Tips For Artists and Creatives, Without Working the Double Shift

Picture courtesy of isayx33 Flickr

Picture courtesy of isayx33 Flickr

Everyone knows the saying “go big, or go home,” but when you move to a place as unique as Los Angeles, you might want to reconsider the cliché.  No matter what kind of artist—musician, writer, stand up comic, or visual media—everyone gathers in this city to be famous, and even the most talented person can disappear in the competition.  So, what’s the secret? As obvious as it may sound, the best strategy to “making it big” is starting small.

Whether or not it’s synonymous with your personal definition of success and happiness, as the most recognized incentive and reward, income is naturally the most common way to negotiate your gigs and measure your accomplishments.

However, in such a crowded and ambitious city, every struggling artist will be fighting for scraps (hopefully not in a literal way).  If you really want to cash in with your art, sometimes you need to leave cash out—take advantage of low paying or even pro bono opportunities.  If you can train your brain to covet the secondary reward of money, you can train it to crave a different secondary reward:  attention.  Showing off your work in any way gets you noticed, even if it doesn’t always fill your wallet.

More importantly, these types of showcases or performances prove you’re willing to work for time.  Businesses, venues, and other artists will not only begin to trust your dedication, but also begin to trust you as a person.  And, if you’ve read any Hollywood success story, you probably know that a person’s “luck” is usually more so a reflection of a person’s connections. After all, names and networks often carry more weight than bills.

Of course making worthwhile connections in this large, bursting-with-talent town isn’t as simple as walking into a pub, grabbing an open mic, and climbing down to find Jack Nicholson waiting to shake your hand (unless maybe you happen to be performing at Urth Café or a club on Sunset Strip).  But, as long as you can retain some common sense—be wary of scams and the assumption of artist naivety in business: always do background checks before making financial or verbal commitments—the tips below might just be the few metaphorical coins you need to trade in for something larger.

Know the Scene:  It’s psychologically proven that mere exposure can foster an attraction—get recognized by scheduling regular trips to a popular venue for your type of art.

Writers: Skylight Books, 1818 Vermont Ave.

An independent bookshop known not only for its eclectic selection of genres, but also for its appreciation of new and local talent. Skylight Books hosts weekly readings by published authors, and possesses a friendly staff to answer any of your literary questions from how to get published, to where to find the best nearby café for working on a novel.

Bonus:  There is a special section devoted to lit mags, where Literary Agents are sometimes skimming pages for new clients.

Comedians:  Holy Fuck, at the Downtown Independent, 251 S. Main St.

Every other Tuesday from 9-11:30 PM, amateur stand-up comics take over the theatre.  You may not have enough star power to get booked yet, but the free public performance draws a great collection of aspiring comics, perfect for support or commiserating.  The comics themselves relax in the lobby after the show, and love hearing your comments and questions.

Bonus:  There is typically at least one celebrity comic appearance on most nights. Past cameos have included Dmitri Martin, Louis CK, and Aziz Ansari.

Musicians:  Room 5, 143 North La Brea.

Performances by local artists, beginning at 7 or 8 almost every night of the week, ensure a small but consistent crowd at this classy bar. Although the club also hosts comedy and a few poetry nights, most evenings specialize in songwriters and “pretty much anything outside of heavy metal,” so grab a cocktail and start meeting others hoping for a breakthrough.

Bonus:  If you have an online sample of your music and like the space, the staff is always looking for new acts.

Visual Media:  The Downtown LA Art Walk

The Downtown LA Art Walk is held the second Thursday of every month, primarily around Spring and Main streets, between 2nd and 9th streets.  Galleries extend their hours until 9 PM and art-related activities pop up starting around noon.  Serious buyers patrol the streets early, but as the sun sets, artists and art lovers gather at nearby bars, cafes, and restaurants to relax and discuss the event.

Bonus: The Art Lounge Gallery also serves as a place for event information, live art demonstrations, and meeting with friends and other artists.

Shop Around:  Don’t always follow popularity.  Trends in this city cycle faster than Lance Armstrong. So don’t be afraid to forgo the well-known “hot spots,” for performances or showcases, in favor of a smaller niche.

Writers: Left Coast Wine Bar, 117 East Harvard, Glendale.

Open mic’s are held every Sunday night from 8:30-11:30, with a sign-up starting at 8 PM to prompt spontaneous readings (which are perhaps also prompted through a daily happy hour from 4-7 PM).  With an outdoor patio, an upstairs loft for shows, and a tapas style restaurant complemented by a full bar, this venue creates a relaxed and cozy atmosphere for aspiring poets and short story creators to share their work.

Bonus:  Also sponsors live music seven nights a week and has a sister fine arts gallery in Studio City, which sends over original international and local pieces to be displayed and sold to patrons.

Comedians:  The Tribal Café, 1651 W. Temple St.

Every Sunday night from 8-11 PM, the café hosts “Tsunamedy,” open mic comedy which gives each comic a seven minute, uncensored set with a prior-to-show sign-up. Perfect for beginners, as the management and other performers tend to be extremely encouraging and welcoming.

Bonus:  Also open to spoken word poets and musicians.

Musicians:  Three Clubs, 1123 Vine St.

Despite being featured in the movie Swingers, this family-owned club caters to up-and- coming musicians without the stereotypical Hollywood exclusivity.  A classic bar in the front with a sound system and stage in the back, it hosts a Wednesday Indie Night and Thursday all-styles night, so any style of notes is welcome.

Bonus:  Gather around the jukebox in the front lounge before and after sets to chat with other bands and fans.

Visual Media:  FineArtsLA.Com (and other online media and blogs).

While the online world may not seem like an ideal place to showcase your work, multimedia sites are becoming more popular, not only in existence, but also from a credibility standpoint—if you feel comfortable sharing your images (or images of them) or writing about galleries, websites act as ways to step into the industry through free exposure, especially if you are able to join as a contributor or editor to an already established artistry site.

Bonus: Many websites are interactive environments to provoke feedback and commentary with other following artists. The Fine Arts LA staff even offer advertising and sponsorship advice and connections through third parties, if you take the initiative to contact them.

Keep Up Appearances:  Whatever type of artistry or media you pursue, make yourself accessible.  Join related clubs and organizations to maintain a support group and resources.  Give yourself a searchable and factual history through a website or social network site for contacts to reach and research you and your talents. Get business cards (basic ones can be free to make) and distribute them whenever possible to give off a professional and prepared image.  Most importantly, talk.  As long as you stay cautious about your setting and what you reveal, you shouldn’t be afraid to chat with strangers and discuss your work.

As one of my musically inclined friends recently discovered, artists of every level are everywhere in LA—maybe that girl behind the counter at the boutique is actually a fairly recognizable YouTube artist looking for a new singing partner.

Aly Owen

Originally from Pennsylvania, Aly Owen is a fiction writer and poet studying creative writing and psychology at the University of Southern California. In her spare time, she loves cooking and indulging her sweet tooth and plans to attend culinary school after she graduates.


  • Reply October 24, 2011


    Terrific post – excellent advice! It’s a matter of creating opportunities and being prepared to utilize those opportunities. However, in L.A. it’s very important to understand the difference between “Utilizing” and “Using” the opportunities that arise. There’s a culture in L.A. of networking and linking but if people sense that you’re only interested in using them for your own benefit without reciprocating you will end up alienating others instead of connecting with them. Be focused but find ways to give as well as get.

  • Aly Owen
    Reply October 25, 2011


    Thanks, Elizabeth! That’s a very true and astute observation about the networking culture here–it’s important to be wary both of others’ taking advantage of you (especially if you’re just starting out) as well as your exploiting the resources others offer you. Making connections won’t serve you well if you get labeled an easy target or a narcissist.

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