The challenges — and the importance — of being out on the road, in the middle, on the circuit as a creative professional
When I was a talent agent, something I didn’t do as much as I should have was developing a deeper understanding and empathy for the experiences of my clients.
They all came from different places, with different plans, but something a lot of them had in common was being on the circuit.
The circuit is often in the middle of the market, and as with many things in life, the middle is a tougher place to operate than it first appears.
Early on, you’re just happy to be out there, touching the elements of it. You’re able to publicly share your work, providing people with memorable experiences, and getting paid to do so. Sometimes you’ll be on the same bill as one of your heroes, or even headline a gig where everyone knows you’re the main event.
Over time what began as a passionate hobby becomes a side project, the side project becomes a craft, the craft becomes a nice side income, and then one day it’s become full time.
For some, they catch a wave and are propelled into the stratosphere: maybe for a week, a month, a year, or even a decade or three.
But it’s rare.
Many more fall away, bobbing under the surface. Every so often they catch a gulp of fresh air, or even another big wave to ride. Unfortunately some will sink.
The rest shift up into the middle. The middle is definitely not a bad place to be. In fact, it’s to be celebrated.
As one media & entertainment executive once said to me;
the definition of success in the music industry is survival.
The circuit can be fulfilling and rewarding. It’s where you can share your craft with people who are invested, interested, aligned. Not every time of course, but more often than not, and with the right guidance and focus, the circuit works in more ways than one.
There are a lot of good gigs on the circuit. Some of them are institutions. Some are incredible.
But here’s the thing about the middle, about the circuit.
It’s tough. It’s the work.
It’s exceedingly hard to rise above it, and worse for you to opt out.
Some gigs on the circuit are so-so, and some are far worse. Any or all of these things may happen on the circuit.
- The travel is arduous.
- The hotel is grim.
- The food is insipid.
- The tech doesn’t work properly.
- The promoter is shady.
- The warmup doesn’t know what they’re doing.
- No one knows why you’re there.
- No one knows why they’re there.
- The audience has been mis-sold.
- So have you.
- Promises have been broken.
- It’s a long way home.
And because it’s a circuit, it repeats. It starts again tomorrow.
Or as Mark Twain may have said
history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes
The only way you can really, genuinely understand the circuit is to be on the circuit.
And it’s not just the DJs, or the musicians.
It’s the stand up comedians building towards the hour; the authors on book tours; the workshop facilitators traveling to teach; the touring tattoo artists seeking to make their mark and share their art.
If we’re on the circuit we need to be strong.
We should stand our ground when things get compromised.
Ask for what we need to do the work.
Call out bad behaviour when we see it.
Recognise the opportunity costs of the work – whether it’s from us overdoing it, undercooking it, or overplaying it.
Yet we must also be grateful that we’re there. Through a combination of skill, talent, work, and a good dose of luck we’ve climbed high enough to be able to practice and share our craft, to be professionals at this.
We should respect those who make the investment to enable us to keep doing what we do – whether fans, hobbyists, or professionals.
If we happen to move up and out of the circuit – in whichever direction – we shouldn’t forget where we came from, and those who are in it.
And we should acknowledge those looking up at the circuit, finding their way, nudging themselves into the loop to try and get their start.
The Circuit is tough, but it matters.