Reflections on Independence. A Note of Caution (And Hope.)

Have you ever wondered what your life would look like if you could make a living doing something you love whilst being beholden to no-one but yourself?

Well, wonder no more.  I have been happily making a living as an independent artist for quite a while now and in this post I am going to take you behind the curtain.

I’m not only going to show you how this rabbit-in-a-hat-trick is done, I’m going to share with you exactly what it takes to pull it off.  Some of it is good.  Some of it is not-so-good.  Nothing will be withheld.  Expect no pulled punches.

Ready?

Reflections
My Office.

First things first.  When I talk about an ‘Independent’, I am referring to anyone who is: doing their thing professionally, whilst operating outside of the traditional support structures of business.  Put simply, anyone who is making a living off their own back; whether that be as: a musician, a self employed bricklayer, or a runaway freelance ninja.

I have been doing this for some time now (musician, not ninja).  At the moment, the lions share of my working day consists of: writing and recording music in my home studio, making various other pieces of art, and talking to the people who, collectively, form my audience.

The main thing that being independent means is: I have total freedom and complete control of all I do.  I select the projects, I set the parameters, and I am in complete control of their outcomes.  I: schedule my own time, decide where I go, what I do and with whom I do it.  If I need a nap in the middle of the day I am free to take it and then work later into the night.  I have worked entire days in the studio in my sweatpants or PJ’s.

Sounds good, right?

Well, I’m not going to lie to you.  It totally is.  😉  Those aspects of being independent are awesome.  They make each day a joy.

But there is a flipside.

Along with the total freedom comes: Absolute Responsibility, (Duh duh DUH!).  It is true that you are in a position to do anything you want but the payoff for that is: if anything needs to be done you are the one who has to do it.  The buck well and truly stops with you.  When you are independent there is no security save that which you build yourself.  Nothing moves except by your own effort.

Reduced to the simplest equation: if you slack off, you don’t eat.

I mean, sure, that cubicle 9-5 seems like slow grey death on a stick.  But cubicle monkey knows that she is (in all likelihood) getting a regular paycheck at the end of each month.  Even if she is: tired, hates her job, only does the minimum to get by, and splits most of her time between the company coffee machine and fetish websites specializing in photoshopped pictures of kittens brandishing machine guns.  Even in this (totally realistic) scenario, the job will still affords her, as recompense, some small sweet measure of security.

What is most important to note is that: both paths contain stress, just in different flavours.

Being independent can be amazing.  It can also be very challenging.  You have to be able to hustle, or find people to hustle for you.  You have to be (or learn how to be) comfortable with risk and uncertainty.  And you have to have a foundation of deep trust, and great faith in yourself.

I am mere data point of one and, right now, my audience is (relatively) small.  But the fact remains that: people who love what I do do exist, that they are growing in number, and that they are fierce in their support. 😉

Last week something happened which really brought this home to me:

The real question is not whether you can do your thing independently or not.  Anyone can, (as long as they are: creating something of value, and have the right tactics.)  The real question is: whether this way of doing things is right for you.  Because if you are thinking about it, then you are setting yourself up to fail if you head blindly into the fray.  You cannot have the freedom that independence provides without the responsibility it demands – they are a boxed set and cannot be separated.  But forewarned is forearmed as my Granny used to say.  And there is real power available when you enter a situation with a realistic blueprint.

For me, personally, Independence is the best fit right now.  That’s not to say that it wont change in the future.  It may, or it may not.  Either way, I have to be honest: right now, I am enjoying the fuck out of being able to record in my PJ’s 😉

I wish you well

-J


My name is James Radcliffe and I am a 100% audience supported independent artist.  If you like what I do (and can afford it) then please consider buying some of my music.  Each purchase really makes a big difference to me and 10% of every sale goes to a charity which: houses, feeds, clothes, and educates orphaned children in Nepal.

Also, every month I send out a newsletter packed with Interesting and Exclusive Things.  If you sign up today you’ll also get 3 FREE tracks of my music as a welcome gift.

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And lastly, if you’d like to find out what I’m up to on a more day-to-day basis then here is my brain on Twitter:

64 Replies to “Reflections on Independence. A Note of Caution (And Hope.)”

  1. LOVE this. So true. Recently heard this quote, “Choose your shit sandwich.” For me, the choice is obvious. I’d rather eat a sandwich of uncertainty and self-driven hustle than a 9-5 slog job. 😉 thank you for your art.

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  2. Hi James! I really liked your post! It really pushes towards pursuing one’s own dreams while keeping a realistic attitude at the same time! Anybody who wishes to create something new should have a bit of that mindset: Create without getting lost in day dreaming! Loved it!

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  3. Hi James after thirty years running a small business and employing staff I decided to stop in July of this year. I’ve wanted to write for years about history, art, people, life. So I’ve started with ‘Educated Traveller’ and I’m giving it a go!

    I’ll take a listen to your music later. I grew up near Liverpool in the 70s so I’ve always loved Indy music – Elvis Costello, The Jam, Deaf School, David Bowie (Diamond Dogs era), Roxy Music. I’d love to know how you define your music. Good luck and watch this space x

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    1. Hey there,
      That’s really great, I am really happy for you and wish you all the best with ‘Educated Traveller’.
      Liverpool in the 70’s was a great scene – I really don’t know how to define my music, it just is what it is – why don’t you let me know once you’ve heard it.
      I wish you all the best in your endeavours, and thankyou sincerely for taking the time to write to me,
      – J

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  4. Firstly, thank you so much for liking my post. Secondly, I am pleased to have come across your site. I will be checking out your work this evening. It was important for me to read this article, and ever so appropriate as I just learned that my contract will not be renewed at my current job. I’m a writer and researcher. In the nonprofit world, I’m learning that job security is never really there. I’ve been freelance writing when not in the cubicle to make some extra money, and I would love to concentrate my efforts on this.

    I was so intimidated by the whole thing. I guess the responsibility aspect, and stigma that probably only myself perceives when it comes to not getting dressed up every morning to go to that office and work your hours. I’m growing more confident and think that I DO have the initiative to make an income solely off freelancing.

    Thank you so much for writing this, and demonstrating that this arrangement is indeed very possible. I just hope I make it work!

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    1. Hey there,
      First, it’s really nice to meet you. 😉
      Second, really Well Done on taking the leap. I totally agree with you in that, I think that what most people see as ‘Job Security’ is actually a misnomer. To my way of thinking, you have a lot more security when you’re the boss. 😉
      I am very excited for you, let me know how your journey undfolds – I’d be interested. And if you have any questions etc, you know where to find me. 😉
      Have a great day,
      – J

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  5. Mmmmmm I don’t know . . . . I think you’re part fucking ninja, Radcliffe. 😛

    Thank you for this post, my friend. In fact, I’m especially glad for it because 1) it’s stealth and no-bullshit and 2) because it reminded me of your other “Business” posts. I am needing to flex those muscles in my creative life in new ways and it is one area where I need the practice/guidance/exposure.

    I think I need to step through some of your archives – sort of like mental weight lifting, right? 🙂 I’m game. Thank you so much for being mighty generous with what you learn, such a gift, man.

    Love and light, and of course, peace, always,

    Allison

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    1. That is the coolest compliment EVER. I’m taking that one to my grave.
      In fact, I think it’s going to be my headstone:
      James Radcliffe…part fucking Ninja. 😉 What do ya reckon? 😉
      Really nice to hear from you, and you’re so much more than welcome. It’s a pleasure to share when there are ones such as you to share with.
      Am going to email you soon – watch for that, but until then,
      Much love to you,
      – J

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      1. I dig! Though I’m not terribly fond of imagining your headstone, it would make you quite the badass among the other bones, no? Also, what a compliment for me as a writer . . . words etched in stone for all eternity. 🙂 #WinWin #SortOf (?)

        Talk soon, dear one. Stay incredible.

        #NinjaBonesNeverDie

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  6. “You cannot have the freedom that independence provides without the responsibility it demands – they are a boxed set and cannot be separated.” Absolutely love this and simultaneously struggle with it. However it feels like a gift rather than a struggle…there is a reward with the responsibility. Beautiful. Thanks 🙂

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    1. Hey there,
      Really glad you liked the post.
      I see it as a gift too, as well as a struggle. Both are good.
      Thankyou so much for stopping by, and for taking the time to share your thoughts with me,
      Hope you are having a great day,
      – J

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  7. Well done James, a great post, as ever. I haven;t followed your trajectory for a while, doing some crazy things myself, trying to set up a Punch and Judy show in Australia has it’s own up and downsides, but for the moment I’m having fun. Since you mentioned the weather, here it is so hot I lose about 2 kgs each time I do a show. As you say, freedom and responsibility go hand in hand, both are challenges and both release the mind. “Before enlightenment cut wood, carry water. After enlightenment, cut wood carry water” It’s all there my friend. Can I order your new CD? Tony

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    1. Hey there my beautiful friend,
      Punch and Judy? Sounds like there is a long story behind that one… 😉
      The new track is just available digitally I’m afraid. It IS all over the net tho, so you can get it from iTunes or Amazon or wherever you get your music from. I know you love the physical releases, so I’ll see what I can do with the next one. 😉
      Really great to hear from you, hope this finds you well,
      – J

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  8. Great blogpost as always, dear James ! Excactly the thoughts circling my mind for some time now (as you know 😉 ).
    One really has to know oneself well to decide if a working life as an independent artist is the right thing at the moment for oneself and if and how one can cope with the kind of strain that comes with it (and might keep coming for long periods of time) and if the positive aspects outweigh them.
    The culture (and generation) one lives in has some influence as well on such decisions I´d say, for instance how a certain lifestyle or failure is defined or perceived. I think it is impossible to completely block those out of one´s view. In some European countries failure is perceived as something disreputable, in the US for instance it is a complete normal part of a career to fail. I think it even is seen as something one can be proud of if you stand up again afterwards and continue to reach your goal. But of course one should never let society define one´s own definition of success, one just has to be conscious about it that one might be confronted with maybe ongoing ignorance or even no support “from outside”. So your Granny sure was right with her advise, clever woman 😉 . I personally consider a mixture of cubicle monkey and independence, at the moment….but a open to new views and options that might convince me to walk another path…
    Have a great and productive week
    Cris

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    1. Thankyou so much my dear Nemeth, 😉
      I couldn’t agree more with your thoughts. And you are right, there is definitely a variance of attitudes cross-culturally about ‘failure’, it’s a fine point, and very well made. 😉
      My granny was indeed, a wise woman. I would love to hear about any forays in to independence. Keep me posted.
      Til then, big hug,
      – J
      P.S. Still haven’t seen it.

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  9. It’s good to hear that you are on your journey to be independent already. I am currently contemplating on when and how I could do it. Having a family and responsibilities makes it all difficult when they do not think likewise. Money is such drag, had it not been a factor, I think there would be many more artistes and artists. Good going James.

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    1. Thanks a lot. 😉
      Yes, I have been fully independent for a while now, and you are right, your situation and the people you have round you / your responsibilities do play a massive part in whether you can commit to something like this approach. You must create the conditions before you can begin.
      Thanks a lot for your thought provoking comment, hope you are having a great day,
      – J

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  10. To independence! I’m doing fantastic in freelance and I don’t intend on slowing down! Good luck with your own efforts as well and good post. I’ll check out your music sometime. I need new tunes.

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    1. Hey there,
      Thankyou very much. There is a lot of hard work, strategy, and hustle that goes into it – it’s a great journey that I wouldn’t trade for the world. 😉
      Thanks for stopping by, and for taking the time to comment.
      Hope you are well,
      – J

      Like

  11. Fantastic! Unlike you, I’m not an independent artist, but hey, everything comes with time and proper planning. That’s my goal. Congratulations and I wish you the very best.

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    1. Thanks a lot! You are the first to comment on this post, and the first comment always sets the tone, so I appreciate your very kind words. 😉
      Keep up the good work and all will come.
      Best wishes and more power to you,
      – J

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  12. Ah, James, now you’ve done it… I am picturing you recording in Ninja-wear… ! lol =)
    Have a lovely holiday… so nice to have a peek into the underside of you world… much more glamorous than college again ! =) BUT… gotta tell you, am enjoying the journey !!

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  13. This is a great commentary on the balance of freedom and responsibility. In May of 2014 I quit a full time job, and now work as a educational consultant. I’m learning all about this balance in my own life. After many years of having every moment of my day scheduled, I’ve had to renegotiate my inner contract in how I spend my time. While the freedom is thrilling, the risk and responsibility are always there in the background. I feel like I’m finally(after six months) reaching some critical mass in which I am able to see how the parts of my life come together.
    As always, I enjoy reading and listening to your work.
    j

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    1. Thanks a lot, I am really glad that you found value in this post.
      That period of adjustment is something which everyone struggles with at first, really well done on making the shift and having the courage to quit your job to pursue something of your choosing.
      And thankyou sincerely for taking the time to write and share your thoughts – I truly appreciate it. 😉
      Hope you are well, keep up the goodness!
      – J

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  14. That is fantastic! Both the aspect of your ability to do what you are doing now…and, how you have shared JUST what to expect in comparison to the other options we have to choose from. Cheers! (Hope that wood stove is still warming your bones nice and cosily!)

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    1. The woodburner is like Manna from Heaven.
      It really is one of the best ways in the world to negotiate a Scottish winter in style. 😉
      I’m very glad you like the post – thankyou for taking the time to reach out and share your thoughts with me, makes me happy.
      Hope you are well,
      – J

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  15. I love the book “So Good They can’t Ignore you” – it is all about how you build a fulfilling career for yourself… and it is based on interviews with 450 people who made it to a sense of being super happy with their lives… and key is the power to control your time, projects, life… but you must have something that is rare and that is valuable.

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      1. 😉 Sorry – it looks like a blatant plug for the book… it was supposed to be a reflection on the post and the challenges you faced and overcame… but I see that I left out the context… sorry

        Like

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