Where Creativity Doesn’t Come From
I’m often asked about the differences between Hong Kong and Singapore. While there are many things that separate the two cities there is, sadly, one thing they have in common. In both places far too many “creative” types complain that the government doesn’t do enough to promote their industries, that the government should be more […]
I’m often asked about the differences between Hong Kong and Singapore. While there are many things that separate the two cities there is, sadly, one thing they have in common. In both places far too many “creative” types complain that the government doesn’t do enough to promote their industries, that the government should be more actively involved in promoting the best work and that many of the problems they face require government led solutions.
I don’t buy it.
Anyone who expects governments, especially governments in Asia, to foster creativity would do well to read the recent New York Times piece on Zhou Youguang 106, the year old inventor of PinYin (a language that transliterates symbols based chinese into phonic “western” forms).
“Inventions are flowers that grow out of the soil of freedom. Innovation and invention don’t grow out of the government’s orders.”
What Governments Can Do
That’s not to say governments can’t do things. Good education policies are important. Making it easier for creative types to start business and get business-friendly bank accounts is also important. And, of course, the general good-for-society issues, like reliable transport, mail, affordable utilities and affordable rent will also play their part. Finally, governments can make visa processes, both short and one term, easier for the creative industries.
Why We Shouldn’t Wait For Help
We open ourselves up to a dangerously dis-empowering mindset when we lay the blame for personal setbacks on a lack of government initiatives. If you want to be a songwriter, then, on the most important level, all you need is a guitar (or keyboard) and a notepad. That’s it.
As much as I believe in education, the case for growing a creative industry through vocational training is exaggerated. My high school had almost no music programme. We got six months of music in grade 7 and that was it. Music was not offered again in any other grade. My daughter had, by the end of her grade 2, been exposed to more art history and major art works than my fellow students saw in all our 13 years of compulsory schooling.
That didn’t stop my friends from going out and starting bands and writing songs. We made our own t-shirts, printed our own posters, recorded our own demos, booked our own gigs, loaded and repaired our own gear and created our own buzz. The more successful musicians, in our scene and in other towns were doing the same.
And, get this: All that stuff is cheaper and easier now.
The Logic Of The Crowd
Back in the dark ages we always talked about getting “a crowd.” Everyone knew that your new band, or act had to be able to draw a small and loyal following before bigger opportunities came along. Once you had a small crowd you could think about selling tapes, trying to get bigger gigs and attracting local (community) radio airtime.
This wasn’t rocket science. You didn’t need a course to teach you that. You knew it from hanging around music stores, doing fill-in gigs and listening to older guys talk.
Although things have changed now, the principles are still the same. We are doing word of mouth online now and you have access to a whole world of resources for every step of the creative process. You don’t need government support to do it. The tools are, literally, at your fingertips.
The Brutal Truth
I recall one bad gigging experience. This guy had been bugging me for some time to join his blues band. He could certainly talk the talk. I said yes to one gig. We were second on a bill of three bands. The room was 2/3rds full at the start of our set and 9/10ths empty by the end of our third song. This guy simply didn’t have what it took to lead a band, either as a singer or as a personality. The crowd voted and I (soon to be followed by the rest of his band) walked.
With the internet, the idea of a super-talented artist toiling away in obscurity is gone. If your stuff is in any way good, original or just different and you put even a small effort into pimping your work, you will attract a crowd online.
Every hour you spend wishing the government (or the industry, or your parents) had supported you more is an hour you’ve taken away from doing your work and telling people about your work.