We've all heard the oft recited legend of blues great Robert Johnson desperate to realize his dream of becoming a great blues musician, arriving at the Crossroads to meet up with the Devil who promised him mastery of his instrument (the guitar!) in exchange for his precious soul.
This same legend was told in the German tale of Faust who in his search for unlimited knowledge offers up his soul to the underworld. And even more recently, lore of Jimmy Page making a similar deal in exchange for becoming a rock god lives on as urban legendry…or is it?
For artists, the feeling of compromising themselves to sell their work is a common dilemma and one that spans the ages.
But, is it necessary to compromise your soul just to get your work sold and earn a living as an artist? As an artist you always give a piece of yourself when you share your creativity and sometimes the process can be incredibly demotivating.
So what does selling your soul mean? Working on things you hate, selling out a friend to achieve, doing things to go against your moral or ethical compass. For me, that's selling your soul.
Finding a way to earn a living while you pursue your passion…isn't selling your soul, and learning how to sell your work isn't selling your soul. (It might not be the favorite part of what you do, but it's not selling your soul.) In fact, it's smart and it's called survival….Entrepreneurs call it growing a business.
In the real world, you have to earn money to survive and you've chosen to earn money sharing (selling) your creativity. And yes, sometimes it can feel deflating.
The art of selling (and making money) is effectively communicating the reason people need what you have. It’s not selling your soul, it’s communicating how what you do brings value to the world and finding a way to talk about it and share your talent with the world. Finding a way to talk about your work in an authentic way keeps you motivated and inspired while you are climbing the ladder towards success.
You have to change the idea that selling your talent (and making money in the short run) is slimy. In a perfect world, you would create a product or service (whether that be being a musician, or otherwise) and it would sell itself. Customers or clients would come in droves and you would be scrambling to try to serve them all. In reality, this is far from the truth.
It takes a mental shift…by focusing on providing value to others and how that value is benefitting others you've suddenly created an empowering force that's soul-filling not soul-deflating. Yes, you still might have to teach a music lesson, sing a cover song, book a gig at a place you'd rather not, or write a jingle…. But in every one of those situations you're sharing music, creating music, and living a musical life as you move towards your bigger goals and dreams. Just keep providing value in bigger and bigger ways, and pretty soon you'll notice you've moved up closer to your dreams.
Don't worry about the short run. Every note you make, every song you play brings value and more music to the world. Keep your eye on the ball and your passion on the the big picture. In the mean time - pay your rent, buy food, keep the lights on and keep making music.