I was at a party last night and my friend’s boyfriend, a very talented guitarist, began telling us about his hunt for a job:
“At this point, I’m willing to take any job that I don’t completely hate and I’ll just play music on the side.”
He looked away as he spoke these words. But I caught it, the look of anguish in his eyes.
And who could blame him for feeling this way? I mean, it sounds pretty awful doesn’t it? All you want is to make art, and instead here you are running around, trying to get the corporate world’s attention, tweaking résumés, shouting “pick me! pick me!” to faceless corporations who see you as nothing more than an interchangeable cog in the machine. That sense of powerlessness is enough to make anyone feel bitter and worthless.
It would be great to make a living playing music, but that’s unrealistic, isn’t it? Doesn’t that require selling out? And has the life of an artist not always been marked by the romantic notion of struggle, famine, and hardship?
The Death of Gatekeepers
Okay look, I don’t mean to be harsh, but Starving Artist, would you please get with the times?!
You may have had to “sell out or starve” in the past, but a lot has changed in recent years. For example:
- No more are the days when you must carry around slides of your paintings from gallery to gallery in order to get a public viewing.
- No more must you send your manuscript from publisher to publisher in order to get your novel into the hands of the public.
- No more do record labels decide which music gets heard and which doesn’t.
The gatekeepers have toppled over, and guess what? You no longer need anyone’s permission to “make it”. Thanks to widespread access to the internet and new, affordable technology, the power that these exclusive gatekeepers once had – that is, the power of distribution – is now yours.
How it’s Done
In stupidly simplistic terms, here are some things you can do to make use of this wondrous new power of distribution that we’ve all been granted:
- Start a blog-based business. Write, draw, speak, sing, or make videos regularly about your art, the creative process, your struggles, the meaning of life, whatever.
- Build a loyal community of followers who relate to you and your work. Help your community out by providing them with valuable content that they ask for: drawing tutorials, ukulele lessons, information on how to organize a film shoot or tour inexpensively.
- Display your art or publish your own book and sell it off your blog, using inexpensive tools like PayPal, E-junkie, Ebookling, or Etsy.
- Use a service like Kickstarter or Kapipal and let your community help fund your projects. This will allow them to pay you back for all that valuable advice and the sense of belonging you provided for them.
- Offer lessons over Skype. Suddenly your student base isn’t limited to people in your geographic area!
- Create how-to guides or video tape yourself giving lessons and sell those off your blog. Voila! A nice passive stream of income. You create it once, upload it, and leave it alone as the cash rolls in.
- Get gigs through your blog! Shows, freelancing work, and collaborative projects can all be acquired by using a blog as a calling card.
But Isn’t this Time I Should be Spending on My Art?
Look, you can either work a shitty job and help somebody else’s business make money or you can build something of your own, something long-lasting, that’s related to your art and your passion.
Outsourcing the Boring Bits
As a final point, if you’d rather not spend time learning how to set up a blog or promote your blog posts across social media, scheduling lessons, uploading videos to YouTube, and so on, you can always outsource.
Hiring a virtual assistant through Elance or Odesk is incredibly cheap (think $5-10/hour). My friend Mark Powers is a musician who hires a VA to do all the programming/upkeep that he doesn’t enjoy. Outsourcing will free up your time so that you can focus on your art.
Here are some lovely artists who have harnessed the power of web 2.0 and appear to be neither starving nor working jobs that they hate:
Don’t Wait for Someone to Pick You. Pick Yourself.
Here’s the thing about self-employment: nobody will force you to create anything. Nobody’s going to appoint you and say “Go, start your business now! There’s no “right time”, and there never will be.
Permission isn’t granted, it’s claimed— by you alone.
How have you used the web to make money with your art? If you haven’t jumped on the 2.0 train yet, what’s holding you back?
Let me know and I’ll try to address your concerns/questions in the comments and in future posts.
If you’d like to learn more about how to make money as an artist the 2.0 way, I highly recommend Chris Guillebeau’s Unconventional Guide to Art and Money. I own it myself and think it’s great. I know you’re starving and all, but this guide is quite reasonably priced, and if it helps you make a living with your art, isn’t it worth the upfront investment?