I have been thinking a lot lately about ‘The Gatekeepers’ in my life and career, and the power they may or may not hold over me and my goals. I first broached this subject in a video exclusive to my Patrons on Patreon after being inspired by a podcast discussion with Amanda Palmer – a fellow Patreon creative. With over 13,000 patrons, Amanda is the huge success story of Patreon and an aspirational beacon whose light us fellow creators can only marvel at when it comes to connecting directly with one’s fanbase and cutting out the middleman. I believe in learning from the best and putting my money where my mouth is, so have become one of Amanda’s patrons myself; she, like me, offers many things totally free to all at the point of use (like this blog!) and so, why not? Check out Amanda’s famous TED talk for more on her approach to The Art of Asking.
The Middlemen are, in many ways, just another word for The Gatekeepers, and here’s what I mean by that phrase. Think of one example of a person, institution or job title that you feel is a barrier between yourself and your desired goals. If they were only to recognise your brilliance/potential/talent/work ethic (delete as appropriate or choose your own) then doors would fly open for you and the sun would come out. As a creative, I will not be alone in feeling, over the years, that an agent or agents in general represent a metaphorical door, sealed shut with a massive sign on it saying ‘CLOSED’ in big red writing. And underneath in much smaller font, ‘to you’.
Whether as a writer or performer, the feeling that there is some magic kingdom within which lies theatre moguls, publishers and Hollywood film producers all clamouring for my attention and thrusting contracts and Parker pens into my fist is palpable. But to get to that Kingdom I must first slay the key-wielding dragon that is The Agent.
At this juncture it is important to acknowledge that I used to be an agent to other entertainers, albeit for non-sole representation (and that is a very important distinction), but nevertheless I have spent some time on the other side of the table and am still not above becoming in thrall to the powers of The Agent.
So, here’s the thing: in over thirty years of working as a creative, the amount of time I have spent wishing for, searching for, begging for, desiring, researching and hoping for an agent is entirely disproportionate to the amount of time I have spent asking myself exactly why I want one, and what I expect will happen by getting one. Long gone are the days when in order to reach a casting director or get any kind of audition, you needed a cigar-toting fat cat behind a mahogany desk to ‘hook you up’. We have the internet. Just type in what you’re after in a search engine. Done deal. The agent, whether they like to admit it or not, is an endangered species. One of the reasons I’m not one any longer. As I say, an agent is simply one example. What is yours? And do you really need/want them? Really?
My job is to create. To say what I see. To tip the world on its side and share the view from that angle. And I must trust that what I need will come to me; the collaborators I deserve will find me. If they are not forthcoming, then the checklist should perhaps go something like this:
- Who is showing up for me and my work?
- Am I valuing what/who I already have?
- Is my desire for more or different the answer?
- What is lacking here?
- Will The Gatekeeper(s) truly provide what I desire?
- Where did this belief stem from originally?
- Does it still serve me to keep feeding this belief system?
- What will it actually add my life/work?
And, if I truly feel I do still need The Gatekeeper;
- Can I adapt my output in order to best speak to a more defined group and attract the desired people without sacrificing the integrity of the work?
Number 9 really does need to come last after asking all the other big questions first. And in the case of Question 8, don’t forget that there’s a bunch of stuff The Gatekeeper may well take away from you. Artistic control? 10-25% of your earnings? Less agency of your own work and life? Maybe ponder the origin of the word ‘agency’ for a bit. There’s no such thing as a free lunch!
We all want validation; and creatives much more so than most. When you are regularly given a round of applause simply for finishing a days work, it can really screw with your mind. And Gatekeepers, be they agent or otherwise, are in the business of withholding. Their power lies in what is behind that bolted door. So we better make sure there’s something worthwhile on the other side before devoting so much time to getting to it.
I wonder whether there is validation, love and acceptance out there right now for you and me, but we’re so busy looking over the heads of the people clamouring to hug and thanks us to be grateful for what we have. Maybe there is no gate. Maybe there is no keeper. Perhaps we forged that giant iron key from a very old story that simply doesn’t serve us any longer.
Do what you do; the rest will find you.
The people who turn up are the right people.
Every audition is a two-way street.
Make sure you are needed as much as they are wanted.
Finally, do yourself a favour and watch the fantastic CALL MY AGENT on Netflix, and thank me later.
‘Til next time, if saved…