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Danny's Essays

👨‍🎤 How to reach millions

published11 months ago
3 min read

I've been enjoying the documentary series on Netflix loosely based on Andy Warhol's diaries. As you know, Andy supposedly said that in the future we'd all be famous for fifteen minutes. He died long before YouTube and Instagram and Tok Tok — so we can forgive him for his underestimation.

These days, we're all trying to be famous for at least a half-hour.

Fame is an obsession in 2022.

The web is stuffed with courses and videos and articles on how to game the system to get likes and views.

They tell us to all become “Creators" (we used to be artists and musicians and writers; now we're all lumped under this new "C" word).

They instruct us on how to use social media to build a gargantuan following and then how to monetize that success into cash and prizes.

It's all, of course, a hollow Ponzi scheme.

Even if you succeed for a while, you will burn out. You will sell your soul for remarkably little.

The single-minded quest for fame and success inevitably invites compromise. Desperation for acceptance means clinging to the yellow lines in the middle of the road.

You will strain to avoid offending anyone so you can reach the broadest audience.

You will contort your ideas to anticipate objections and please the algorithm.

You will dumb yourself down to be "accessible."

It turns out that you can’t fool the world. You can’t control the process.

The machines may not be that smart. Most people actually are. They can see through this game.

You can’t hack your way to glory.

Instead of following some "sure-fire way to online success," make something just for you.

Stuff you would like.

Stuff that grows from your experience, your truth, your heart.

That’s why I’ve started every book I’ve written because I wanted to read it and couldn’t find it on the shelf.

So forget Andy for a minute, and let's turn to David instead.

Bowie said, "Never play to the gallery.

"Never work for other people in what you do.

"Always remember that the reason you initially started working was there was something inside yourself that, if you could manifest it, you felt you would understand more about yourself.

"I think it’s terribly dangerous for an artist to fulfill other people’s expectations."

Most genuinely successful artists don’t begin by chasing success.

Sure, they are driven to work hard. Very hard.

But that's because they are deeply passionate about what they are making — not because they have a formula for success.

You must create to be creating, because you love ideas and craft and inspiration, not Oscars® and likes and groupies and bling. Those things are more likely to drive you to drink than to the studio.  

Now, you may wonder, how can making stuff just for me attract millions of fans?

Because — weird as you are — there are millions of people out there very much like you.

Sure, there may be 9 billion people who aren't, but there are loads of people who have experienced the world in ways that are very much like you have.

They may not be in your small hometown. But they're out there, in Boston, in Bremen, in Beijing.

People who grew up feeling different from others around them, different in exactly the same way you are different. Different, but the same.

And the more genuine and more valuable the insights you share are, the more they will mean to those folks.

Millions of them.

The fantastic thing about the Internet is that, eventually, the stuff you make that is true and you, will find its way across the world. It will find its way to those people who need to hear it. It may take years, but it will happen.

And when it does, your success will not be about money (though you will make enough money to live on properly) or likes on social media (though you will get those too, for what they're worth).

It will be about a deep, personal connection with others.

You will connect with people who will be your friends.

Who will love you.

Who will value you for saying — in words or chords or brushstrokes — what they didn't think anyone else would ever say.

Art has the power to make us feel less alone, less sequestered in our ivory spheres, our bags of meat, our handful of decades on this spinning orb.

Art can make us one.

Can fame beat that, Andy?

Your pal,

Danny


P.S. Of course there's a flipside to this whole thing. Perhaps you have exactly zero interest in fame or fortune. Right on. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to forge bonds with other humans through the things we make. I love making connections with other creative people. Just this week I spend time with three brand new art friends and it was a joyous gift, especially after the past two years of hermitage. Reach out to people whose work you like. Tell them you like it and why. You may forge a connection that leads to some sort of dialogue or collaboration. (Don't you wish you'd written to Bowie? Patti and I did and we even heard back). But even if it doesn't, you will be paying back with the most valuable of currency. Support from people who value your work is the highest pay we receive for our efforts. That simple email from you will inspire them to keep going, to keep making stuff that moves you. Win-win.