Branded lifestyle and the age of the independent creative.
I felt this acutely a few years ago when I got divorced. With custody of my three children and halfway through my PhD, I had scarce resources and little reliable financial support from my ex-husband.
So I very quickly developed a pragmatic approach to my work.
Recently, writer Susan Johnson said on her Facebook page, “Although it’s common practice for artists (musicians, visual artists, writers) to support their artistic practice through day jobs, I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that doing so can sometimes corrupt or dilute or disperse creative gunpowder.”
Johnson’s is just one of the many voices of artists and thinkers speaking about the trials of balancing commerce and creativity.
Anyone who’s tried will tell you working a full-time job and then having the energy to develop creative projects is only for a privileged few.
By ‘a privileged few’, I mean single people without family, friendship or community obligations.
So increasingly, creative people, thinkers and entrepreneurs are searching for a space that makes their output viable in the commercial arena, but doesn’t compromise their artistic or ethical positions, nor rob them of resources required to keep going with their work.
Because some of us need to earn a living from our work just to keep on going, feed our families and all that.
And that ‘keeping on going’ thing?
Despite the romanticised vision of the struggling artist – broke, unable to provide for her family or for the basic essential requirements of life – not having sufficient resources is antithetical to being able to produce creative work. This is intrinsically a problem with capitalism, true. But artists, thinkers and creatives are not being ‘evil capitalists’ when they demand payment for their work.
The dilemma is resolved through the harnessing the commercial world’s trick of branding.
Through focussed branding, through the making of platforms for their work, and the construction of a public persona, the creative/artist/thinker is able to reach audiences who will buy her work so that she can live independently of institutions.
But there’s more to this story than that.
What is Branded Lifestyle?
Branded Lifestyle works according to the two following principles:
The complete rejection the notion of ‘working for a living’
The incorporation work into your lifestyle (in other words, by living your work)
The use of personal branding strategies like self promotion through social media and affiliate marketing
The building of intellectual capital. And the maintenance of its ownership.
Intellectual capital as income and legacy
Traditionally, artists, thinkers and creatives rely on third parties to buy their work and disseminate it to the community. Entrepreneurs often rely on capital from third party investors, which can sometimes mean a compromise in terms of product.
There are several problems with this model, including the fact that, under it, creators profit least from their own labour. For example, most book contracts give the publisher 50% of book sales, the book store 40% and the writer, 10%.
The biggest problem, though, is that to rely on someone else also means you must relinquish the rights to your intellectual capital. And that intellectual capital? It belongs under the control of the person who made it, if you ask me. Like material capital, it is legacy.
Many people I speak to say they don’t care what happens to their work after they’re gone.
After all, they’re gone, so why should it matter?
It matters because creative work is a source of change. If an artist, thinker or entrepreneur is any good at what they do, they are contributing to the changing status quo, to recklessness and rebellion, to asking “what if?” and “why not?”.
I think that kind of work is worth preserving, protecting and passing on.
Why I chose a branded lifestyle.
Because I want to own my work.
Because I want to build a fence around my intellectual capital so I can choose who gets access to it.
Because I want to distribute, share and profit from what I make in ways that align with my values, beliefs and needs. So if I want to write something for the mass commercial market, I will. And if I want to write something that hasn’t a hope in hell of being sold, I can do that too.
And in the end, when I take my last breaths, my life’s work amounts to a carefully cultivated suite of creative that my children can benefit from.