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The Truth about the “Rockstar Economy”

Photo by Spencer Lum

Here is a fundamental truth: Nothing is equal. No actions, no thoughts, no ideas. Certainly no two people.

I would be lying if I said what works for me won’t work for you, but the more important and accurate statement is that what works for me won’t work the same for you. Not in the long term. In the short term, we may not see the differences, but over the course of a career, results will always vary, and not always in the way we want.

I could rattle off 5 tips to improve your business now. If they’re the right 5 for you, they’ll do something. But there are no ruby red slippers in real life, and there is no secret sauce. There is ability and the decisions you make. There are the thoughts racing through your mind in the middle of the night and the beat of your heart pounding in the heat of the moment. It is about how you decide. What you do when you don’t know what to do. When the tricks don’t work and the tips have worn thin, but the decisions count, what choices will you make? Because whatever they are, the process you use to make them is yours and yours alone.

As for the tricks? They’ll work for as long as they work. Give them a test drive. But let go of them when you have to, keep them in context, and never forget that they are not your substance. Don’t let them become anchors tethering you to your simpler self who understood less. Be free to move on. A tactic is effective as long as the market fails to change. They’ll last as long as an ad stays fresh, a song stays at the top of the charts, or the cutest dog in the world cycles through the digital outback. They work, but mileage may vary, and a modest shelf-life is guaranteed. There is the water. There is the fishing. And there are the fish. Which do you want?

This is the true plight of the rockstar economy. It looks like it’s about fishing, but it’s really about the fish. It’s about marketing and photographic band-aids that can plug the leaks, but won’t fix the plumbing.

Seductively simple, sensationally sexy, the rockstar economy summons notions of quick money, minimal work, and massive fame (well, at least insofar as a wedding photographer can be famous), as we live on streets paved of gold, peering out at tropical skylines with bottomless wells of tequila and sunshine. The only problem? I don’t know anyone who ever made it anywhere, whose goal was to get out of it as soon as they got in.

In the rockstar world, we are all beggars, chasing the new currency of digital fame. Every act defined by its potential for dissemination, every thought a virus to spread. These are conditions under which growth wilts and ideas die. Forget fulfillment. Forget longevity. Long live short living.

The crux of the problem is that the rockstar economy is based on equality. But not equality as in rights. Not equality as in a fundamental value we all possess. But a cheaper, duller ilk. A static, lifeless, and unchanging brand that sells godliness on the cheap. It sells us on the notion that if we can access the secret, we simply need to wash, rinse, and repeat, and results will follow. Because in this world, equal actions lead to equal results. The world is unreactive and unchanging, a static landscape from which we merely need uncover the hidden tricks. It is a model that blots out the nuance of individuality, the complexity of development, and our own role in learning to learn. It mutes growth by shifting the focus to sameness. Life envisioned as formula. A sure thing – a path from repetition to money to the hedonistic life we secretly want. Find the fabulous life in 10 easy steps. Cut around the dotted lines. Sign up now!

Of course, the grand irony in all of this is that innovation and individuality made the rockstar possible. It is to be among the first to fully harness the power of words in the blog (Jasmine Star), to be the clearest declaration of the editorial and lifestyle image (Jose Villa), or to be the first to lend the depth of realism to the context of weddings (Denis Reggie). When these things emerge, we feel the aura. We seek the secret. The allure is undeniable. But as valuable as that information may be, it’s not what you really want. You don’t want to know the tactics they’ve developed. What you really want is the ability to create your own. To uncover the next big thing. To get ahead of the game, not to follow.

Photo by Spencer Lum

When it comes to exercising our minds, no one can do the heavy lifting for us. It’s easy to lose sight of this, especially in the pressure cooker that is the ever-dwindling land grab of social media. Forget the fact that we’re all becoming inured to link after link after link on everyone’s walls. That sharing has gone beyond saturation. Who remembers yesterday’s buzz? The bright lights of attention and the seductive scent of success make it easy to forget what matters. They tell us there is no time. We need to make it. Right now – no matter how we get there, no matter who we become. But what matters isn’t in a result. It’s not in a timeframe.

What we need to look at is the person we are becoming. Are we learning to move forward with heart, dedication, and commitment? Or are we attaching ourselves to easy gratification and quick fixes?

For each of us, in each thing we do and each outcome we see, there are invisible forces at work we can never identify. But seen or not, they are everything. They are built from how we talk, how we walk, the people we are, the people we know, and the instincts that inhabit our body. They come from time in the trenches, observation, and participation.

Photo by Spencer Lum

No list, no trick, no single thing can ever account for the beautiful mix of self, community, life, and interaction we all have at our disposal. This is what we must harness.

The road is littered with has-beens, one-hit-wonders, next-big-things, and ex-wonder boys. People so focused on getting there, they never got anywhere. In reality, there are no rockstars, there is no success. There is an ebb and flow that only the universe is privy to, but we’ll never know. That’s the inside joke. Sometimes you’re hot. Sometimes you’re not. Either way, destiny has no interest in fame and fortune. It can be a cruel mistress. It will reward some and deny others, but if you want to take this ride, don’t let the din of success drown out the strength of your character. When things are at their hardest, it’s not turning up the volume that matters. Reach, but don’t grab. Stretch, but don’t claw. Be proud. Let yourself live a life of quiet inspiration.

About Spencer Lum

Spencer is a storyteller with an indelible belief in the raw humanity of weddings. 

With 10 years of experience running Brooklyn-based 5 West Studios, he has developed a style that combines influences from fine art and photojournalism. He has also enjoyed time as a designer, creative director, and filmmaker. 

Spencer is the founder of the industry blog, Ground Glass, as well as a doting husband and father of two beautiful children in Brooklyn, NY. 

The NEW ShootQ is Complimentary while in Beta mode for the next few months.  Enjoy!
The NEW ShootQ is Complimentary while in Beta mode for the next few months.  Enjoy!