Aaron Chewning talks about life as a freelance creative, Atlanta's comedy scene, and the advice that helped break his inhibitions.
Many twentysomethings are identifying with the title of a “creative.” The popularity and acknowledgement of the “creative” label in the professional world has opened up a whole new realm of possibility for those with passions and talents that seem just a bit too eclectic for a traditional job title.
Aaron Chewning is a freelance creative. He is orchestrating his skills in comedy, production, music, and writing into a collective career that breaks through the neatly stacked boxes of conventional occupations.
We connected with (sorta stalked down) Aaron at the recent Hive Gathering in Atlanta and discussed his unique career path.
Aaron, you are involved in several different areas of production and media – from freelance video production, to stand-up comedy, to a family wedding photography business. How do all of these fit together for you? How did you end up doing all of them at once?
When I began freelancing after college, I combined a few different revenue streams to make a living/not die. I joined forces with my sister to shoot weddings under the banner Achor & Eden, I created videos of all shapes and sizes, and I wrote music for several clients. After four years of freelancing, I’ve narrowed things down a bit… but not much. Comedy was always the ulitmate goal and I’m very thankful that a large majority of what I’m doing now is comedy/entertainment based. I still shoot with Achor & Eden and write music when a project calls for it, but comedic media is my primary work.
When did you first know you wanted to get involved in comedic media?
Lazy Sunday, SNL’s first digital short by Andy Samberg + team, came out when I was a junior in high school. No more than a week later, I made a funny music video (attempting to be funny at least) for the weekly chapel at my high school. My school gave me constant opportunities to host events, create videos, and really create a space for myself. I’d always loved making people laugh but it really wasn’t until then that I began putting comedy and video work together.
How did your very specific education at a niche post-secondary institution influence and benefit you?
I think Full Sail was a great fit for me. It’s a very hands on school that let me really dive in to all aspects of filmmaking. I see the fruit of that every shoot I’m on when I communicate with everyone regarding their specific role – be it the actors, cinematographer, grips, or producers. A lot of film schools that are more theory based wouldn’t have given me that ability. Also, getting a bachelors in 21 months wasn’t terrible either.
Do you find that your age (being a twentysomething) helps or hinders you in this industry?
My age hasn’t had much of an effect on my work. When it comes to getting video jobs, clients want to see things you’ve created in the past, not resumes. It’s not about where you went to school or your experience as much as it is about product you can produce.
Your first Atlanta Braves video had great success and launched a partnership with the baseball team. Tell about how the idea came about and the process of the video going viral.
I saw a few music videos about sports teams that were poorly done (and cheeeeeesy), yet still had a decent amount of views. I knew if we created something quality, Braves fans would be ready to watch and share it. I emailed about 100 people the night before we released the video detailing my plan of attack. I asked them to watch the video and link to it via their social networks at 10 AM. The idea was to create a foundation for virality and for the most part, it worked. The Braves front office called a couple hours after the video went live. They adopted it into their pre-game show rotation at Turner Field for the early part of the 2013 season. From there we built a relationship and I’ve had the opportunity to do a few music videos for them, as well as an interview series.
What is the Atlanta comedy scene like?
The University of Colorado-Boulder recently put together a scientific analysis to find out what America’s funniest cities were. Atlanta ranked 3rd behind Chicago and Boston. That study is actually a lot more credible than it seems (it seems like a bunch of made up garbage, I know). They factored in the number of comedy clubs per square mile and traveling comedians’ rating of a city’s audiences, among other factors. All that to say, Atlanta’s comedy scene is solid. We have some great, established clubs (Punchline, Laughing Skull) and a growing network of small bars and clubs that offer open mic nights. Atlanta has an exciting new class of comics waiting in the wings, and I can’t wait to see the ridiculousness that we create.
Where do you believe comedy is headed in the near future – in Atlanta and the U.S.?
Stop me if you’ve heard this before… YouTube. Even the current cast of Saturday Night Live features a whole litter of cast members and writers that were plucked from the YouTube popular page. As easy as it is to get noticed, it’s also now easier to get lost in the sea of half-hearded comedic nonsense. Twitter and the other social media networks have been a great new way for comedic voices to be heard. I think recognizing opportunities to get content out there will be immensely important as people try to make a living in comedy.
What are your comedic influences – personalities, shows, etc?
Goodness. There are so many. I grew up watching SNL and I still watch it; both old and new episodes. I think people like Chris Farley, Dana Carvey, Bill Murray, Jon Lovitz, Fred Armisen, and Kristin Wiig, as well as many others, have had a big influence on me. The Lonely Island have had a big impact as well; not just because of their comedy but because of their route to success. They were pioneers of viral YouTube comedy and managed to turn that into brilliant careers.
Can you tell us about any current exciting projects you are working on?
I have a couple projects coming up that I’m really looking forward to. I’ll be getting the word out there about them soon, but for now, mum’s the word.
If you had a big group of your peers (twentysomethings) in a room, what is one piece of advice you would give to them?
It took me a long time to think any of my ideas were worth pursuing, or even sharing for that matter. In my mind, my ordinary, off-beige ideas paled in comparison to these ground-breaking projects I was seeing other people put out. It wasn’t until I began freelancing and had a client give me glowing feedback on a project that I thought was just OK, that things changed. I remember hearing someone speak on this idea early on in my career, and it shifted my entire creative process. It’s the thought that everyone’s ideas might seem obvious to them, but could be extraordinary to someone else. I once saw an interview with the Beatles where they talked about how some of the songs they thought were their worst, became their most popular. We’ve got to be ballsy enough to to put it out there, and let everyone else judge it. You can’t let yourself be the wall standing between you and doing big things.
Photo credit: Andy Brophy
Freelance Creative • 24 • Atlanta, GA
Building a business is tough work. Just the thought of investing your blood, sweat, and tears along with countless hours and sleepless nights, without any guarantee of success, is daunting. It’s hard to stay optimistic, creatively sharp, engaged in the process, and to ultimately press on no matter the number of failed attempts.
So it is the same with baking macarons. I bet you didn’t see that coming. Trust us or Google it, just know it’s very difficult.
Now get this, 20-year-old Xanna is building a business by baking macarons (what?!).
Xanna’s first time baking macarons was a short 3 years ago in her family’s mountain house with no grocery stores in a 30 minute vicinity. She had first seen the French pastries as Blair Waldorf’s obsession in Gossip Girl, and subsequently became obsessed with them herself when she discovered them at a French bakery down the street from her work. On vacation, and hours away from that bakery, Xanna decided to satisfy her craving by baking her own macarons. Her first batch turned out to be over a six hour process that included substituting ingredients to make do and questioning whether the egg whites really needed to be room temperature. Needless to say, they were not the best macarons.
She kept baking them for fun, though, and when she got back to Atlanta, she would test out batches on the baristas at her favorite coffee shop, giving them unique flavors like Earl Grey, Green Tea Lemon, and Espresso Dark Chocolate.
“I could never pick just one flavor,” Xanna laughed. “And those Octane boys were troopers.”
About a year ago, Xanna began to receive requests for macarons at events and weddings, as well as orders from local coffee shops. She had just started a job as a barista at Mae’s Bakery, and when the manager found out her skills and side business, she graciously let Xanna use their commercial kitchen for baking. Since then XK Macarons has grown exponentially, and Xanna has transitioned from driving small orders all over the city to only baking for customers buying wholesale or large orders (6 dozen+).
Much of this growth and focus Xanna attributes to attending the Plywood Retreat last fall, and the guidance she received from other local entrepreneurs like Eryn Erikson and Jeff Shinabarger. The first six months of starting her business were nonstop with not a lot of help or planning. Through her social media internship with So Worth Loving, Xanna became friends with Eryn, who designed her XK logo and introduced her to Jeff. Even though Xanna originally did not believe it wise to take three days off from her baking to go on a retreat, it became a turning point for her business. She began to function from a place of rest, and was able to strategically plan for XK Macarons’ future.
At her first pop-up at Root City Market this past December, Xanna sold out of the 500 macarons brought in only 3 hours. This was a wake-up call to her as it showed her the value of her product. She then transitioned over to only wholesale and larger orders, and the coffee shops she partners with tripled their orders when they heard people were coming to their shops to taste XK Macarons. This is just the beginning for Xanna as she continues to innovate and grow her business.
Though Xanna just stepped into this twenties decade, her advice is substantial and practical, “Don’t be afraid to talk to people,” she said. “Talking to people will help you find out who you are.”
Xanna, who does not have a college degree, believes that there are many paths to success and finding out who you are. In her business, she constantly steps out of her box to speak to people she does not know, and often they turn out to be the exact people she needed to connect with at the time.
In the future, Xanna dreams of having a traveling storefront (maybe an Airstream?), but for now Xanna can be found in the following Atlanta locations regularly:
Visit the XK Macarons booth at Root City Market on June 14, 2014!
Photo credit: Morgan Blake
Owner & Chief Baker, XK Macarons • 20 • Atlanta, GA
While the fashion industry is broad and diverse, many outside of the industry tend to view it through the lens of popular stereotype. The Devil Wears Prada instantly comes to mind when New York Fashion Week is mentioned. The general perception has been that those working in fashion are materialistic, vain and self-serving. However, many, including a lot of twentysomethings, are revolutionizing the fashion industry to serve a greater purpose.
Sydney, 22, always knew she would work in fashion, however, the avenue in which she approached her career path greatly changed during her college years. As a freshmen, her goal was to pursue a profession in fashion journalism, preferably ending up at Vogue. She dove into her college courses and became involved with student organizations, and she began to develop interest in businesses that add a “social punch” to what they do.
Joining the SOUP, a student-led nonprofit, in its beginning stages introduced Sydney to the world of social entrepreneurship. By becoming heavily invested in the nonprofit, she saw how fundraising, though a necessary tool, was not a sustainable revenue source for growth. While exploring how to further expand the SOUP’s reach in Africa, she and SOUP founder, Brin, noticed a gap in the market. They realized that many companies circulating Eastern African products were focused on connecting to female consumers (jewelry, scarves, etc.), while male consumers were very little engaged. This inspired Sydney and Brin to come up with an idea to utilize a product geared toward men — the classic bow tie. The bow ties is unique, timeless, can be sold to a higher end market, and can be easily brought through customs. Lion’s Thread was born. The organization is an artisan bow tie social enterprise, made of the finest African textiles, employing local Ugandan artisans, bringing classic cuts back to the forefront of fashion, and giving men a reason and an opportunity to participate in social good.
Sydney is the Creative Director, while Brin is the CEO, but due to current circumstances, their roles have somewhat flipped. Brin is currently working on SOUP and Lion’s Thread projects in rural Uganda, and has taken on a hands-on role out of necessity, delivering product, revising patterns, working with the seamstresses, and performing quality control on a daily basis. Sydney, finishing up her degree stateside, has had many more opportunities to promote and present Lion’s Thread to investors and future partners, and has ended up handling most of the finances, marketing, PR, and the business plan.
“I never pictured myself in a role like this. Business has always been Brin’s comfort zone and design is mine, but it’s been an interesting and fun opportunity to grow,” Sydney said.
By presenting at Confluence, Clinton Global Initiative University, and other entrepreneurial events, Lion’s Thread is currently raising funding and awareness. A Kickstarter campaign was also launched and has 6 days left. The team hopes to raise $8,000 of initial funds to plug back into the business to increase production, hire more artisans, find more textiles to use, and expand their markets stateside. Right now, they are giving bow ties as rewards on the Kickstarter, their online store will launch a few weeks after the campaign ends, and they hope to be in more online marketplaces with a fashion and social impact (like TOMS) within the next few months. Eventually, they will expand to brick and mortar store, but for now quality of product and worker is everything.
“We exist to provide meaningful employment for these women,” Sydney explained. “We have to make sure we grow at a gradual rate, otherwise the strain we put on our employees is more hurtful than helpful.”
Sydney is all in. She has even jumped into advanced sewing classes this year to get a better understanding of the task at hand. Having always been a lover of fashion and design, and being a former intern with Billy Reid, she had gotten by with a just few basic sewing classes. However, knowing both fashion and social entrepreneurship to be very hands-on, Sydney continues to seek development in every area necessary to make Lion’s Thread a success.
Graduating next month with a communications degree from Berry College, Sydney will be spending the next year as a fellow at the Woodruff Foundation in Atlanta, Georgia. Although she eventually sees herself going full-time with Lion’s Thread, right now her and the team’s focus is getting off the ground and plugging the first profits back into company to spur on production, hire more local artisans, and hopefully grow to encompass other regions in Africa. Any job Sydney will take on in the next few years will be for the purpose of developing skills necessary to grow Lion’s Thread – whether that is business or design.
Today, Sydney cannot imagine working for an organization without a greater social good involved. She says it’s a norm our generation is demanding in greater quantities – to be change makers. Her advise to her twentysomething peers is to take risks when it comes to doing things you’re passionate about, “It is never going to be the right time,” she said. “If this is something you want to do, just do it, and work out the kinks along the way.”
Creative Director, Lion’s Thread • 22 • Rome, GA
There are a lot of twentysomethings out there who are passionate about turning their creative projects and hobbies into their full-time careers. However, there is no one-size-fits-all formula for pulling this off. Some creative twentysomethings will end up launching successful design start-ups, some will craft trendy, must-have products and some will even get famous. But what about the rest of us twentysomethings who love to create, but can’t seem to make a ton of money doing it? Does becoming a responsible adult require putting aside our creative endeavors?
“Not at all,” answered Caleb, a 23-year-old musician.
Caleb remembers always being musical as a child. He started playing publicly around 8th grade through church groups. He sharpened his musical skills through his teen years, and became very comfortable playing in front of crowds. As a high school senior he thought seriously about making music his full-time career, but he was advised to not make music his bread and butter.
“It was my parents who talked some sense in to me,” Caleb said. “They encouraged me to go to college, and let my job enable my music rather than depend on music to support my life and future family.”
Though he agreed with his parents about the value of a college education, he waffled through his first semester of college because he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do other than music. Caleb decided to take a break after that first semester to do some soul searching. He attended a yearlong program at a Christian ministry worship school. That year was both challenging and energizing for Caleb, and gave him the perspective he needed to finish college. He chose to major in computer science, all the while playing gigs to earn money as a student.
“Music was still a huge part of my life during those college years,” Caleb said. “I can’t say that I was super passionate about my major, but I enjoyed it. While in my college program I learned people skills, how to work with a team, organization and professionalism, all of which I consider to be invaluable skills for the real world.”
Caleb credits music for getting him through school, but admits that music started to lose its luster as it became less of a creative outlet and more of a income generator. However, Caleb’s hard work paid off. Upon graduating he was hired by IBM. As he settled into his new career, music became fun again.
“Music is fun, but worrying about money sucks,” Caleb said. “I now have a career that can provide for myself and my creative goals.”
This framework allowed Caleb to accept a position as the Music Director at Crosspointe Church, which is a pretty significant role for a twentysomething to fill. Each Sunday he leads a team of about 8 musicians, and works with multiple other team leads in the church’s production department to lead 2,500 attendees in weekly worship.
“The church demographic as a whole is not very twenties, but the worship arts department is very twenties,” Caleb explained. “There is a mutual respect between the generations that has become key. For example, we’re not going to crank the music as loud as we actually want it, but the older leaders are going to trust us with these key positions and allow us to take some creative risks.”
Caleb’s plans for the future include building security for his creative endeavors by continuing to advance in his career.
He advises his fellow twentysomething creatives to consider the same plan, “Go ahead and chase your dreams but don’t seek something recklessly without the support to get you there.”
Musician • 23 • Atlanta, GA
One of the many beauties of being in your twenties is the surplus of margin that exists in this particular decade. Whether you realize it or not, this decade holds extra room for risk taking, adventure and a little craziness. It’s by no means the only time for adventure in your life. But it’s the perfect time to start setting the tone and building the habits for a life well lived by embracing the challenges, tapping into your creativity and trying new things.
Twentysomething Carrie Jo’s journey to becoming a successful full-time wedding and lifestyle photographer has been filled with challenge and adventure.
As a business major in college, Carrie Jo was set on a career in finance. However, her career plans turned upside down when she and some of her college friends decided to produce an album. During the project, Carrie Jo worked to design the album cover. She learned Photoshop and InDesign, and also discovered she loved taking photos. Others noticed she was good at it and encouraged her to pursue it further.
“I started getting asked to do little shoots here and there, then I was asked to do engagement pictures, then weddings,” Carrie Jo said.
Not quite sure if she should move forward with her photography full-time, Carrie Jo searched for an opportunity to shadow a full-time photographer in order to gain some insight.
“I was willing to do whatever it took to learn from another photographer. Even if it just meant carrying their equipment and bringing them coffee on shoots,” Carrie Jo said. “It was difficult though to find someone willing to let me shadow them. I found out that a lot of people in the industry are very protective over their work. They didn’t want to teach me their secrets, so I could just go off and become their competitor.”
Though the job shadowing idea had only come up with dead ends, Carrie Jo decided to press forward and agreed to shoot her first wedding. Facebook was just up and coming, so after the wedding she decided to make a Facebook album for the bride to view a sneak peek of her photos. The response from her social media friends and friends of friends was phenomenal.
“The rest is history,” Carrie Jo said.
Carrie Jo has since built her business through social media. Immediately after every wedding, she edits through the night, puts a small album up on Facebook, tags as many people in the bridal party as she can and word spreads like wildfire through those tags. She has gained many new clients this way.
After graduating, Carrie Jo lived out of her car and on friends’ couches for a year while building her photography business. With a minimum budget and constant travel on the weekends, it was hard to justify signing a lease. Although she loved the freedom, she began to ache for community once again, akin to what she experienced in college. She knew she needed to find a home base.
She chose to move Knoxville, TN, where she still resides today. Though she still travels a majority of her weekends, she is intentional about staying connected to her community in the city, even if it’s just through a phone call or two while she is away.
Carrie Jo is now 27 and continues to embrace the challenges and adventure surrounding her career and season of life.
While some get burned out from working heavily in the wedding industry, which can typically be expensive and self-centered, Carrie Jo instead got creative to bring some balance. She developed a plan to donate 10% of the funds from each wedding shoot towards building wells in developing countries around the world. Since she launched Weddings + Water 5 years ago, 20,000 people have received clean water through this initiative.
When asked what advice she would give to her twentysomething peers, Carrie Jo proved she didn’t throw away all she learned in business school and her days preparing to be a financial planner.
“It’s important to be wise about finances, so you can be financially free,” she explained. “It doesn’t matter how much you’re investing, it’s about the amount of time the money accumulates interest in a savings account or mutual fund. “
She encourages twentysomethings to take the time to learn about money now, so they can walk into their futures with the right tools for long-term success no matter their career choice.
To view more Carrie Jo’s incredible photos, visit her blog: texturephotoblog.com
Wedding and Lifestyle Photographer • 27 • Knoxville, TN
One of the biggest questions twentysomethings ask themselves is: “What do I want to be when I grow up?” For some of us, the answer changes numerous times between the ages of twenty to thirty. We find ourselves in a career we never would have imagined, but somehow seems to be a perfect fit.
Brittany is no different. She is a twentysomething in a self-defined “transitional season.” Heading up her high school yearbook, she always excelled in writing, so she assumed that is what she enjoyed most about journalism.
“I love interviewing people, I love writing, I love putting together the stories,” she explained. “But once I got into college, I realized the big thing that was missing was the art.”
So she began searching for a major that had both components – words and visuals. Originally, she focused on magazine work, but soon realized graphic design was where she needed to be.
“I was able to fully pursue the art side and the writing side with graphic design,” Brittany said. “Which even flowered into photojournalism, photography, a love for video and anything visual and tangible.”
Brittany landed her dream job at a top design firm in Atlanta with a global reach, Son & Sons. She did a six-month fellowship with them as a junior designer after graduating. “It was an intensive time of learning and studying and doing for real clients,” she said.
She is now a full-time designer at Matchstic, one of Atlanta’s premiere brand houses and design firms.
On the side, Brittany does freelance design work. While most people come home from work and relax, her version of relaxing is a different kind of creativity. Companies hire her as a designer or brand consultant, and she loves the creative freedom this gives. Loving the responsibility of re-doing a companies’ brand identity, Brittany feels like she can bloom and communicate through these projects, putting all she learns from her full-time job into action.
Aware of how much she has yet to learn, Brittany is completely satisfied with where she is right now. She wants her twenties to be spent learning, growing and finding mentors in the design industry.
One reason Brittany pursued working at Matchstic, a smaller firm over a huge corporate agency, and the reason why she does freelance design work as her creative outlet, is because she likes wearing multiple hats. She says the best advice she received from a mentor in college was that if you want to be multi-skilled, you should consider going somewhere smaller so you can wear more hats. Since she loves all things creative, is an extrovert, and always likes to be busy, this lifestyle is perfect for her.
Graphic Designer • 22 • Atlanta, GA
Have you ever had an amazing idea? Perhaps, you’ve dreamed of starting a company that will ignite your passions and utilize your talents while also providing a sustainable income. Or, maybe you’ve considered starting a non-profit that would serve as the solution to the social issue that has gripped your heart and kept you up at night.
A blog. A start-up. An invention. A book club. A clothing line. An app.
We all want to do something, make something or start something.
There’s not a short supply of ideas among twentysomethings, but what about the execution of those ideas? That’s the question 26 year old Charlton asked as he noticed a pattern with his visionary peers.
“My friends would share with me these amazing ideas they had, like launching a new start-up,” Charlton explained, “But, two or three months later, you would ask them about how it was going and either they had not moved forward with it yet or had given up entirely.”
As Charlton began to question and challenge these friends, he found that many had quit their dreams within a year because they lacked the resources and relationships to make their ideas happen.
Charlton, along with eight of his college buddies, formed an accountability group called “The Vision Police.” The group began to meet on a monthly basis to introduce ideas, ask questions, give updates and connect networks. Their maxim was simple, No Lonely Leaders, and their goal was simple - to hold each other accountable for their goals and ideas.
In November 2012, the group launched HiveATL, a quarterly gathering created to give people support from concept to launch. Less than a year later, the Hive team is making connections and bringing people together based on their founding model.
“A guy attended who was suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. He dreamed of shooting a documentary about his condition to bring more awareness to it,” Charlton explains. “While attending a Hive Gathering, he met a videographer who had just completed a cross-country documentary.”
The conversation between the two inspired a Kickstarter campaign with a $12,000 goal. However, the campaign ended up raising over $17,000 and the documentary is now in production.
By holding people accountable for their biggest goals, craziest ideas, and greatest passions, Charlton and the Hive team have cultivated a community of innovators.
When asked to share a piece of advice to his twentysomething peers, Charlton didn’t hesitate to respond, “Just do stuff,” he said. “Too often we focus on the opportunities we lack and on the things we don’t have at our age. We complain about not having the right job out of college, or not making enough money…don’t complain, just make things better.”
The next Hive ATL Gathering is May 13, 2014! Click here to register today!
Photo credit: Stephens Hiland
Founder, Hive ATL • 26 • Atlanta, GA