As The Flying Lizards song goes,
“The best things in life are free / But you can give them to the birds and bees / I want money.”
Don’t we all?
But being an “artist” in today’s economy (and pretty much every previous era’s economy) seems to come with an expectation that we do without it, and offer our creative contributions to society without appropriate compensation. And as a result, many of us have resigned ourselves to the life of the “starving artist,” and accepted that we either need to do our artistic work as a side gig, or simply not eat. I’m sorry to admit that I’ve been guilty of this myself.
But not anymore.
A recent NY Times article by acclaimed writer Tim Kreider brought the issue to light, and made an impassioned plea to all his fellow artists: “don’t give it away.” And it lit an equally bright fire in me. A lightbulb went on. Why am I giving it away?
Since I left my cushy corporate job back in March 2011, and set out on a fresh path of creative independence, I have been struggling from paycheck to small wad of cash to project backend points, desperately trying to keep my checking account afloat. And it’s made me a pretty miserable artist – a lot less creative and inspired than I know myself capable of, and probably much less fun to be around. Anyone who’s been on the verge of penniless, or buried in debt, can attest to this feeling – it’s a really scary thing to not be sure you can pay your bills this month, and that can really damage your attitude and ability to keep thriving.
We seem to be facing a prevalent attitude today (and pretty much all throughout history) that artists should give away their work. They may really admire your work, just not enough to pay one cent for it.
And for what? What’s the point?
Artists, as with any other profession, cannot survive on creativity and “exposure” alone. Clicks and retweets don’t pay the bills. Money does. Cold hard cash. There’s simply no replacement for it, as much as we wish, and hope, and are told there is. What we create and offer as artists is every bit of valuable and worthy of cash compensation as any other working professional.
Now there’s certainly something to be said for paying your dues. A great many different jobs and industries involve starting at the ground level with a low or unpaid internship-like position. In the film industry, this would be the PA (or Production Assistant), which is basically a gopher or errand runner job for any young newbies to the business who are just happy to learn.
But I’m no beginner. I’ve been doing this for long enough, headed enough projects, produced full feature films – that I shouldn’t still be paying my dues. I should be earning them. I’ve been on this path of no recompense for too long and it’s finally starting to wear on me, ruining relationships and killing the creative buzz. It’s time to shift my own mindset, and give myself permission to value my work and my time for what it’s actually worth.
I even wrote a book about how other artists and creative entrepreneurs can do this for themselves, and build a profitable business around their art. But I’ve yet to really take my own advice, and that should have been the first step.
So I’m taking that step now, and I’m not apologizing for it. It’s time to start really valuing myself and my work, and start making an actual living. No more unconditional favors or pointless giveaways! No more taking lower pay than I deserve! It’s time to take ownership over my career, so I can realize my full potential and actually achieve all that I say I want to.
So who’s with me?!
Are you in the same boat? Do you struggle with making a living from your career as an artist or creative entrepreneur? Well, then join me on my journey and start valuing your worth!
And if you want some guidance on that front, feel free to check out my book on Amazon for a step-by-step guide to building the business and life you deserve.