A few years ago, Mike said to me over tacos at Smoke Taqueria -
“I think that’s Baron Batch.”
“Oh yeah? Where?”
I looked over. He was in line with a group of people.
Mike knew who Baron was because he started reading Baron’s blog when he became a Steeler and recommended that I read it. In fact, we first came to Smoke because of Baron’s online recommendation. We kept going back because it was so phenom. When we were leaving, we stopped by Baron’s table and said hi. He was normal, which is always refreshing when you meet someone that you’ve grown to like virtually.
Fast-forward to the beginning of last month. Since the time we met, the creative venture Studio AM was born. I’d been reading Baron’s blog and he wrote a phenomenal post that I included in one of This Week’s Gold. We connected on Twitter over it and he graciously agreed to an interview last week. I gleaned so much and was incredibly encouraged by his ideas, ethos and hustle. I hope you are too.
The (paraphrased) interview (not Sony’s version):
Me: You’ve written recently about how you’ve transitioned from being known as a former Steeler to being known as The Artist - could you tell me about how you made that transition?
Baron: As simple as it sounds - work. And create a whole new portfolio of work that people can judge for themselves. There’s so many tools to put your stuff out there. And shamelessly self-promote. If you’re making a good product, you should put it out there and be proud of it.
It was kind of like this light bulb went off - at the time I was doing a ton of art projects and different collaborations but I just wasn’t getting credit for the amount and quality of work that it deserved. And it hit me - no one knows. No one knows. I’m not showing anything. That opened my eyes - you have to promote yourself while you work. To show your progression.
How you make it off your morals from you being you - is people have to know you. On a level that they feel like whatever you’re doing, they want to support you. Not just the product you have to offer - at the end of the day - you’re your product. You’re selling yourself.
My art is an extension of me, but it’s not really my product like I am. Without me, the art’s not going to make itself.
Me: Would you say vulnerability is a key component of that?
Baron: Yeah, I think to be vulnerable is to be invulnerable, really. Just because most people aren’t. Most people are terrified of being vulnerable, so when you are and you’re cool with it and you’re cool telling your story then it makes you impenetrable. What are you going to say to me that I don’t already know about me, that I haven’t already told everybody?
I think that’s part of the process. I wrote my blog for 7 years now. It’s been such an interesting process. I read some of my old stuff and I’m like man, I’ve changed a lot since then and progressed.
At the same time, you have to think about how it looks in the eyes of the reader. The best thing that you can ever do is tell your own story - but then curate your own story. You know, keep up. So people can actually keep track of that growth. There are people that have followed me when I was a high school football player and now I’m an established artist in Pittsburgh. And they’ve watched everything in between and you gotta think people like that are much more inclined to be supportive than someone who’s just stumbled across a link.
Me: I bet that helps with the transition from ex-Steeler to artist too. Because they’ve watched you progress as a person instead of “oh, now he’s trying to do this thing.”
Baron: One thing I’ve realized is that once I became really confident in my craft - it became really easy to transition. Because I knew the work would speak for itself.
And that was a big thing. Doing something like being a full-time creative on your own - it’s all about confidence. It’s about being able to put yourself out there confidently and stand behind it.
Me: Did you feel fear?
Baron: The first art show I had was terrifying. You never know how you’re going to be accepted. Even if it’s just one person that affirms you, you know it's going to work. It’s truly about hustle.
Me: What would you say has been the key for making Studio AM come to life?
Baron: It’s been a group of people who has been themselves the whole time. It can’t be replicated by anybody. People have been themselves since I’ve known them.
Also, like-mindedness going into it. Not in the way that everyone thinks the same way... but everyone has to stand on a similar foundation. There are very basic things we don’t do. We don’t let emotions into business decisions.
Business is truly is one of the most complex but simple things. Businesses are run by people who are generally f’d up. But business itself is simple.
Baron on keeping hours: I want to have a workplace environment where people want to come to work.
No one keeps hours. That’s a pretty messed up place to be (if you have to keep hours and police people into them).
Me: Do you feel like there’s a lot of communication then?
Baron: Yeah, it’s not typical though. We don’t have meetings to talk about the next meeting. (None of that) corporate shit.
There are no unimportant jobs here. No one feels like they have to work their way up. There’s no bureaucracy.
(But) that’s hard when you’re growing a company because you have to ask people to do something they aren’t comfortable with. I’ve had people I had to let go because they thought they’d shoot video and not have to sweep the floor. It’s a mentality.
Me: That’s been one of my biggest struggles is finding people that think like me.
Baron: But that’s when you need to teach your story. Teach the way you think.
Draw knowledge that may be lacking to teach someone else from a situation you went through.
Baron on taking advantage of opportunities:
When I go into a room - the reason I dress like this is because I’m a walking billboard. (He always wears jeans with paint on them)
Very rarely is it (opportunity) even open, it’s often just cracked a little bit.
Baron on learning from others:
Ask them about their process. Not just who they are and their backstory - ask them about them.
Asking Will Smith about his favorite movie that he did is a dumb question. Instead, ask him how he decided those things. After all, Will Smith is a collection of his decisions.
Me: What motivates you to work so hard?
Baron: To be able to do it one more day. It’s a poisonous mentality to know that you’ve made it. When you know you’re set, you stop innovating as a person.
I always want to be growing in some form.
I never want to spend a year and end up in the same spot the next year.
Most people don’t think that they can fail when in all reality - you should acknowledge that you’re kind of failing at things. There should be part of you that’s always terrified that you’re not doing it right.
Baron on if you want to do creative work but not become a machine about it:
If you want to make money from what you want to do - then it has to be a job. Don’t feel bad if you’ve made a product that people like.
Make your process efficient. You can limit the amount of time doing something you don’t want to do then.
Limit your supply. Force people to like the next thing you put out. You don’t want people to fall in love with your product. Because you want to put out another product.
You have to think long-term. From a marketing standpoint, be able to gather your own data and metrics from still working and progressing.
I gather info by street art. I find what is most popular that way.
Baron on creating demand:
There are a few types of demand - product demand, intellectual demand and emotional demand.
You have to deliver all three. You can create something with physical demand. You have to create an emotional demand for your work. You need consistency to create emotional demand. There’s a tremendous amount of power in consistency.
Once you undoubtedly know how you’re perceived, it is so important to be consistent. What strength actually is is when you’re being pulled in a way that is inconsistent to who you are and you say then f' that. You have to work hard to be your own brand.
Craziness is relative to who has the tools to make it happen.
Baron on income stream concerns:
Your value is not numerical. Your value is in how well you work your process that is only yours.
I will always be able to make money. I have tools. I’m smart.
We had to make rent, so we did corn hole boards. We sold $10,000 in corn hole boards. You have take layups that life gives you like that. You have to be able to do something you don’t want to do, to be able to do something that you do.
Be strategically insane. If it makes sense to you, then do that.
Try living fearfully motivated. I don’t mean living like there’s something chasing you. Live like you’re chasing something that’s always moving forward and you have to keep up with it. When an opportunity comes then you need to be ready to perform.
Very rarely does someone say they want to create that and then go and do it.
You have to just progress.
Baron's an incredible man and I’m thankful I got a chance to learn from him. Also, his artwork is even more impressive in person. They’re doing great work at Studio AM. Check them out and be encouraged.