A conflicted performer comes clean.
by Loren A. Roberts (guru of multi-hyphenate media)
So my band did another charity event this weekend. A day and a half out in the hot (but not as hot as it could have been) sun, and what did I walk away with?
Seventeen dollars. That was my share of the tip jar. Lovely.
Oh, and we blew a monitor speaker. So that will be in the range of $150 to repair. And I just put $78 dollars of gas in my car, just to get to the gig. All of a sudden, we’re in a net loss environment, and I'm not feeling so good. Neither is my bank account. (Not to mention the house needing a new coat of paint and refinancing, and college starting for my eldest in less than four years...etc. etc.)
THE AGE-OLD QUESTION: ARE YOU DOING IT FOR MONEY OR FOR “ART”?
I dunno if you follow Amanda Palmer, but she's a very interesting pseudo-fringe pop artist, who pushes a lot of buttons by pushing some envelopes. She has carved out a nice little indie niche for herself, and even launched one of the most successful recent Kickstarter campaigns around.
And then she decided to “crowd-source” parts of her band on tour after raking so much money in on Kickstarter. The internet tore her up: Here’s this girl making piles of money from her fans, and then she can’t deign to pay part of her band. (It’s obviously a much more complex issue than that, and she has since decided to pay everyone involved.)
I’m not really interested in discussing the merits of crowdsourcing (I hate it -- for the record -- as a graphic designer/illustrator). What I do want to discuss is why I do my art, and how it converges with making money.
I am an artist. I am also an artisan -- someone who makes money by providing “applied art.” When I’m working for corporate clients, I expect to be paid at full market rate, whether I am providing graphic design, producing a corporate video, or writing music. But many of my clients fall into a category of “non-profit”/“not-for-profit.” And then I have the band, which is a mostly-weekends type of thing. Finally, you have that friend who wants to take you out for a beer, and in exchange -- oh -- could you record my demo for me?
For all of these other non-corporate entities, I’m oftentimes at a loss: how do you charge for something that is valuable, but not valued?...or not seen as being worth what one believes it is worth? Here are some of the scenarios that I have been presented with:
- Film that is being entered into multiple film festivals needs a soundtrack. Can you write, record, and produce it for free? The exposure and experience would be invaluable for you. (Bulls**t.)
- Our organization needs a new logo, and the CFO’s daughter can create a new one for free. Can you clean it up and make it “professional” for free as well? (No.)
- We’re working on a promo video for a group that works with autistic kids. Everyone on the film crew is working for free; so can you produce one of the filmed segments for free as well? (Actually, I said yes to this one.)
- Your band sounds really great, but we can’t guarantee any money. We’ll pay you a percentage of the bar’s take at the end of the night. (This is standard practice for lots of bars.)
SO HOW DO I MAKE MONEY?
What I believe we are seeing is a “squeezing” of many creative fields -- and not only for us little guys. Just in the last few years, the de facto standard in moviemaking is for independent producers to shoulder all of the risk, and the studios will buy only the films on which they think they can make a killing (the big tentpole summer features being the exception). There no longer is any money in many of the disciplines that I felt secure in only a few years ago (web design being one, music being another).
There are three options:
- cut expenses (working on that)
- find new revenue sources -- new clients or gigs
- cut out of the biz entirely and go find a job in a different industry (not an easy task given the present economic situation)
A PROFESSIONAL HOBBYIST
I had a discussion after this weekend’s band gig about classifying the band as “hobby,” so that I don’t have to expect to make any money from it. But couldn’t I just as easily classify my songwriting as “hobby,” or my filmmaking as “hobby” too? Hell, people draw for fun; maybe my graphic design should just be considered a “hobby” -- now everything I do is a hobby!
But artists deserve to be paid for their art. How do we go about earning a living in an age of music piracy, unpaid bands, and crowdsourced logos?
Don’t get me wrong: I had a great time this weekend with the band; we made some great music and helped the Special Olympics at the same time. But paying artists a fair wage for professional work is an ongoing concern that needs to be addressed within our society, or many of us are going to have to stop doing it.
LOREN A. ROBERTS produces films, videos and music, designs magazines and logos, plays and sings in a rock-and-roll tribute band, and is a student of what happens when science and technology and the arts and culture collide. www.hearkencreative.com
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