As an artist, you certainly already have one or two specialties: playing the violin, contact improvisation, charcoal drawing, Shakespearean theatre. But no matter how skilled you are in these types of areas, you are likely just a small fish in a large ocean competing to be noticed. For those desiring more work and opportunity, imagine how your career might be transformed if you had a powerhouse topic.
A powerhouse topic is a subject on which you become known as a local, national, or international expert. This is accomplished through blogging, writing books, offering presentations, releasing videos, consulting, becoming a media expert, or other activities that clearly establish you as an authority.
The number of ways in which a powerhouse topic can transform your life is astonishing:
- Your expertise can lead directly to numerous professional opportunities: presentations, workshops, residencies, key note speeches, classes, media coverage, books, consulting work.
- Those opportunities can add, perhaps significantly, to your income.
- Your presentations around the powerhouse topic often lead—directly or indirectly—to additional work in your primary area(s). For example, perhaps someone who sees your talk is so impressed by the way you interact with the audience that they book your group for a concert.
- As an established authority, your network will increase appreciably, often with people trying to connect to you (instead of the other way around).
- Being an expert in a particular area impacts the way you approach your art.
- Having a powerhouse topic will keep you motivated and growing as a lifelong learner.
Not all subjects have the potential to reach powerhouse proportions. A topic will only help you significantly if the following conditions are met:
- Passion. You will spend a lot of time close to this topic, so be sure you’re passionate about it.
- Relevance. People should be interested in your topic. Become the leading scholar on the Breviarium de Musica by Frutolfus of Michelsberg (12th Century) might be fascinating, but probably won’t get you far. As sad as it may be, not many people care.
- Problem solving. The best topics help solve real problems. That’s why people will be interested in your message.
- Not overcrowded. If there are already mountains of experts on the topic, look elsewhere. Standing out will be tough. The secret is discovering a field that people truly care about (or could be compelled to care about), but there is a dearth of specialists.
- Niche. Your message should be directed specifically towards a kind of audience: trombonists, private teachers, arts administrators, college students. To quote a friend who is a serial entrepreneur, “find the biggest, littlest niche possible.”
- Unique. Your take on the issue should be somehow different and thought provoking. Develop your own personal theories.
- Communication. Only messages that are communicated clearly, accessibly, and in a way that connects with others will prove helpful.
Keeping these points in mind, brainstorm possible subjects that could work for you. The best ones are specific but broad, with the possibility of digging deep. Here are some general categories of powerhouse topics possible for musicians:
- Physical wellness (injury prevention, yoga for musicians, lifelong performance)
- The psychology of performance (conquering stage fright, finding spirituality through art, overcoming creative blocks)
- Artistic techniques (fiddling for non-fiddlers, dancing in rhythm, how to practice, improvisational theatre games)
- Art history (Beethoven string quartets, jazz traditions for dummies, Russian choreography, why old plays matter today)
- Producing events (multi-media events, staging for musicians, crafting cohesive events, engaging new audiences)
- Teacher training (arts integration, group lessons, teaching improvisation to non-improvisers)
- Career skills (entrepreneurship, social media for artists, personal finance for artists)
- Life skills (time management, setting goals, becoming an artist-leader)
Most artists don’t even consider the possibility of a powerhouse topic. But imagine the potential. It may just be the key to the next door of your career.
So what’s your topic?
David Cutler is the author of “THE SAVVY MUSICIAN: Earning a Living, Building a Career, & Making a Difference.”