Creatives are not F**ked: A Response to Jon Westenberg

I haven’t written that many articles in my life. Ok I lied, I haven’t written anything 0n here at all. This is my very first article. I’ve published in other places but good luck finding that content without me telling you my (various) pen names.

Since I’m just getting started I figured a smart thing to do would be to try to comment on a popular article, assuming I could give a perspective that’s different and interesting. As it turns out, such an opportunity came my way when I saw this article.

Since I haven’t written a bio, I’ll give you the brief summary. I’m a 22 year old machine learning scientist/engineer working in NYC at either a top quant fund or a top tech company (I won’t tell you which one). I know a lot about Computer Science, Machine Learning, and Mathematics and the businesses that use them every day to make millions. I work in a crazy industry filled with incredible ideas, unchecked ambition, and the promise of a better world (though better for whom is as always the real question). It kind of baffles that I am where I am in life (I’m thankful for it everyday), especially since it could have all turned out differently.

Just 7 years ago (high school), I was headed for a very very different path. I was a musician by day (school band), by night (my jazz band), and every other time in between (my headphones were my best friend). Every single person in my band went on to Julliard and had I stayed on the path I was on, I would likely have done the same. Music was my world, my energy, my soul. And yet, things didn’t work out that way. I ended up going to a top engineering college to do my bachelors in Math and Computer Science. I lost touch with my old bandmates, as we were both physically and mentally worlds apart, and I fell into Tech culture (and it is a culture).

Ever since I left that group, I’ve always wondered what would’ve happened if I’d just stayed with music. I’ve thought about what struggles I would’ve faced as a musician in a world with far more songs than ears willing to listen to them. All of these thoughts came rushing back the moment I read Jon Westenberg’s article on the struggles of creatives in the digital age. It’s definitely not a new idea, especially for me, but the underlying thesis is so poorly postulated and so often repeated that I felt compelled to rebuke it, hence this article.

Westenberg laments that creatives have no choice to turn their art into a ‘side hustle’, but this really isn’t so bad. After all, the advent of digital music production, photo editing tools, and online publishing save creatives immeasurable amounts of time and money. Given these tools, creatives can accomplish as much now in 10 hours as a week as their predecessors did in 40. The only exception is the Taylor Swifts and Stephen Kings of the world who really do need all that time to do press junkets, TV appearances, etc.

Furthermore, creatives have had ‘day jobs’ long before the internet, working as waiters, music teachers, wedding photographers, etc. People as a whole have always payed little attention to that which is under the mainstream radar. Record companies and publishers were historically the gateway to mainstream. The internet simply added a third path, virality, to mainstream influence. Westenberg says that people don’t want to pay for art, but the reality is that people only pay for popular art and always have. Having no one pay to read your Wordpress articles is the same as not getting published in the Atlantic because the editor doesn’t think you’re good enough. Different medium, same outcome.

And finally, with the availability of increasingly higher quality online courses in creative topics, the barrier to entry for being creative is much lower than it’s ever been. For a $100 I can learn screenwriting from Aaron Sorkin, music production from Deadmau5, and cooking from Gordon Ramsey. Whatever your creative endeavor is, you can find high quality instruction to inspire and instruct you for a very low price. Thus, honing your craft as a creative takes less time and less money that ever before.

Maybe the Hollywood-esque notion of a starving artist is outdated. Maybe all creatives everywhere simply have to accept that technology has eliminated the need for them to do what they do as a full-time occupation. The culture idea of the full-time creative needs a rework. One that accepts, rather than slanders, technology. Now that would be creative.

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