Your Artistic Journey
By Johnny Dwinell
I’m always thinking about artists. An artist’s success is quite literally paramount to our success at Daredevil Production, LLC.
Last night I was watching Howard Stern’s movie, “Private Parts”, for the umpteenth time but with a whole new set of eyes; artistic eyes.
It turns out this movie is an awesome articulation of an artistic struggle to the top.
I wanted to break it down in that perspective because I feel it’s really enlightening.
If you have seen this movie and you are an artist, watch it again and apply this perspective to your artistic struggle.
If you haven’t seen the movie yet, watch it and connect the dots.
Howard learns early on what exactly he wants to do in life
Howard is an unattractive, socially awkward geek with balls so big I swear they rode shotgun with him whenever he drove.
Still, he was unattractive, and socially awkward; sound familiar?
He dove into the local radio DJ scene at his college.
He sucked because we all suck at the beginning.
Howard’s on-air personality was this lame interpretation of who he thought he should be. He was emulating all the crap he was constantly exposed to.
He was fake in the beginning man. Essentially posing, but driven.
Don’t we all start this way? Emulating?
Howard graduates and goes to his first station gig where his boss tells him that he sucks at his art but he’s reliable so he promotes him to Program Director for 2.5x the money; a position which has nothing to do with his artistic dream.
Howard takes the money; he’s human after all.
Then he regrets the upward move and explains to his new wife that he needs to be a DJ again which means less money; his wife supports him and he quits the highest paying job he’s ever had.
They move to Hartford, CT. where he meets an early Stern team member, Fred Norris. This is huge because Fred was the first person willing to “play in the sandbox” with Howard.
Then he had his first artistic breakthrough.
Howard had an embarrassing moment where he was caught lying on air. He admits to it publically after the fact and realizes that when he was honest, forthright, and open about himself, he was better.
He didn’t quit after being embarrassed.
When he was himself he was compelling because he was unique.
When he was unique he scared people, namely his superiors in the beginning because there wasn’t really an audience yet; they didn’t trust it. That’s because they didn’t get it.
There wasn’t an audience yet, because it was new, nobody was doing it.
Howard pissed off his superiors until his artistic vision began to get a little traction, their ratings constantly improved in Hartford. This allowed Howard the wiggle room he needed to hone his craft.
Listen to this, man, the beginning of the upward climb to this undeniably iconic career was littered with tough decisions and failure.
The battles NEVER stopped, in fact they just got bigger with more to lose each step of the way.
He screws up with his wife in Hartford and hits a major speed bump in their relationship; epic fail.
On the evening Howard tells his wife about a new job opportunity he was offered in Detroit, a much bigger market than Hartford, she confronts him and dumps him.
Howard moves to Detroit without his wife or Fred. A definite step backward…or was it? I’ll bet it felt that way in the moment.
In Detroit, miserable and with nothing to lose, Howard starts to really hit his artistic stride. He learns that being real while covering divisive subject matter is his lane.
He’s moving past emulation and coming into his own. He did this through work.
He also learns that his new artistic lane comes with pushback from the powers that be; it’s foreign to them and unproven at this point. He had to believe in himself to endure the climb.
Then there was a monumental setback that was out of his control.
The Detroit station decides to change from a rock format to a country format. He makes a tough decision to leave Detroit to stay true to his lane.
His next gig in Washington D.C. is where Howard meets Robin Quivers who was destined to be his now famous sidekick. He loves the way she riffs with him from the first day.
His decision to leave Fred behind (temporarily) pays off with a new KEY member of the team.
Howard continues to hone his craft because it’s a craft. He uses his hardships to his advantage by sharing them with his public following; something no other DJ’s were doing.
He also inherently understood what most artists don’t these days. The radio station wasn’t going to make him an artist, rather, it was the other way around. In fact, he looked at the Detroit station changing formats as a failure on his part; he took responsibility for it. His artistry was going to have to create the audience that would make the radio station successful.
He was going to have to create his own opportunities.
Howard’s superiors continue to hate him because all the major sponsors are bailing out due to the “shock value” of his act. Howard continued on with his vision in the face of complete adversity and then the ratings come out; He’s #1 in D.C.
He uses the ratings momentum to pressure the upper brass into hiring Fred.
#1 in D.C. means that Howard obliterated all the local competition which happened to be NBC. That leads to a job offer from the #1 market in the country which is New York City. This move came with a HUGE paycheck piggybacked by HUGE pressure to conform to a new, larger market with bigger suits who had more to lose with Howard’s shtick.
Political plot twist; Howard WAS in fact hired because of his talent that took him to #1 in D.C. However, he was hired by suits who were pissed about losing their ratings position in Washington to Howard’s act, not because they liked it or even heard it. He was hired on ratings alone.
He just proved himself in D.C. got the big promotion and HAD TO PROVE HIMSELF ALL OVER AGAIN!
All the same shit with monumentally more pressure, more at stake than he ever had before, including a pending family.
New, crazy business scenarios form in the way of the highest NBC brass expressing hostility over Stern’s act, and thus firing the executives who made the hiring decision. They couldn’t fire Howard because contractually they would have to pay him a boatload of cash. They had to get him to quit.
An NBC executive agreed to torture Howard to the point of leaving…which ultimately led to Robin Quivers, his highest ranked sidekick getting sacked in the crossfire. This lead to Robin hating Howard for the perceived betrayal because Howard made the executive decision not to quit with her; Howard stayed to keep fighting.
Ultimately Howard goes #1 in New York City as well and Robin is rehired. The rest is history.
This is show business people. If you think there’s a threshold where you reach a point where you “get paid” and you can kick up your heels and relax; you sorely mistaken.
I promise you haven’t begun to fight. With every rung you climb on the ladder of success there are bigger and more challenging battles. This is why you have to love what you do.
You’re going to have to get used to challenges
Let me save you the suspense, you’re going to have to get used to challenges; they aren’t going away if you want to succeed.
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