Have you ever wished there was more transparency in the art world?
So did Nicole Mueller and Amanda Adams, co-hosts of Beyond the Studio podcast.
It’s what drove the close friends who met while attending Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore to start their own long-distance podcast.
After realizing there was a gap in professional development for artists and a lack of transparency in the art world, Mueller and Adams started the podcast as a way to have honest conversations with artists, makers, and business experts on the business of being an artist.
The podcast features candid conversations about their business practices, time management, financial planning, and how they’re navigating the unique challenges of making a living, creatively—it’s a deep dive into the work that happens “beyond the studio.”
We had the chance to ask Mueller and Adams, both practicing artists as well, what it takes to make a successful podcast and the lessons learned along the way.
What was the catalyst for wanting to start Beyond the Studio? What is your origin story, so to speak?
NM: We started Beyond the Studio so we could have candid conversations with other artists and makers about all of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into building and sustaining a career in the arts.
The two of us met in art school in Baltimore and lived together as roommates for a number of years. I remember the first few years after graduation as being both exciting and confusing, as we were each navigating life as newly emerging artists.
AA: We were always having open conversations about building our creative lives and practices. When Nicole made a cross-country move to San Francisco, we wanted to find a way to continue those conversations, include other artists and makers in the discussions, and make them free and accessible to other artists trying to figure it out too.
When I reached out to Nicole about starting a podcast, she’d already been brainstorming a similar project, so we decided to combine our visions and create Beyond the Studio.
Why did you think it was important to have a podcast for what happens behind the scenes for visual artists and makers?
NM: There’s so much mystery around what it actually looks like to make a living as an artist. Even as art school graduates we still had a lot of questions. We found there were strange taboos around topics like money or finance, being perceived as too commercial, or how to get your work into a show, etc. Everybody we talked to had the same questions, but somehow it also felt taboo to admit when we were struggling for answers.
AA: So many people simply see the end results with a piece of art, but we know firsthand the realities of how much of our resources, labor, and energy goes into the art beyond the final pieces that we present. We didn’t want to simply talk about the art, inspiration, or even the process of art-making, but also the artists’ life and day-to-day as well.
NM: I think if more people understood the amount of time and effort that really goes into producing that work, we might value it more. And not just the creative process, like Amanda said, but the ways that artists are required to be so entrepreneurial in order to sustain themselves.
While we started the podcast from a place of learning for our own personal sake, there’s also a larger conversation here around creative labor, and how we value the creators behind the art we get to experience as part of our culture.
We believe that greater transparency isn’t just better for artists, but for the arts as a whole. So we wanted to make that work more visible, and podcasting seemed like the perfect medium for those conversations to take place.
You cover topics with artists that cover the business practices of building an art career, like time management, financial planning—was this something that you found lacking in the education you received?
NM: I really value the education I received in art school. I feel like it taught me to be a more critical thinker, creative problem solver, and more empathetic person.
I think creative careers are unique for how wildly varied they are, and it can be challenging for art colleges to prepare students for so many different outcomes. I do think, however, that certain aspects of career development could be more integrated into the curriculum, and that topics like financial literacy and entrepreneurial thinking should be emphasized for how fundamental they are to artists’ success.
It took me a long time to figure out how to connect the dots between what I learned in art school and how to build a sustainable life as an artist.
After graduating, I started discovering resources that became like lifelines, such as Sharon Louden’s “Living and Sustaining a Creative Life” book series, Heather Bhandari’s “ART/WORK,” and Andrew Simonet’s Artists U (that have now led into podcast interviews or collaborations!), and that would later form the basis for starting the podcast.
AA: One of the reasons we started the podcast was because we believed that many practical and professional tools, information, and resources were lacking from our creative educations. Within a couple of months of receiving my BFA, I was enrolled in online business courses and regularly meeting with other artists and makers, asking how they were able to make a sustainable living through their art—because I had no idea. Over the years Nicole and I have absolutely benefitted from the transparency and generosity of our creative communities and wanted to share everything we’re learning with fellow artists as well.
What was it like, practically speaking, to start a podcast?
AA: Podcasting is both incredibly easy and challenging all at the same time. It took us about 6 months of planning, researching, and recording before we actually launched the podcast and after 3 years we’re still learning and improving. There’s a wealth of free knowledge available online about how to start a podcast and we learned a lot from some basic searches. Much of our planning process involved deciding on the format, release schedule, name and branding, and developing our overall vision. Research, outreach, recording, and editing can all be extremely time-consuming but having two hosts means we’re able to distribute the work. Nicole and I always communicate openly about our goals, availability, strengths, and skills, and share responsibilities accordingly.
Have there been any surprising or unexpected things that you have learned while growing your podcast and audience?
NM: I never expected the podcast to become such an important part of our work and lives, or that after 3 years, Amanda and I would feel like we’re just getting started! It might have started as a small side project but at this point, Beyond the Studio feels just as important to me as my studio practice.
Some of the lessons learned haven’t been surprising as much as they’ve been reaffirming: realizing that growth happens slowly over time, and everything is a form of relationship-building. The more we invest in the podcast, the more people that seem to emerge who share our mission and values, or are invested in similar types of work. It’s led to some wonderful partnerships, like with our friends at Art World Conference, and Artwork Archive, that continues to grow with time.
How do you find your guests? If someone were to be interested in becoming a guest on a podcast, what advice would you give them for both getting on the podcast and a successful interview?
NM: We find our guests in all sorts of ways! Open calls, researching online, personal recommendations, cold emails, Instagram, you name it! The first suggestion we’d give for someone looking to introduce themselves to a podcast is to become familiar with the show you’re pitching to—it’s always apparent when the person hasn’t done their research or is unfamiliar with the show. That said, a little personalization and appreciation can go a long way!
AA: When it comes to a successful interview, the best advice we have is to show up with an attitude of generosity. Going on a podcast can absolutely be great for your career and help others to find your work, but our best episodes are the conversations where guests simply want to share their experiences, knowledge, and advice with listeners as opposed to focusing on self-promotion. Also don’t be afraid to get specific, especially if you follow a method or formula! Listeners appreciate stories and advice that they can learn from and potentially reverse-engineer and apply to their own lives.
What are some key lessons you have learned about building an art business from the artists you have interviewed?
NM: Every artists’ career trajectory is different, but those that have found success through becoming a full-time artist, or sustaining a long-term practice, do seem to share some characteristics. They’re all hardworking, and proactive when it comes to their careers. They’re committed to their work, although something that did surprise me a little is the number of artists that have gone through seasons of drought or even stepped away from making for a time. It’s reminded me that growth isn’t linear and that artistic careers can be seasonal.
Making great work is only about 40% of the job (Abdu Ali has a quote about this, but it’s been echoed by many of the artists we’ve interviewed). Relationships, community-building, administrative work, pitching or developing proposals, are all equally significant parts of the process, and even the most “successful” artists aren’t spending all their time in the studio.
What is a major theme that you see artists struggling with within their businesses?
NM: Being an artist takes so much persistence, and the biggest struggles are often mental ones. It can be challenging to retain a sense of possibility and optimism for the future while working to build a sustainable life and business, which can often take years. Having the confidence to create your own path while refusing to buy into self-defeating myths like the “starving artist” stereotype can be hard. Redefining what’s possible for yourself and holding onto that belief is crucial for unlocking the potential within yourself.
Of course, there are also systemic challenges—we had a fascinating interview with William Deresiewicz, author of “The Death of the Artist: How Creators are Struggling to Survive in the Age of Billionaires and Big Tech” on the structural challenges creatives face, and the larger shifts that need to happen in order to better support artists and the creative economy.
What is an internal battle that you see artists grappling with (personal boundaries/expectations/creativity …)
NM: Because our personal and professional lives are so intertwined as artists, balance and boundaries come up a lot in conversation.
Personally, we are always grappling with ways to work “smarter not harder” and prioritizing the things we want vs. have to do in order to move our work forward.
While we are a podcast that focuses on the business side of being an artist, the conversations we have are almost never exclusively about business. They’re also about relationships, wellness, creativity...and that’s kind of the point! Building a creative life and career can feel like one in the same. It can be beautiful when all those things coalesce, and it can be challenging when trying to find balance.
AA: So many artists struggle with the overactive inner-critic (SAME), comparing our work/careers/lifestyles to each other (SAME), and creating and communicating boundaries (SAME). These honestly are pretty human inner battles but I think as artists we already offer up so much of our time, energy, vulnerabilities, identities, bodies, and stories for the sake of the work that we can burn out so easily. I know the concept of “self-care” can be a vague buzz word but if we can find ways to deeply care for ourselves as part of our practices, perhaps we can find what we need to shut down those inner critics and live rich and fulfilling creative lives.
What’s one favorite story or guest that sticks out to you?
NM: That’s a tough one! Obviously, they’re all our favorite. One story that stands out was from one of our recent guests Jean Shin. She tells this story about “stone soup” where a stranger enters a town and everyone refuses to share their food with them initially. So the stranger takes a stone and a pot of water into the center of the town and starts making a pot of soup. They act as if the soup smells and tastes absolutely delicious, but if only it had some ... carrots. The townspeople start to get curious, and eventually, someone offers up some carrots. As more and more townspeople take notice, they begin to offer potatoes, then onions, and so on, until they’ve made a truly delicious soup, with enough food to feed the town.
Jean compares the stranger in the story to the role of the artist as a community-builder. I love this example of resource sharing, generating your own buzz, and building something out of nothing.
How have you benefited as an artist from having your podcast?
AA: Endlessly! Personally, I know I take so much of what I learn from the podcast and apply it to my own creative practice and art business and it always helps me grow. In a communal sense, many of our guests have become our friends and the conversations and generosity continue after the show. Nicole and I are constantly humbled and impressed by the beautiful community of creatives building around the podcast, and we can’t wait to see where this goes!
Who would you recommend to start a podcast? And what can you tell them to expect?
NM: Know that it takes a lot of work (probably more than you expect)! Luckily, Amanda and I both truly love working on Beyond the Studio. We spend enough hours on the podcast each week that it’s like having a part-time job. But maybe if we’d known that beforehand, we might not have decided to dive in head-first. So just go for it!
Being really clear about our mission from the beginning has helped keep us going, even when it’s been a challenge. The statement that’s on our About page is the same one we wrote before starting the podcast several years ago and hasn’t changed since.
If you feel there are conversations that should be happening but aren’t, then it could be a good sign there’s a need to be filled by starting your podcast!
Want to learn more?
Get behind-the-scenes access to visual artists making a career from their work—learn how they're supporting and sustaining themselves and their creative work. Co-hosted by artists Nicole Mueller and Amanda Adams, Beyond the Studio features candid conversations with contemporary artists, makers, and art world professionals about their business practices, time management, financial planning, and how they're navigating the unique challenges of making a living, creatively.
Artists are inherently resourceful, resilient, and ambitious, with a unique and diverse set of skills. Beyond the Studio wants to know how they're connecting the dots in their own life, and demystify the process. It's founded on the belief that by sharing these stories openly and honestly, artists will feel more empowered and become better equipped to live out their own creative life's work.