You start out making something because it’s fun to do. Great! Expressing your creativity is a worthwhile hobby. Putting something positive out into the world is a noble calling. Then you discover that you can make a little money doing it, which is fantastic, because it keeps you in coffee, journals, and art supplies. At some point you blow up, and this thing you did for fun is suddenly your career. This is where we talk about creativity and the Rollins Principle.
Now You’re At a Crossroads
For those of you who follow YouTubers, I’m about to talk about Shane Dawson and Grav3yard Girl. Those of you who don’t, pretend I’ve got a puppet on each hand. The guy puppet, Shane, looks like an unmade bed and acts like he’s on a Very Special Episode of something. He’s going to hold your hand and cry. The lady puppet, Bunny, looks like a Simpsons character with wild hair and supernaturally blue eyes. She wants to be your friend and share her eccentric interests, which include headless baby dolls and thrift-shop taxidermy.
Bunny had been super-popular on YouTube back in the day, by which I mean 2014. You know, antiquity. Lately, she’s been losing subscribers and not getting as many views. This caused her a lot of anxiety, because even though she’d started making videos for fun back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, she’d been sold this notion that you have to do things a certain way now, and being less popular than you were in the past is the most awful thing that can happen.
Shane is super-popular now. He’s currently on a tear to help other YouTubers. He made a three-part series about Bunny where he showed her how she can change the way she makes and presents videos and get back on top of the game.
Commerce versus Fun
The thing is, this gave Bunny even more anxiety. She tried following Shane’s advice briefly. Things got better in terms of new subscribers and more views. She wasn’t happy, though. The things that Shane suggested, and the things that people in 2018 want to see, aren’t the kinds of content that she wants to make. She still wants to do the things she likes, the things she finds fun to do.
Naturally, people have been giving her a lot of crap about that. She seems a lot happier and more relaxed since she essentially said “screw it, I’m gonna make what I wanna make”. She’s back to hemorrhaging subscribers and not getting the amount of views that she used to, but she doesn’t seem to care any more. She’s got enough of a fan base (over 8 million subscribers) and still gets more views than I ever will (hundreds of thousands). She really looks like she’s having fun again.
The Rollins Principle
There’s this thing that my wife Katie and I call the Rollins Principle. It’s taken from a line in one of Henry Rollins’ live spoken word shows, as he’s ranting about greed: “How much money do you need, m*th*rf*ck*r?!?!” Bunny seems to have plenty of money. She lives in a freakin’ mansion, okay? Hopefully she’s well invested, but even if she isn’t, she still does the sort of numbers to insure a comfortable living. Why does she need to keep growing her subscriber base? Why does she need to keep getting more views? What’s wrong with just doing what she enjoys, for the people who enjoy it?
Especially since Shane’s most recent series is about how the drive for subscribers and views and likes results in some egregiously toxic behavior. I’m talking about Jake Paul, for those of you on the YouTubes. For the rest of you, picture an unholy cross of Rolf from A Sound of Music and Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, but without the musical talent. Just a loud, super Aryan-looking blonde dudebro who does extreme things for attention. If that’s undesirable behavior, why is Bunny just sort of settling comfortably into her niche, staying in her lane, a bad thing?
Creativity and the Rollins Principle
Creators are human beings. We get to make our own creative choices, and our own lifestyle decisions, the same as you. While most of us appreciate your support, you do not own us. You do not control what we create or the way we create it. We owe you nothing in the present, or the future, because you’ve consumed our work in the past. Sorry.
You can advise how we can be more successful from a business standpoint, to make more money, but even that is our choice. That may not be our goal. Yes, even if we’re losing money, or leaving money on the table, or missing opportunities, making things might be more important than making cash. What seems like a good idea to you might be outside of our comfort level, our own perception of our talent and abilities, or other things that you don’t have visibility to and aren’t owed an explanation for.
If you don’t like someone’s creative work, move on. Don’t buy it, or look at it. Maybe go make something yourself, instead of wasting your time bitching about another creator’s output.