Saturday, 10 September 2011

The Rise of the Freelance Creatives

Humans have been around for hundreds of thousands of years. Yet think back just a decade or two. Computers were clunky; the internet was in its infancy; there was no Facebook, no Google, no YouTube, no Wikipedia. If you wanted to find out where a place was, or the definition of a word, you had to walk to the bookshelf and look it up in a physical A to Z or dictionary. And now the internet is mobile, available on your Smartphone wherever you happen to be.

The internet has reshaped virtually every industry, transformed the way business is done and even changed our social behaviour. It is not a passing trend; this is a fundamental shift that affects every area of our lives. And it is just the beginning.

This rapid ongoing transformation is ultimately a good one – for those who embrace it and are willing to adapt.

We are enjoying the benefits but mostly still underestimate the impact it will have, both in business and on our lives. The music industry was one of the first casualties of a failure to adapt. The digital world changed the way we acquire, store and enjoy music, and the established corporations resisted as hard as they could. They have been battling to stay relevant ever since.

The publishing industry is going through a similar transformation with the rise of e-book readers like the Kindle and the iPad. These devices are brand new and they are already shaking the industry – who knows what will be available just one decade from now? Analysts predict the collapse of the traditional publishing model within 2 to 5 years.

The general effect of the internet change is one of empowering individuals. Hulking industries have long been the gate-keepers between creatives and their potential audience; by holding the key to distribution they held the power to choose who emerged as an artist in any field. But the internet is rapidly smashing these traditional structures, and making the once all-powerful middle man obsolete. Now a musician or an author or a film maker can put his work onto the internet and find an audience directly.

Thus begins the Age of the Creatives. Technology has made it easier than ever to take a great photo, make a video, write a book or record a song. And we no longer need an agent or a record deal.

Yes, a lot of rubbish will be released. The dying gate-keeper industries used to provide a filtering function, sorting the wheat from the chaff. But the social web will replace that; through user reviews, ‘likes’ and similar rating mechanisms, we will learn to quickly determine whether someone’s creation is worth our time. Word of mouth will become increasingly important. That can only encourage great content – the things that ‘go viral’ and become wildly popular will be those that are the most interesting and impressive. So to achieve success in the Age of the Creatives, people will have to produce work of real value.

Artists of all types now also need to be internet savvy and learn the art of self-promotion. They need to market themselves and win their own fans. They need to build themselves up as a personal brand and become a leading figure in their field, which requires a solid understanding of social networking tools and constant innovation. They have to be their own manager, their own business partner. But that is incredibly liberating.

All this is wonderful news for the individual, and for creativity in general.

If you aren’t building a personal brand and active internet following for whatever your passion is, you risk being left behind. Get creating and get out there!

Be part of the rise of freelance creatives.

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