Upon passing the elephants, the man notices something odd.
These creatures, majestic and strong, are held in place by a single strand of rope.
No cages. No chains.
Just one measly bit of rope, tied to their front leg.
The man asks a nearby trainer, “why don’t the elephants break the rope and run away?”
“When they’re very young, and much smaller,” the trainer says, “that rope is enough to hold them.”
The man nods, though still a bit perplexed.
“They grow up believing they’re not strong enough to break free. So it’s not the rope that holds them in place now, but the belief.”
From the dawn of creative work, gatekeeping institutions have had a stranglehold on creators.
Given enough resources, most anyone could write a book, make a film, start a band.
But if you wanted that work seen by more than family and friends, you needed industry insiders. You needed to be chosen.
They controlled the levers of distribution and marketing.
That’s where the real power was.
Not in the creative work itself, but in the ability to get it to market. To monetize it.
In the beginning, the rope that binds is very real.
Over the course of 20 years, the internet changed absolutely everything.
It was a long, slow revolution, like turning up the heat in your house by 1 degree each year.
Totally unnoticeable at first, until you’re sweating bullets round the clock.
And boy is the industry sweating right now.
At the same time that many of the their trusted business models are falling out from under them, the balance of power is shifting.
Because the internet, you see, did two beautiful things.
First, it opened up the distribution and marketing playing field to everybody.
From me, to you, to some random kid in Southeast Asia, we all have this power at our fingertips now.
The power to create something, and get it in front of hundreds, thousands, even millions of people at the click of a button.
That’s not to say it’s easy. Of course it's not.
But it’s possible now, which has never before been true in human history.
Second, the internet decimated the very notion of popular culture.
Back in the day, everyone watched the same three TV networks. Went to the same movies. Listened to the same music.
But the internet put an end to that, and created an endless sea of subcultures.
It’s niche creating machine, where each of us can find our tribe, and consume media that lights us up, no matter how obscure our interests.
Put these two trends together, and you’ve got yourself a revolution.
Once upon a time, the business of creativity only worked at scale. Every album, book, film came with hard costs. Getting art to the consumer was expensive and complex.
For the economics to work, you needed a mass market audience. And to appeal to the broadest swath of the public, you had to file those sharp edges off your work. Weirdness was a weakness.
But with digital goods, there are no marginal costs. You can create once, and distribute infinitely.
And with the subculture explosion, there's no longer a need to water your vision down. Niches reward the weird, the specific, the resonant. In this world, weird is a strength.
The game has changed. And the path forward is clear.
Don’t wait to be chosen. Create uncompromisingly delightful work, find those weird few who care, and stake your claim in this new economy.
Of course, industry giants still spin a good yarn about their relevance and stature.
“You’ll never be able to do what we can do for you,” they whisper, alluringly. “Come to your senses and play in the big leagues.”
But there’s a dirty little secret at play.
All these record labels, film distributors, and book publishers need you.
Without endless supplies of your intellectual property, which they’ve become accustomed to picking up for pennies on the dollar, they can’t survive.
So they thrash and scream, making a big stink about their connections, their access, their expertise.
But in this new landscape, with fragmented attention and withering institutions, they’re groping around in the dark like everyone else.
Yet because we’ve all been conditioned over decades to value being chosen by a gatekeeper, we listen intently.
Many of us still eat that narrative up. Hook, line, and sinker.
Like the elephant, unaware of its own power, we remain held in place.
There’s a new term I’ve come to absolutely love. The “Ungated” Creative.
It’s even my twitter handle now.
What does it mean to be “Ungated” you might be asking?
It means seizing the reigns of distribution and marketing, and owning the connection with your audience.
An Ungated Creative doesn’t need investors, distributors, labels, publishers.
No gatekeeper will be the defining factor in their career. They’ll succeed regardless.
Hence the term, Un-Gated.
The Ungated Creative is able to do this for one simple reason.
Instead of trying to beat these industries at the mass market game, they play a different game altogether.
They understand this new reality of the internet, and adapt their strategies accordingly.
They understand how to create work worth caring about, and get it in front of the perfect subculture.
The Ungated Creative has made the choice the break the rope and walk away.
Something weird happens when you don’t need gatekeepers.
All of the sudden, they seem to want to do business with you.
When you’ve got an audience that loves everything you make, suddenly you become quite attractive.
Those investors that wouldn’t give you time of day are now eager to get a piece of your next project.
That publisher with the laughable predatory deal comes back, this time with a deal that’s more in your favor.
It doesn’t stop there, either.
When you’re Ungated, you have power. You have leverage.
If the investor or distributor makes a shitty offer, and refuses to budge, you can walk away, knowing that you’ll succeed without them.
This, funnily enough, makes them want to do business with you even more.
It’s the great paradox of creative industries.
The creator who needs the industry least, gets the best opportunities in the industry.
If you hadn’t already guessed, this is a manifesto of sorts for the very publication you’re reading.
If the vision above appeals to you, you’re in the right place.
In the months and years to come, we'll get deep into the “how” of becoming Ungated.
We’ll dive into the art of niching down, serving said niche with unique creative work, marketing, business building and more.
None of this will be easy. Nor will it be quick.
You’ll need to learn new skills, and wear new hats. You’ll have to do things that creatives traditionally haven’t been responsible for, and don’t like.
But the world has changed. And if we seek to take advantage of this new frontier, so must we change along with it.
That’s the tradeoff.
The creative industries of old still exist, and still need new talent in the pipeline. So by all means, chase a career there if that’s your jam.
But if you’re drawn to walk your own path. If you want to create meaningful, uncompromising work for a discerning audience. If you want to own your career instead of ceding it to middle men. If you want to make a living on your own terms...
Then this is the place for you.
Personally, I hope you’ll join me in the Ungated path. We’re just getting started.