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These 6 Tips Mean Success for High School Artists

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Young female singer on the stage with microphone.

The common advice typically doled out to aspiring artists and performers is: “Make sure you have a Plan B.”

That advice is stale and outdated, like renting movies from Blockbuster Video. (Not sure what Blockbuster is? Well, I’ve proven my point.)

More apropos advice is: “Make sure your Plan A is detailed.”

A lot of performing and visual artists know they want to “create art for a living.” They know they want to be in the movies, or showcase their work in galleries, or sing on Broadway, but many young artists don’t have a detailed plan for how that will happen. They have not implemented a professional creative habit; neither have they created strategies for the “living” part.

If you want to avoid needing a Plan B, here’s how to design a Plan A that will advance you toward your ultimate goal.

1. Have a clear, specific, measurable goal.

Be as specific as possible here.

Is your goal to be on Broadway? If so, do you want to have a starring role, or are you content to sing in the chorus? If you play the violin, are you happy to play in your city’s local orchestra in addition to working a full-time job, or do you want to play professionally and teach? Knowing exactly what you want will help you determine the best steps to get there.

Side Note: It’s OK if you change your mind. It’s better to revise a plan than to not have any plan.

  1. Identify and study three to five role models.

Identify at least three artists whose careers you want to emulate and research the steps they took to achieve success. Where did they study? Whom did they train with? Did they work two jobs every summer to finance their studies for the year? How many hours do they practice every day? What is their exercise regimen? Who are their creative role models?

Once you’ve studied the lives and careers of your chosen artists, you can implement their best practices into your artistic habit. You can use their career paths as a guide to create your own.

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  1. Find your hyphen.

The days of artists just being one thing – a musician, dancer, singer – are over. Today, most artists are multi-hyphenates. It’s almost a prerequisite to being an artist. And I’m not talking about waiting tables or nannying for celebrities (although it’s fine if that works for you). It’s just as commonplace for actors to carry the actor-writer-director title as it is for a writer to carry the writer-writing teacher label.

The late Maya Angelou, for example, was the ultimate hyphenate. Although she was known for being poet laureate of the United States, she was also a dancer-actor-director.

Having more than one artistic pursuit can provide additional creative outlets and additional streams of income.

  1. Set career benchmarks.

After you’ve studied the career paths of your role models, you will have a better idea of the career benchmarks you must reach: acceptance into a prestigious performing or visual arts school, representation by an agent or manager, 10,000 hours of practice, or even 10,000 followers on Instagram.

Plot these benchmarks on a timeline with dates and specific strategies to reach them. For example, when I started working as a freelance writer, my initial goal was to get published. The next goal was to get paid, followed by becoming a regular contributor to a few publications and receiving assignments from said publications. Today I’m focused on building my blog, publication in an anthology, and writing a book. I have daily, weekly and monthly strategies toward reaching these benchmarks.

Setting career benchmarks is effective because it puts you in the driver’s seat of your artistic career. You’re not simply waiting for opportunities – for auditions or to be chosen. You are building a career through practice, vision, and strategy.

  1. Have a clear financial plan.

Having a strong financial base is the foundation of your life and your arts career.

Be sure to create a financial plan which includes a monthly budget, a savings and investment plan, and a retirement fund. Hire a financial advisor to help you plan.

Similarly, secure a stable, comfortable living arrangement: Will you be completely responsible for your own housing or will you pool resources with friends or family? Housing is typically the largest living expense, so this will impact the rest of your plan.

  1. Regularly assess your goals.

Months after you create your plan, you may feel the need to revisit your goals because something has changed. Maybe you’ve decided that you don’t in fact want to become a full-time fire juggler, or your grandma is sick and you want to help take care of her.

It’s OK to change your plan.

Semi-annual or quarterly check-ins are very helpful for checking-in with yourself and your life to see if adjustments are in order. You can do this alone or with some of your creative friends. It’s also helpful to get a mentor in your field who can guide you in the artistic and fiscal sides of the creative life.

If you follow these six steps, you won’t need a Plan B because you will be successfully living your dreams, whether you make art full-time, part-time, or just sometimes. You will be an artist. And if you haven’t hit your ultimate goal yet, you are on your way, with clear benchmarks to celebrate along the way and the financial resources to celebrate with friends and family once you do.

Want more? I recommend reading Jeff Goins’s Real Artists Don’t Starve and Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.

Looking for a performing or visual arts school? Check out these and find more at TeenLife.com.

University of Houston - Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts

Northeastern University College of Arts, Media and Design

Indiana Univeristy Jacobs School of Music

Syracuse University College of Visual and Performing Arts

School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre

Gettysburg College Sunderman Conservatory of Music

The American Music and Dramatic Academy

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Chanté Griffin is a Los Angeles-based writer and entertainer. She attended Pomona College and Spelman College, where she studied how TV, film and other media construct and intersect with race, culture and gender. She's written for EBONY, The Root, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Magazine and Daily Actor. She blogs at Beneath the Surface and created YouTube's "Black History Firsts Gone Wrong."

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