Some time ago, my family and I enjoyed a production of Curtains at the Paper Mill Playhouse. If you’ve never seen it, it’s a musical about a murder backstage at… a musical. It’s a very funny show and worth a watch if it’s ever in your area.

But, as you can imagine, it has a lot of jokes and commentary at the expense of theatre as any good show within a show should. One of the central conflicts surrounds the producer of the show, Carmen Bernstein, and her daughter, Elaine who has changed her name to Bambi. Bambi and several of the other characters see theatre as a pure art form that should be done for a variety of artistic reasons while Carmen as the producer sees the more practical side… a show needs to profit or it needs to close.

Here are some of the lines she sings in a fantastic song called, appropriately enough, It’s a Business:

You ask me for my motives
Well, you needn’t be so smart,
It’s a business.
It isn’t making history,
It isn’t making art,
It’s a business.

So, go on! Criticize me!
Please, proceed with your attack.
It’s a business.
I put one million in
And I expect two million back.
It’s a business.

I’m not devoid of culture
But my feet are on the floor.
It’s a business.

You can listen to the whole song here if you want:

And while she’s talking about theatre, in some way any of us that do something creative are Bambis and need to hear this. Because however you may personally feel about your pursuit of art, as soon as you start to sell what you produce you need to understand that it’s a business. If you’re selling your own content, you need to profit enough to make it a viable means of earning a living or to justify your time. If you’re trying to sell what you make to a major supplier or a publisher, you need to understand that they are in it to make money.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. It is, after all, a freaking business. Businesses have to make money or die. Period.

But for creative types, this can sometimes be very difficult to wrap our heads around. What you create is personal. You feel connected to it. When that agent rejects your book, it hurts. But it isn’t personal… it’s just business. Agents and publishers need to sell books, theatre people need to sell tickets, the stores that buy from artists need to turn a profit.

Coming to terms with this and figuring out how to make it work for you and what you create is really the secret to finding success as an artist.