Yesterday I was on national television for the first time.
Well...technically that's not true. I was previously on Channel 4's Bouncers. I was a drunkard in a home made Batman costume being manhandled by the staff of Clacton's most depressing (and only) nightclub. Anyway, that's not what I'm supposed to be talking about here.
Yesterday I was on national television for the first time for poetry. I was on Channel 4 (They must like me) performing spoken word poetry as part of a film about my home town's identity and attitude towards Brexit. My poetry featured throughout the film as a kind of "sound track" to interviews and visuals.
For me, this was a massive achievement. To get my work onto a show seen by around 650,000 people (650,001 including my mum) is by far the biggest audience I've ever reached. I'm still buzzing about it now! So far i'd say yesterday was the highlight of my career as a poet so far. So today I've been thinking about how this was achieved. How did i get to the point I'm at now? What advice would I give to somebody starting out, like I was four years ago?
There is no such thing as a lucky break in art. TV talent shows would have you believe all you need is one big lucky break and to just want it more than anyone else and somehow it will all come together. You will be rich and famous and beloved by all. But that's just not the case .And that shouldn't be your aim. If you are looking for fame and money...seriously poetry isn't for you! To make a living from art, to get to where you want to get, you have to just work seriously hard.
I've known people to turn down gigs because they "Don't like the venue". I've seen folks refuse small time opportunities because they felt like it was beneath them. People are "too tired" or "really busy at the moment". People turning up to their featured slots and hour late like some kind of rock star. Every gig is important. Every audience member is important.Every promoter or host is important. If you are too tired, that's fine. But be aware that somebody else will be getting the opportunities you are missing.
Shows will not come to you. Social media presence is important. Put your name out there. Make sure the promoters know who you are. Open mic, then introduce yourself to the host and give them your card. Just keep plugging away. If you are half decent, you might get noticed and you may get bookings.
And never, ever think that you have "arrived". Today you are headline act and tomorrow you are just you, looking for work. My face was on television yesterday. I've had some serious love from friends and family, a few new twitter and facebook contacts and one particularly eloquent troll who told me I was "incomprehensible". Has the phone been ringing non-stop for more TV opportunities, interviews and sponsorship deals? Of course it hasn't! Yesterday I was headline act, today I am just me looking for work again.
So my first bit of advice for someone starting out in this game, my advice to myself four years ago I suppose, is: Don't for one minute think it is going to be easy or that any opportunity is going to come to you. Piece of advice number two would be: Say yes to (nearly*) everything. Nobody can afford to turn down shows and work. You never know who is watching and listening. You never know what opportunities may arise.
My final piece of advice is to share the love. You are likely going have a network of artists and musicians around you if you are in any kind of scene. Sometimes they are going to be doing some pretty amazing things. These may be things you would give your right arm to do. You are going to feel jealous. Don't deny it. You're only human! Nietzsche talks about how an Übermensch (A superman) recognises their own jealousy, owns it and rises above it. Jealousy stifles creativity and potential. He explains how resentment is only ever associated with weakness. Humans are weak, you cant avoid these feelings. But when you feel that pang of jealousy for your fellow artist, take it, own it, rise above and congratulate them. And not in a hollow way, mean it!
Spreading positivity may sound a little hippy but it is so important. From a pragmatic point of view, do you really want your fellow artist, once they reach the top of a ladder to pull it up instead of helping you up? Worse, do you want them to pull up the ladder and piss on you from above!? From a philosophical point of view, its just an awful way to be. It won't help your mental health or creativity one bit. Giving in to your jealousy will make you weaker, rising above it will make you stronger.
If I had a role model in this area it would be the poet Thomas Owoo. Tom, AKA Ghettogeek, spreads positivity to all the artists he meets and by doing so raises up everyone around him. The first to congratulate you on an achievement and the first to share an opportunity, my mans a next level Übermensch! Is it any surprise he is making massive moves, winning slams, getting great exposure on BBC radio shows and taking his poetry into schools across the city? (If you aren't aware of Ghettogeek...seriously you been living under a rock or something? Check out Ghettogeek TV on facebook.)
So that's my advice for getting to the stage that I'm at today. Has anybody four years ahead of me got any half decent advice to raise my game to another stage? Drop me an email please!
The Channel 4 film can be seen here:
*Within reason people. Obviously if the BNP summer camp wants a resident poet you may want to re-think.