A lot of people are saying we are in a new age of creativity. I tend to be apprehensive over such grand claims. However, based on many years of creative pursuits, I tend to agree. If we're not in a new age of creativity, we are certainly in a new window of creativity. How long that window will stay open, I don't know. But open it is.
One of the chapters in my lifetime of creative endeavors was as a major label recording artist. I even scored a few hits. It was a wonderful time; a time of dreams coming true. Hearing my songs on the radio, touring with big name artists were great thrills. Absolutely, and I am grateful for those experiences.
I was fortunate to be signed to a record deal during a window of time when the creative environment in Nashville was wide open. Widely diverse artists were being signed, and they were scoring hits. I remember playing the New Faces Show at the Country Radio Seminar that year (1989), and no two artists sounded anything alike. It was an electric, invigorating, special season, and we all knew it. It was anybody's guess where the music was headed. Creativity thrived.
When some of the horses broke away from the pack, achieving unprecedented altitudes of sales, the environment shifted. Understandably, the labels wanted artists who sold multi-platinum (millions of units). Of course: labels were in the business of selling units. The surest - and shortest - route to multi-platinum was to sign artists who sounded like the artists selling multi-platinum. It's short term thinking, yes. But in defense of the labels: they're held captive to a corporate business model that's tied to quarterly returns. If their quarterly returns are lower than Coke, Apple, Exxon, whoever; investors move their money to a higher return investment. Alas, the marriage of art and commerce is tenuous at best. If push... no... when push comes to shove, commerce calls the shots. The bottom line mission of these companies is the bottom line: monetary profit. Judge it however you like, it is what it is.
The problem for us creative types is obvious: my investment in the work may include, but extends beyond, a cash outlay. It demands heart and soul, time and energy. As a father of two grown college students, believe me - I don't want to lose money! But I want my creativity to mean something to someone. And the best way I know to insure that is for it to mean something to me. It may or may not mean monetary gain, but money is not my only criterion to measure success.
Which brings me to now. All I know is this: for the past decade and a half, the tools that have been available to me as an independent artist have given me the keys to the artistic highway. Capabilities that were once unthinkable are now within arms length. The cost of production, once prohibitive to indies, is now a fraction of what it was. Distribution (making your art findable in the marketplace) was once the sole dominion of major labels with the muscle and catalog to leverage shelf space at Walmart, Target, etc. Now global distribution is a few clicks away.
The only limit we artists now face is our own willingness to learn the tools of our trade and discipline ourselves to Do The Work (a title by one of my favorite authors on creativity, Stephen Pressfield). I know these realities have been in place for several years now, but for someone who spent (did?) time in the old model, I still look upon this new landscape with awe and gratitude. So much is available to so many. The biggest impedance to creating and distributing our art has become our own apathy and cynicism - the new impedences.
These unprecedented opportunities do come with unprecedented challenges... But given the choice between these and the old barricades with scant opportunities...? I'll take now. Every time. I hope this new window of creativity lasts. While it's a reality, let's take advantage of it. Let's create. We'll all be the richer for it.