Tips on how to succeed in the creative industry

Brian Onjoro shares his tips on how to manuever the creative industry

Brian Onjoro

This is not another ‘How to be Rich and Famous’ article by some random know-it-all, but rather a realistic look at how to develop a strong work ethic as a creative and get paid for it. I have been doing stand-up comedy professionally for four years; frequenting dingy bars, run-down theatres, office parties and – oh yes — that one time I performed to shady Russians on a sinking boat; don’t ask — rent was due.

Within the span of three years, I have been able to turn my side hustle into a consistent revenue-generating company, where I have built a community of young comedians and loyal fans here in Nairobi. This is a model that my team and I plan to replicate in different cities all over the world. Here is what I have learned so far along the way.

“I KNOW NOTHING”

There is nothing bigger than a talented creative’s ego. We are all a bunch of special, know-it-all’s and that is our biggest flaw. I had to accept early on that I was not ‘the chosen one’. You see — entitlement begets laziness. Forget what shows like “East Africa’s Got Talent” sell you; that erroneous idea that anyone can bank a million dollars, just for being the special human that Disney has conditioned you to think you are. The truth is; you’re probably pretty average. But this isn’t a bad thing – being “average” just means that you get up every day and work hard to get better at your craft, work hard to be the best and then, to surpass even that. The attitudes of grit and resilience and hard work are what will allow you to go further and succeed harder even than those with more talent than you; you’ll work the apprenticeship, level-up your networking skills and become everyone’s dream collaborator. Your hard work is what will build your brand and get you paid.

“LONGETIVITY IS EVERYTHING”

Once upon a time, back in the early 2000s, billboards and branding told us that Ja-Rule was the hottest rapper on the block; a better rapper than Nas, than Jay-Z. Today, no serious hip-hop fan is going to get excited about a new Ja-Rule drop, but you’ll hear them scream with excitement when Nas even hints at a new project. What’s the lesson here? Plan for the long term – think 10 years out. You want to be a classic, not a flash-in-the-pan; create strategies that build towards long-term success and not for a here-today-gone-tomorrow, short-lived victory.

“WORK WORK WORK”

I recently enrolled in a gym and have learned more about truly working hard in there than I did in college. No pain, no gain. If you don’t do those sets and reps and eat good, then there will be no muscle development; period. In the past three months, I have seen the true value of working hard even when nothing is guaranteed. Take strict control over your own time; if you have started making some money and can work from home or your own office, even better…. work work work work — just like a Rihanna hook. Work on that art piece, that album, that article or whatever creative endeavor you’re in right now, and when you think you’re done… review it and then work on it some more.

“STRUCTURE OVER HYPE”

Starting out, I wanted to be a comedy star on East Africa’s biggest comedy show. I failed. 

I have watched over the years as the guys I auditioned with made it big. Now, these same guys politely ask if they can get a spot to perform at my gigs; structured planning allowed me to build a multi-platform Comedy Club with monthly gigs in different venues in Nairobi. This may not seem like much, but it means that the platform I have built ensures that even with less than 20 likes on my social media pages, I’m still a performing stand-up comedian who gets paid every week to do what I enjoy and I’m good at. We creatives can’t all be as famous as Drake, but can we at least pay our bills by doing what we love; absolutely.

“DON’T STARVE”

I believe the main reason the story of the “starving artist” is still evocative and alive is because it resonates with the creative soul in artists of all kinds; the whole “starve now, be a millionaire later” legend is a powerful one in lots of ways – it celebrates the artist’s sacrifice and reconfirms our belief that we’re made of talent, beauty, and art and that that is worth anything and everything. But let’s be real; we’re humans and we need to eat and put roofs over our heads. So, do what you have to do to make ends meet while still building your hustle? There is no shame in waiting tables during the day and performing at night, or enrolling in classes to gain some skills that can get you a job while still getting into the studio and rapping rebellious lyrics. Pace yourself, and feed yourself – you need to get your creative energy from somewhere!

“PRIORITIZE YOURSELF”

Put you and your thing first. This means saving resources and time to get you what you need to create, share and build a fan-base. If that means ditching a guy or girl who demands out-of-town trips every weekend that cost you the money you could have used to put on a show and impress industry players, let that lover go and do it with joy. I’m still struggling with this and procrastinating more than I should; the lesson here is that you need to be your own biggest fan and manager. Discipline yourself and focus on yourself. This needs no further explanation.

“DETOX IS IMPORTANT”

Take care of your physical, spiritual and mental well being. Taking a break from time to time does not make you a sell-out. This path of ours can be overwhelming, so surround yourself with supportive people who will be there for you and you for them. Take that yoga class, that out of town getaway, just give yourself some extra rest time on a Sunday. Remember that you are not a machine and being a creative means that it’s just as important to know when to rest and recharge your creative energy as it is to work hard and hustle – learn to tune into your body and mind to sense when is the right time for each. 

To infinity and beyond, comrades.

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