Creative collaborations that make financial sense.

December 16th, 2012

Lately I’ve been soaking in a lot of the material from the Future of Storytelling site. I particularly enjoyed this 12-minute feature on Damian Kulash of the band OK Go.

OK Go has been successful with a 21st-century approach to making music — focusing on their overall creative output and financial returns, rather than obsessing on record sales. In fact, as Kulash explains, they parted ways amicably with their former record label for precisely that reason.

Instead of pursuing chart-topping hits, the band derives revenue from a mix of music sales, touring, and — distinctively — their YouTube-sensation collaborations with car companies and other commercial entities. For Kulash, this isn’t a case of selling out, but rather of pursuing opportunities to do intriguing creative projects that are also financially rewarding.

I especially like what he says toward the end of the video about completing a lot of creative projects — some of which are successful enough to subsidize the others. It’s a portfolio approach to creative endeavor, and it’s not fundamentally different from:

  • Graham Greene alternating between writing the novels he saw as “serious” and those he thought of as “entertainments”
  • Orson Welles and other filmmakers doing the same thing, making crowd-pleasers to give themselves the financing and credibility to make passion projects
  • Farrar Straus and Giroux banking on the success of Tom Wolfe to make it easier to keep books in print for the likes of John McPhee

Since I first watched the Kulash video a couple of days ago, I’ve been thinking about this applies to my own mix of creative and commercial work. I’ll share more results as I have them.

Meanwhile, how might the OK Go approach work for you?

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