What Freelancers Can Learn from Weird Al Yankovic

Amish Paradise. Smells Like Nirvana. White and Nerdy. Gump.

“Weird Al” Yankovic has become something of a cultural icon through his countless song parodies and he is celebrating the launch of his newest album, Mandatory Fun, by releasing one new music video a day for eight days. And in many ways, musicians and comics like Weird Al have careers that mirror those of many freelancers: you primarily work for yourself, you may get contracted for one-off projects, and you become responsible for much of your own marketing.

Given this, what can a freelance writer, photographer, web designer or consultant learn from this decidedly quirky artist?

Capitalize on Your Strengths

Most people would not say that Weird Al Yankovic is a particularly talented vocalist. Instead, what they will tell you is that he has a great sense of humor and a wonderfully animated personality. These are clearly his strengths and he has built up a brilliantly successful career based on those strengths. He’s funny and he knows it.

And in the context of freelancing, much of the same kind of philosophy should prevail. I feel most comfortable writing in (slightly elevated) conversational non-fiction, so that’s primarily what I do with feature articles and product reviews. Other people may be better skilled at storytelling or at technical documentation. Know who you are and what you can do, then translate that into something of value for your clients.

Dare to Be “Weird”

Mainstream society may be slowly shifting, but it is still abundantly clear that working from home as a freelancer is hardly the norm just yet. Just the fact that you decided to start your own small business at all makes you a little weird. Embrace that weirdness. Dare to be different. Set yourself apart from the competition and don’t be afraid to take a few risks.

I imagine Weird Al faced more than his fair share of naysayers early in his career. Few people would have believed that an artist who simply parodied the songs of others would achieve this kind of success. He may not have gotten to where he is today had he selected a more conventional “pop music” route. And because he took that chance, Weird Al was (and still is) seen as the pinnacle of song parodies. He paved the way for guys like the Lonely Island.

Forge Mutually Beneficial Relationships

It’s becoming far too easy to suffer from information overload, so marketing efforts have to be even more creative to break through all of that noise. And Weird Al has taken a terrific approach to promoting Mandatory Fun. Not only is he releasing one new music video a day for eight days, he’s releasing these music videos across different channels to reach an even wider audience.

The first music video was for “Tacky” and it was released via the Nerdist YouTube channel. It also featured a number of cameos. “Word Crimes,” the good grammar-promoting second track embedded below, was released via Weird Al’s own channel. And yesterday’s “Foil” music video was released on the College Humor channel. What this means is that people who already subscribe to Nerdist or College Humor will be greeted with Weird Al’s animated mug.

Conversely, Weird Al fans may get introduced to Nerdist and College Humor in kind. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved. Freelancers can also benefit from these kinds of business arrangements with strategic partners.

Break Out of the Pigeon Hole

Even though all of Weird Al Yankovic’s songs can be categorized as being parodies, they actually approach quite the range of musical genres. “White and Nerdy” is based on a rap song, “Like a Surgeon” is based on a Madonna track, “Smells Like Nirvana” is based on a grunge song, and he’s got plenty of polka-infused offerings too. He’s not afraid to work with all sorts of musical styles, just to see how they turn out.

And as a freelance writer or designer, you may be hesitant to step outside of your usual wheelhouse. That hesitation is normal and it is true that you should capitalize on your strengths, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid opportunities that broaden your horizons. These can be side steps. For example, I’ve reviewed a number of consumer electronics. Those same skills can be applied to reviewing baby products or, alternatively, for writing press releases for tech companies.

Remember to Have Fun

Just as we learned from Ellen Degeneres, Weird Al Yankovic eminds us of a critical life lesson: have fun. Seize the day and have a good time. Smile more.

Yes, life can be a perpetual struggle and you can be faced with what look like insurmountable challenges. Through all of that, don’t forget why you got into freelancing in the first place. You get to do what you love for a living and that’s not bad at all.