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Being Creative

Picture of Simon Fairbairn

Simon Fairbairn

I was doing some research into the design process because it's always good to go over the fundamentals now and again and I discovered this interesting manifesto from Hugh MacLeod.

You may have heard of him. He's the guy that draws cartoons on the back of business cards and is now internet famous.

His manifesto is full of great thoughts and insights into being creative, but this one in particular struck me:

"Thatʼs the thing about some big publishers. They want 110% from you, but they donʼt offer to do likewise in return. To them, the artist is just one more noodle in a big bowl of pasta.

Their business model is to basically throw the pasta against the wall, and see which one sticks. The ones that fall to the floor are just forgotten.

Publishers are just middlemen. Thatʼs all. If artists could remember that more often, theyʼd save themselves a lot of aggravation."

Hugh MacLeod

I have been a champion of using the internet to retain full artisitc control for a long time. MacLeod's idea emphasises how tenuous a path looking for someone to recognise your greatness and pluck you from obscurity actually is.

You are but a tiny, tiny piece of a giant profitable puzzle.

Back in my music days, there were apocryphal tales of bands being signed to labels to basically shut them up because their style was too close to something already on the roster. They had signed away their music and were no longer allowed to promote or play it anywhere—they simply weren't the label's priority, just another piece of pasta that the label wanted forgotten.

My own brush with the priorities of the middlemen came when I was not-so-subtly told by a major label rep that I needed to cut my admittedly crazy hair and stop acting like the hyperactive geek that I am. We as a group were advised that our style of music needed to change to have more mass-market appeal.

I felt there had to be a better way, though I lacked the sense to fully articulate or investigate it.

At the time, the internet was just blossoming. Blogs were yet to go mainstream and Facebook was but a twinkle in Zuckerberg's eye. Labels, publishers, galleries—these were still the main way that artists got noticed.

In the years since then, we've seen an explosion of the DIY culture. Covering the gamut from music to video games, artists everywhere are building their own audience, finding their own voices, obtaining their own financing, and making their art on their terms.

I was recently offered an opportunity to join a startup and I seriously considered it. I realise now, though, the startup culture is a lot like the old model in new clothes: middlemen throwing noodles at the wall to see what sticks. They still require their producers to work at 110%, only now it's in coding sweatshops.

I've long passed the point where I wish to be a cog in someone else's machine. I've stopped chasing pipe dreams, of pinning my hopes on strangers that don't really care that much about me, and I'm working on carving out my own little weird niche in the world, where I can hunt down my own voice and hopefully, one day, make good art.