TMBA 292: Are the Days of Having to Be a Starving Artist Over?

TMBA292: Are the Days of Having to Be a Starving Artist Over? post image

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Is it possible to build a business and monetize your art? This is a question we get asked a lot. One of our listeners got in touch with us this week and challenged us to speak about how we would apply some of our entrepreneurial principles to a career in art or music. If you are an artist of any kind, this is the episode for you. We’ll be talk about what we believe it means to be an artist, how to support your art through a job or business, and how you can leverage 1,000 true fans to build a career doing what you love.

Listen to this week’s show and learn:

  • What makes someone a professional artist and what it takes to be at that level.
  • Our thoughts on the relationship between art and technology.
  • What “The Hard Middle” is and how an artist can use it to their advantage.
  • The benefits of becoming a curator.
  • Why you need to be providing value to other people with your art.
  • Why right now is the best time to be an artist.

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Thanks for listening to our show! We’ll be back next Thursday morning 8AM EST.


Dan & Ian


Published on 04.30.15
  • Duuuuuudes. Thanks so much for answering this one! Flattered and humbled. So much great stuff here, and I’m sending it to all my friends. Today was not like Christmas morning, it was better than Christmas morning! Also love the photo from the Victoria Peak mall in HK. What a great spot!

  • bluebridgedev

    I can get on board with the food rapping, but Maroon 5? John Mayer? You’re killing me guys! :)

  • mikedariano

    Nate, that was a great question. Thanks for calling it in.

  • mikedariano

    Nice episode. I remember listening to that Altucher interview (and writing it up here – ) and wondering if it was compatible with Taleb’s bimodal strategy. The hard middle seems opposite to what Taleb is saying and because you’re fans of both, I was wondering what you thought of this.

  • Freddie Trimble

    I’ve just stumbled across you guys. Excellent podcasts, thanks!

  • Hey Mike it’s pretty domain-specific, and niche-specific. I’m a big fan of Nassim and Antifragile, and I think that bipolarity is powerful concept. There are soooo many shades of gray though. I almost feel that this is the question keyword research tools were created to answer. i.e. there are some niches in which a few big competitors dominate a huge part of the market – Amazon’s the classic example – and others that are relatively less competitive. As I try to take Dan and Ian’s advice, I’m trying to keep in mind that within the diaspora of “music” there are a million-and-one sub-niches, and I can use keyword research to make some educated guesses, then throw a bunch of stuff against the wall.

  • I’m not an artist, but I think almost any niche is the perfect choice to start a movement online. I don’t think anyone has to be “starving” anymore if they take the time to engage with people in their niche and understand the ways to monetize their niche. Great podcast !

  • mikedariano

    Are you thinking that each niche is its own long tail and being at one end of that?

  • thanks Freddie thanks for listening

  • agree! so much opportunity out there, thanks for listening Derek

  • hey Mike thanks for the write up I’ve come across a handful of these already! Pretty cool :)

  • RE: taleb/kk I don’t see any tension here, going for the hard middle as an entrepreneur is a way to earn money with very little risk (antifragile), if one effort fails, start a few more…

    whereas if you were to try to build a business that required scale in audience or platform (say ebay,, rock star, amazon, fb etc) you expose yourself to a lot of risk, both time and money. now when you are building a portfolio that doesn’t matter b/c you can make many investments, but for your life it matters a great deal.

  • I can’t argue with hits! :)

    These guys are strumming all the way tot he bank!

  • one thing to keep in mind to with competition, especially those in the hard middle, is that training/info products aren’t zero sum, so all things being equal you’d want a prospect coming to your website who has purchased other products like yours.

  • thanks Nate I really appreciate the question / shares and the effort you put into sending it to us! hope to see you in BKK

  • Boom sauce. And hopefully *expensive* related products;)

  • Hey guys, great show!

    Since I help artists sell their work online for a living, here are some points I wanted to add:

    – the difference between a starving artist and a successful artist nowadays is about combining the strength of creativity with an entrepreneurial spirit. What that means is that they need to start thinking about their art/music as products. This is one of the biggest hurdles that keeps them from making a living with their creative work.

    – another difference to realize is that a ‘normal’ entrepreneur sees a problem and presents the solution he wants to sell and the artist entrepreneur already has a solution (the art or music) and needs to figure out what problem it solves (beautify a home, relax patients at a dentist office, inspire someone to declare their love, entertain people on a cruise ship, etc) Once they found the problem, they know their target market.

    – just like software companies, artists can start a monthly subscription for their hardcore fans. One of my artist clients sends out monthly black and white drawings that children can color in. A friend has a group of subscribers who get his four newest tracks on vinyl every month, etc.

    – with print on demand services like and Society6 it’s extremely easy to start selling art prints without having to come up with an advance investment. There are 2 tricks to make this work for you even better: 1. limit the number of prints to demand a higher price and then sell the original for a real premium price. 2. don’t send people to your ReBubble/Society6 store but create your own on your own website and have the buy now button link to the sales page on RedBubble. This way they are not distracted by other art work, you can ask for higher prices and it looks more professional (all this can easily be done with WooCommerce)

    These are some of the really important things to consider but there is much more.

    If anyone is interested I have a free 30 Day Art Biz Challenge that helps artists sell their creative work online:

  • mikedariano

    You see the hard middle as an anti-fragile place then? Either extreme (for a business) will be more fragile because either a few big competitors or many little ones. Thanks for commenting Dan, this helped reframe this!

  • JoshFrets

    I loved this episode!

    I have to quibble a little bit with the 12 hours per day thing, though. Even people who are clearly the best in the world at what they do (for example: Chris Thile) “only” practice 4 hours a day.

    There are days when I “work” 12 hours, but only if you count travel, load in, lunch, warming up, soundcheck, dinner, the show, and load out. We run a tighter ship than most, but from load-in to bus roll is usually no more than 12 or 14 hours.

    Another thing that’s not on most people’s radar is the B2B model of making music. Rockstars are so visible that we tend to think the only way someone “makes it” in the industry is to be someone famous who sells his/her music to fans. In this community we might call it B2C.

    But my friends and I are all in the B2B business––being sidemen and renting our talents out to the B2C rockstars. Being a sideman has all the good parts of being a rockstar (making money making music, paid travel, free drinks, dating people more attractive than you, the high of being on stage in front of a crowd, etc) but none of the downsides (meetings, worrying the finances, predatory record contracts, etc).

    Plus it’s vastly more anti fragile to be a sideman than a rockstar––if someone I play with’s career implodes, I can take my skills elsewhere, whereas he can’t exactly change his name and try again.

    I wrote about this here:


  • hey Josh thanks for that man! great points here you are spot on! agree on the 12 hour thing, in fact i think it’s more like 5 at least at the beginning :)

  • Sung Won Cho

    I disagree somewhat. While trying to find the ‘hard middle’ is important, we always need a mindset of reaching for the sky. If finding the hard middle is all that we do, we will never achieve extraordinary results, but only mediocrities.
    Indeed, it is important to have a healthy dose of reality; I think the tricky part is to balance the realism with your idealism.

  • i like the thrust of what you are saying, but my experience is that many who end up doing ‘amazing world changing in the sky’ things didn’t set out to do so, instead they focused on doing one small thing really well and then that small thing scaled on its own. after the fact they talk big but in the moment they were focused on the details.

  • Digne

    Such great discussion! I mentioned this in the email I sent you guys, but this reminded me of a part in Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast,” where he talks about how Fitzgerald used to first write a story exactly as he wanted it, and then tweak it in ways he knew would make it sell to the magazines. Hemingway of course found it appalling, but I think it’s a fine compromise. It’s Fitzgerald’s Hard Middle, I suppose. We can’t have all our great minds dying of starvation ;)

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