years ago. In some creative professions it was possible for a content creator to concentrate exclusively on the business of creating content. Someone or some type of infrastructure was there to handle the business end. In at least some creative professions there was a measure of creative independence and security. Granted that was never the case in any number of more “purely” artistic pursuits.
I’ll use my own earlier career as something of a case study. I was an investigative producer for ABC News. I had the good fortune to select many of the projects that I worked on. Once I “sold” them to my executive producer, I was free to work on them without (much) attention to the business side. We had business people for that. I had to stay within the parameters of the budget, but I was free to pursue the story. The working theory was that there should be some separation between the business side and the content side.
That world is no more. Ironically, I left life as a content producer because I became interested in the business side. I then started a production company, and ultimately went “all in” on the business side. What fascinates me these days are the links between business, creativity and technology.
These days, content producers must be business people. There’s no choice. The disruptions caused by technology have collapsed the structure of the media and content worlds that we knew. There are few safe jobs and these days it seems that everyone is a free agent. Content producers are either busy putting together the next deal of figuring out the next technology or distribution channel that will enable them to get their content “out there.”
The freedom (and necessity) of putting together everything from content to distribution can be either liberating or terrifying. Sometimes it’s both. Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo have provided one way for creatives to fund their own projects. In an interesting profile of Kickstarter in Fast Company, author Max Chafkin describes how Kickstarter was designed by creatives for creatives. It may help to put together financing but it doesn’t remove content producers from the world of taxes and budgets. A colleague yesterday described that dealing with the tax ramifications of Kickstarter was not what she signed up for when she decided to become a content producer. And that’s a fair comment.
It’s interesting to consider whether the necessity of filtering content through a business filter has created better content. When you’re creating a presentation to attract funding, you get a sense pretty quickly of what’s selling and what’s not. It may make content producers more disciplined in creating projects that people want to see or listen to. I would contend that that is valuable for the mainstream. It’s an argument that does fray on two counts. First, you do have those content producers who are immensely talented but hopeless in the business arena. That’s content that may never see the light of day. Second, you have that work that is important or historic in scope, but hasn’t yet been discovered by the mainstream. This work, work that may be ahead of it’s time, may never see the light of day if we’re forced to look constantly at dollars and cents.
I contend that there is also creativity in business. It’s not the visual creativity of creating a beautiful photograph or a finely crafted sculpture. Yet it is creativity nonetheless. It’s a way of thinking out of the box and approaching things in a way that has not been done before. Some artists have already proven to be particularly well suited an working in this milieu. It’s a new environment and a new way or working. We can look back and rue the passing of an era. But there’s really no other choice than to move on. As it has for generations past, I am optimistic that creativity will find a way to flourish. It may change forms and require us to do and try new things. But it’s still strong.