In the world of arts and entertainment, none of us come out of the gates on top. There are people to meet, dues to pay and experience to be had. But as we work our way toward success, it’s not always clear which opportunities are worth it in the long run. It used to take management, PR and a label contract to get the kind of reach we can now build for ourselves, thanks to social media and digital platforms, but in an oversaturated creative market with almost too much opportunity, how do we know which gigs are the right ones?
There’s no way to be one hundred percent certain, but there are three main factors to consider: experience, money and exposure. You should prioritize these based on where you are in your career and what you think is most necessary, at the time the opportunity arises, for your personal brand.
Experience should be the deciding factor if you’re still working on breaking into your industry. If you’re a singer songwriter and you’ve never played a gig except your sister’s birthday party, don’t hold the expectation that you’ll be paid much (or even at all) to play until you’ve established somewhat of a name for yourself. That said, it’s not all bad. While you’re working on building your credibility and cutting your teeth in dimly-lit, smoky bars, you’ll be getting comfortable in front of crowds and bettering your skills. That’s good news, because it means that when the bigger, more important gigs come, you’ll be ready.
Money follows credibility, not the other way around. If you play it right, once your name starts getting passed around the network, the floodgates open and you’ll be offered or learn about more gigs relevant to your work. If you’re offered a project that’s doesn’t exactly fit into your brand identity, but it pays well, how do you know if you should take it? It depends on your priorities.
If you need the money to invest in yourself, say, for vocal lessons (that will ultimately make you a better performer), you can justify taking the gig, even if it isn’t ideal. On the other hand, if you don’t need the money and the gig isn’t necessarily beneficial from an experiential or exposure standpoint, it might be better to pass.
A cost benefit analysis (CBA) can be useful to determine whether or not a monetary payout is worth taking a project. A CBA does two things: verifies whether an investment/decision outweigh its costs (and if so, by how much) and provides a basis for comparing the total expected cost against its total expected benefit.
Finally, exposure should be considered when deciding to take on a project. As an artist, it’s vital to be conscious of who’s looking at you. That said, certain projects are worth taking for the spotlight alone. If you’re offered a gig with a major player in your industry, you might consider taking it for the potential fans that you might garner, even if it doesn’t pay much. That said, you should also be conscious of overexposure. Don’t take every project you’re offered, or you’ll dilute your brand identity. For example, once a model reaches a certain level of success, it’s not about how many shoots she’s doing. It’s about who she’s shooting with.
I touched base with Robbie Mueller, artist manager at FRAKTL, for input about how to select the right projects when multiple offers are on the table. His artist Eryn Allen Kane has worked with Prince and was featured on a Grammy-winning album by Chance the Rapper.
“When considering show offers, it’s important to factor in the association and alignment of all involved artists’ brands and values,” Mueller said. “Eryn [Allen Kane] was presented with the opportunity to perform alongside Soulja Boy. While my inner college boy would truly have loved to witness that, we politely declined, as Eryn’s brand of classy, throwback soul music, infused with strong social stances, is at odds with Soulja Boy ‘superman-ing dat ho.’”
Ultimately, a project is only worth what we take from it. If we want to be successful in business, we need to learn to be selective about how we spend our time and the projects we’re part of. It comes down to self-respect. We have to love ourselves enough to say no… or enough to say yes.