Without Distribution, Talent is Just a Hobby

It’s new-music Friday, so I’m listening to some new releases that are highlighted. So far, nothing is really that great. I personally know some hometown musicians that make these new-release artists sound like amateurs; like chumps. So why is that my talented musician friends can’t pay their bills, but these questionably-talented musicians are played every 20th song on SiriusXMs “top hits” channel? Because without an audience, their talent is just a hobby. This goes for everybody, not just musicians.

I know a lot of really talented coders, designers, artists, actors, photographers, video editors, accountants and other amazingly skilled, passionate people that can never seem to get out of the starting blocks. Why is that? It’s because the world isn’t fair. If the world was fair, then talented, good-hearted people would be making a lot of money doing what they love. But they’re not. They’re holding on and hoping, but hope isn’t always good enough.

Hope is important to keep your spirits high and to keep you moving, but it alone isn’t enough to help you pay your bills.

I work for some really big brands. I’ve put together full advertising campaigns for some of the largest companies in the world (so far, 6 in the top 50 on this list of The World’s Biggest Public Companies) and I’m sure I’ll keep adding to it.  Can I do this work because I’m talented? Honestly, yes.  But…are there people that are insanely more talented than me that could do this work? Yes. Are they doing it? No.

Why is that?

It’s because I put in the time to meet the right people and they didn’t. It’s because I took the time to work for another company that was already doing work with really big brands so that I could learn how big brands operate and they didn’t. It’s because I looked for ways to augment my talent with skills that would help me help others do their jobs better, and you guessed it…they didn’t.

I’m not saying that I’m more talented than everybody (I’m not) and I’m not saying I’m better than anybody else (I’m definitely not)…but I am saying that I’m not “lucky” to be doing what I’m doing. I worked hard for it, and sometimes (often times) that meant doing work that I didn’t want to do so that I could learn my craft and meet more people. It also meant spending a lot of time…years, in fact…learning from others so that I could be successful.  You see, you can be the most talented person on the planet with a particular skill, but if nobody knows about it, nobody will ever pay you for it.  Maybe you don’t want to be paid, maybe you want to do your art/skill for the sake of simply doing it. If that is the case, I applaud you, but it really is just a hobby.  If you want to take what you know and love, and what you are good at, and make a career out of it, you need to find a distribution channel.  Work for somebody else, go to networking events (nobody else who attends them likes them either, so at least you’ll be in good company) and write posts for your blog even though you may only have a couple of readers (hi mom).

Success doesn’t come overnight, and rarely is luck involved.

If you’re good at something and think you can make a living by doing it, then start thinking of what success looks like in 5 or 6 years, then work backwards to today. Reverse-engineer your distribution network until it’s to it is something that you can start doing right now…then do it. Build your network, build your distribution. You aren’t going to experience success this year, and probably not next year. Maybe the year after that you’ll see some movement, and the year after that you’ll be feeling good about things. Think about the long game, but start today. Otherwise, you’ve just got yourself a nice hobby.


By Matt Singley

Personal: husband to Alison, father to four amazing kids. I used to live a fast but enjoyable life in Los Angeles, now I have chickens on acreage in Charlotte, North Carolina. Just a bit different. I'm an advocate for cycling as much as you can and eating as cleanly as you can afford. Professional: I'm the CEO of Singley + Mackie, a creative digital agency that serves well-known lifestyle and entertainment companies around the world. Clients include Microsoft, Samsung, Hulu, YP and others. If you want to find the more-professional me, go to