Creative people should just feed the beast
Better to put out a whole lot of material while you're living than to wait for people to look for your lost tapes or unpublished manuscripts after you're dead.
Certain creative entertainers -- writers, comedians, musicians, directors, actors -- are such marquee names that every time they generate a new piece of work, it is guaranteed to receive much critical attention. Dave Chappelle is one such performer -- a comedian who has been honored with the Mark Twain Prize, who walked out on a $50 million deal with Comedy Central, and who has just seen the release of the final performance of a six-special agreement with Netflix (for which he is said to have been paid $20 million per installment). Singer/songwriter Adele has a giant contract with Columbia Records and Sony. Director Ridley Scott has a lucrative contract with Apple TV. Writer JK Rowling has considerable liberty to write her own ticket for manuscripts anywhere.
■ Multi-project deals in particular raise an interesting question. Which combination of quality and frequency would an audience rather get from a creative performer: A stunning blockbuster once every five years, or a steadier stream of good-but-perhaps-not-great projects delivered every year?
■ People say they want infrequent blockbusters. But do we really?
■ Jon Stewart, for instance, was paid perhaps $25 million a year to host "The Daily Show". And any daily show is bound to include some clunkers. But he has since then been much harder to find -- now returning with a streaming deal that will be much less frequent than daily -- with new episodes every other week. Will it earn him the same audience reach (and pay) as his "Daily Show" once did? It would be a surprise.
■ It's hard to tell with performers who remain alive, but practically the moment they pass away, their value of their deep catalogs grows enormously. Prince, we are told, left 8,000 unreleased songs in a vault at Paisley Park. Hundreds and hundreds of potential albums, never released, and undoubtedly endlessly desired by his fans. Fans endlessly desire copies of Beatles recording sessions and lost Bob Marley tapes and the previously unpublished works of Douglas Adams.
■ Every great creative performer needs, of course, at least one signature work, if not more. (Harper Lee is notable, of course, for the semi-singularity of "To Kill a Mockingbird".) But once a great, career-defining work has been produced, it seems that what audiences really want is a high volume of output. That isn't what they usually say they want. But if given the chance, the creative individual ought to take every opportunity to put out as much material as possible. As audiences, we're liars: We're too critical of imperfect releases in the moment, but rare is the devoted fan who would turn down the chance to have more of a great creator's work after the artist has died. It only makes sense for the creator to do as much work (and gain as much profit from it) as they can while still living.
■ No work is going to be perfect, and there's no sense in waiting for perfection before release. On this comes the advice of a most unlikely source, James Madison: "[T]he purest of human blessings must have a portion of alloy in them; that the choice must always be made, if not of the lesser evil, at least of the greater, not the perfect, good". Besides, you can always remaster your album, publish a revised edition, or edit a director's cut of your movie. Audiences are lying: They say they want creators to hold out for perfection, but they really just want a steady stream to feed the beast.