As creativity moves into the very public realm of the Internet, we’re seeing an explosion of user-generated creative content – from video, photography, design, illustration, art, animation and music, on a myriad of online publishing platforms from Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, Periscope, Facebook, YouTube and beyond. But we’re also seeing an increasing commodification of areas that have traditionally been created by creative cottage industries such as graphic design, illustration, information design, web-design, animation, video, music and sound production. So how do young creative people best prepare themselves for the digital future? How can they best use their creative skills to create effective art and unique visual communications in this very public digital arena? As the creative process becomes increasingly democratised, who and what will survive?
The flow of information made possible by the Internet has made the world a very open place. Not only can we instantly connect, interact and become informed by others from virtually anywhere on the planet (and beyond), but information, business deals, the transfer of goods and services, political and social experiences, philosophical models and ideologies have become globally accessible, more transparent and often free.
Hello, ‘Generation Share’.
The rise of the FREEMIUM economy has created an expectation among millennials and other digital natives (who have grown up in the age of digital communications), that information and services available over the Internet should essentially be free – because if not, they’ll just search an alternative that is. They understand how advertising on such platforms works, and expect that publishers source their revenue from those wanting to exploit our eyeballs, and not necessarily that publishers charge the end user directly. But where does this leave the creative authors of the content that has the potential to create audiences and engage and entertain large, specific segments of society?
We want democracy, but at what cost?
This empowerment means that the consumer is now in a prime position to drive the business arrangement. The democratisation of creative services on a global scale has created a world-wide market place, where young Creatives effectively compete with others from all over the planet. And the competition includes many young creative people working from countries with considerably lower business, labour and living costs.
This creates an attractive palate for the business community, wanting to access creative services such as graphic-, logo- and web-design through platforms such as Fiverr.com – a global online marketplace where freelancers to offer their services to customers worldwide.
Currently, Fiverr lists more than three million services on the site that range in cost from $5 to $500. The platform was launched in early 2010 and now hosts over 1.3 million Gigs. The website transaction volume has grown 600% since 2011. Fiverr.com has been ranked among the top 100 most popular sites in the U.S. and top 150 in the world (Wikipedia 2016).
Even video and commercial production through creative-sourcing platforms like GENERO.TV are revolutionising the video production market for both clients and young film-makers.
Launched in 2009, Genero offers a platform for clients to source and generate quality video content that is faster and cheaper than commissioning production through conventional video production models. Genero claims it also “engages online audiences through authentic storytelling. In parallel, it helps grow the careers of the huge number of talented video directors and filmmakers globally, looking for opportunities to make a living doing what they love.” (Wikipedia 2016).
As much as this is an opportunity for business people and Start-Ups wanting to take advantage of a wide choice in a global marketplace in order to get creative produced for low cost, it presents a challenge for those young people wanting to work in these creative spaces. It’s becoming less financially viable for young creative people to sustain careers in first world economies in traditional creative skills-based ‘cottage’ industries such as graphic design, illustration and video production unless they can devise a way that they can complete.
Where to now?
So where do young creative people channel their creative energy and potential, if careers in more traditional skills-based creative jobs are being offered a lot cheaper from Creatives offshore and online? This is where it’s important to focus on the door that is opening, rather than the one that is closing. Young creative people need to focus on two important areas of education and training to get an edge, and be able to create sustainable and successful creative careers in today’s democratised creative world.
Develop Strategic Thinking
It’s important that as early as highschool, to develop strategic-thinking and problem-solving skills in the upcoming generation of young creative people. Although there may very well be someone else on the other side of the planet being able to master design, technical and production skills, the question of whether the solution they come up with, is as strong strategically as someone who has focused their education on this is where the opportunity exists. Talent and creative intuition count for a lot, but the most effective creative solutions to business and communications briefs are research based and strategically driven.
The reality of getting a foot in the door as a junior in an agency, production company or Start-Up needs a hybrid approach. The notion of T-Skilling, or the now more often quoted Pi- or Two-Pronged-Skilling is the best approach to making a strong career start. By combining strategic thinking with one or even two, well developed sets of skills is how young Creatives can be useful in a job from day one, and then as the opportunities arise, prove themselves as strategic trouble-shooters and cross-platform problem-solvers. Become a Photoshop Profi, a Premiere-Pro Hotshot, a Digital Imaging Specialist or a Social-Media Know-It-All – these are all great for launching your career, but just make sure they don’t limit it.
And never stop learning. Careers in the post-digital age will be defined by strategic problem-solving that goes far beyond any one technology or skill-set. The technologies we use today may no longer exist in the next few years. Solve problems for and with technology, but never limit solutions by it.
Become your own Brand
In addition to developing strategic skills, the second essential aspect to launching a creative career today is to promote yourself as a brand. Think of yourself as a product that you need to develop a brand or advertising campaign for. What are your strengths? What do you do better than anyone else? What is your USP? Then get out there and start generating content that focuses on what makes you unique. More than just your own website, LinkedIn profile, Instagram account, Blogs and Vlogs – how can you be creating and publishing relevant content that will sharpen your profile and build a reputation in your chosen area of specialisation.
A great example of a young creative person building a successful career by promoting himself as a brand is the YouTube Vlogger Casey Neistat. Casey was a passionate but poor film-maker, living in a caravan on the outskirts of New York. But by consistently producing his own, very distinct style of video blogs (always kicked off with his quirky stop-frame title sequences), he was able to build an audience. And with his following, came the advertisers and brands wanting to jump on his 3,5 million subscriber bandwagon.
Giving it away
It may be a paradox, but to make a buck in this user-generated jungle, we very well may need to start by giving our creativity away for free. Who manages to build an audience and offer eyeballs, will soon have the brand evangelists knocking down their door with deals and dollars.
But before we look at who is making a career out of their creativity in the online space today, let’s look at a couple of pioneers who have actively used the borderless virtual space of the Internet to experiment and create creative projects and new models for remuneration.
What David Bowie can teach us
The master of the modern Avant Guard, David Bowie is remembered for more than just his music. His courageous and innovative use of technology in his own creative practice, is a role model for the fearlessness needed to approach change. As early as 1998 he set up BOWIENET, a creative Internet platform where (for a monthly fee) fans got exclusive access to audio recordings, music videos, chat rooms, interviews and even personal photos, paintings as well as access to some of his journals. In a time before Instagram, YouTube, Twitter or even MySpace, most artists provided little if any online material to their followers. Bowie’s platform not only offered a wide variety of exclusive content, but also several ways to interact with the singer himself. Always a step ahead, Bowie spotted the potential of the Internet as a venue in which to make, share and expand upon art.
What Bowie started has become status. The music business has been massively disrupted by digital and downloadable technology. Meaning money is made less from the sales of a single track or album, but more through the audience a musician or band has online and how this can be monetised. In 2007 English alternative rock band Radiohead self-released its seventh studio album In Rainbows as a pay-what-you-want download. Radiohead was the first major act to understand that the old income models were being broken down and it was time for a new approach. They made headlines across the world and sparked heated debate, many claiming they could only afford to do so because they were already a highly successful band, but nevertheless it set a precedent about the implications for the music industry. Time called it “easily the most important release in the recent history of the music business”.
Art for the People
In 2011, Google in cooperation with 17 international museums including the Tate Gallery in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Uffizi in Florence launched the Google Art Project – an online platform where the public can access high-resolution images of artworks housed in the initiative’s partner museums. The platform enables users to virtually tour partner museums’ galleries, explore physical and contextual information about artworks, and compile their own virtual collection. As part of the project, the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that the more than 400,000 high-resolution digital images may be downloaded directly from the Museum’s website for non-commercial use and can be used at no charge and without getting permission from the museum.
This opens up complete new realms for creative inspiration, re-interpretation, re-mixing, re-sampling, mash-ups and other fusions. The notion of copyright and originality are becoming blurred in a world where there is an increasing value in the originalcombination of existing elements, rather than purely the origination of the unadulterated ‘new’. Here too lies opportunity for young creative people to use this approach to their own creative practice, and to also develop clever and pragmatic ways of making this financially sustainable for themselves.
Coding our Way to the Future
One of the more recent artists projecting his work out through the ethers of the Internet is the artist/designer/coder Joshua Davis. Best known as the creator of praystation.com and winner of the Prix Ars Electronica. Joshua started out as a graphic and web-designer. As an early adopter of open-source, he developed visually complex graphic patterns and animations as computer artworks, then would offer the source code to the public. Davis’ intention was initially not to charge for each individual artwork, but by gaining great media exposure and building a strong following he has been able to monetise his creativity by creating a subscription model.
So to return to the question of how do young creative people best prepare themselves for the digital future: In addition to deepening one or two of your creative skills, develop your strategic thinking and look at how you can promote yourself as a brand in order to offer a creative service that cannot simply be replicated somewhere else, by someone cheaper. It will be the clever thinkers with a unique personality that will move and change with the creative industries and the developments in technology, and come up with innovative solutions to creating sustainable careers and memorable art.
Ian Thomson is a writer, filmmaker, facilitator of innovation workshops and is the program leader of the Advertising & Media faculty for Macleay College’s campuses in Sydney and Melbourne.
About Macleay College:
Established in 1988, Macleay College offers highly regarded, industry focused education in Business, Journalism and Advertising & Media. These tertiary courses have an emphasis on multi-media qualifications and offer students a hands-on approach to fast-track their career. Macleay College has campuses in Sydney and Melbourne.