Categories
Opinion Short Cuts

Short Cuts: “Sometimes you have to work”

Every one in a creative career has to do other work at some point. So why do we act like this is some kind of failure?

Sometimes you have to work. This is something that has stuck with me from the recent How I Make It Work interview with Stephen Mallinder.

Mallinder’s innovations with Cabaret Voltaire and continuing contribution to electronic music (via the likes of Wrangler and Creep Show) have proven to be hugely influential. He has played all over the world, received great critical acclaim and sold a significant amount of records. He is, by almost every criteria, a very successful musician and yet as you’ll see in the piece, he has nonetheless operated in a huge variety of (mostly enjoyable) roles in order to sustain himself throughout his three decades in the music industry.

Want to make sure you never miss a post? 
Sign up to the Creative Money mailing list!
Previous Creative Money newsletters

For those of us who earn the majority of our living from creative activities, it can be easy to think that engaging with ‘other work’ is a kind of failure. That if you do, you’ve somehow cocked it up – you had it and it got away. Hearing Stephen’s succinct point that “sometimes you have to work” was liberating, in this respect.

Thinking that you’re a ‘creative’ or nothing is, ironically, likely to hasten your permanent exit from a creative industry

Last week, DJ/presenter Shell Zenner discussed how important it is to diversify and to have multiple skillsets. The longer you want to sustain yourself in the creative industries, the more important this becomes. Likewise, it’s perhaps equally important to accept that there will be times when things are off-the-boil with your ‘main’ activity and you might just want, or need, to try something different.

The binary thinking that you’re a ‘creative’ or nothing is, ironically, likely to hasten your permanent exit from a creative industry – either due to the financial pressures of operating solely on the ‘starving artist’ axis, or because doing the same work becomes so unsatisfying that you become disillusioned with the whole thing.

Primary path

Mallinder talks instead about dedication to a ‘primary path’ – from which you will periodically meander and return. He discusses this in terms of making music, but it could be any creative practice that you consider your ‘core’ activity. Our conversation made me realise that the longer you are in an industry, the more likely it is that you will diverge from that primary path and that at some point this becomes not just acceptable, but entirely necessary.

Inspiration and opportunities tend to come in waves – bills do not…

Creative Money icon

You need to learn new things, to question what you do and push yourself in order to develop your creative practice. Otherwise, it just gets stale. Doing different work, whether developing a new skillset in your existing industry, taking a role outside of it, or doing something like teaching, can therefore be really beneficial not just to your finances, but also to the way you think about your ‘primary path’.

Sometimes you will have to do certain jobs simply to keep the lights on – and they won’t always feel beneficial. Inspiration and opportunities tend to come in waves, after all – bills do not. What matters is understanding that you can, and likely will, come back to that primary path – that there are multiple ways to be creative and to make that your life. Sometimes you will have to ‘work’ then, but that is no failure.

Short Cuts is Creative Money’s series of quick tips, tricks and thoughts about saving or making money in the creative industries.

yellow and brown gift box on brown wooden table
Photo by Mindspace Studio on Unsplash

How can we help you?

What issues are you facing? What questions do you have about managing your money in the creative industries? What would be most helpful to you?

We don’t have all the answers, but maybe we can find someone that does.

Send your questions and suggestions to creativemoneycontact@gmail.com.
We want to hear from you.

Categories
Blogs Opinion

The ‘starving artist’ vs ‘the sell-out’ – the struggle of the creative worker

Our thoughts on the financial outcomes of life as creative workers often seem to fall into two categories: ‘the starving artist’ and ‘the sell-out’. If only it were that simple…

I would wager that everyone who earns money from creative work has wondered at some point whether or not they’re ‘selling-out’. The tropes at the heart of this struggle are are within us all: the starving artist has unimpeachable integrity but negligible income, while the sell-out picks their gigs by the paycheque. They remain locked in combat, fighting for our very souls.

We’ve all likely had cause at some point to embrace the starving artist and some of us even come to experience life at sell-out end of the scale – gaining a full understanding of the ambiguous privilege of considerable wealth and fame.

Straight line thinking – how people often think about income and integrity

Sometimes, we may also consider the evener rarer ‘third way’, wild success on our own terms – let’s call this ‘the rockstar’ – but this often seems even further removed from our view of the achievable (though Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception argues the opposite).

At other points, we may feel we have no option but to leave an industry, or take some other work on in purely to pay some bills.

Anyone who’s even come near to experiencing true poverty knows that the starving artist cliché is a false romance

Creative Money icon

What’s interesting is the extremities of these viewpoints – that we seem to ascribe the myriad outcomes of our creative work as an ‘all or nothing’ endeavour. The truth of it, though, is that it is a spectrum – and that existing on that spectrum, rather than at one of two extreme poles, is not such a bad place to be.

Anyone who’s even come near to experiencing true poverty knows that the starving artist cliché is a false romance. It’s been perpetuated throughout history, often by patrons in positions of wealth, but while understanding or experiencing poverty and the broader human condition has no doubt informed great creative work, it is certainly not a route to happiness. In fact it is, by definition, a direct route to unhappiness.

What’s it worth?

At the other end of the scale, it is widely acknowledged that while wealth can help you ‘buy’ a certain level of happiness, the benefit of greater wealth tails-off dramatically once you’ve covered your basic needs and a few extra comforts. This is a phenomenon that US blogger Mr Money Mustache has popularised and termed the Marginal Utility of Money.

Want to make sure you never miss a post? 
Sign up to the Creative Money mailing list!
Previous Creative Money newsletters

Even Warren Buffett, the 89 year-old billionaire CEO of Berkshire Hathaway – and at one point the world’s richest person – counsels against the pursuit of wealth for its own sake. And this is a guy who bought his first shares aged 11.

“Doing reasonably well in this country really is pretty darn good,” he said, talking to US students in 1999. “Great wealth is the tiniest bit different, in a real sense, than having just a decent income. To trade a decent income and something you love doing… for huge wealth where you trade a lot of your principles would be a terrible mistake.”

So, if we agree that both extremes are flawed and stop trying to define our financial personalities against a minority of outliers, what does the right path actually look like? And what’s a reasonable income?

Great wealth is the tiniest bit different, in a real sense, than having just a decent income

Warren Buffett
Creative Money icon

That is yours to decide. For me, it’s enough to cover living expenses, to be able to pay for a few home comforts and holidays and to save enough to retire within the next 25 years (WHAT!?) At the more luxurious end, I’d like to spend as little time on compulsory work as possible. I like my work, but I value freedom even more.

Figuring out the numbers behind these goals is really useful to making sure you’re actually on course to meet them.

I discussed why tracking your spending is key to understanding your cash flow (and therefore getting some control over a variable income) last week, but there are other benefits to that process, too. When you know how much you spend, you know how much is enough. You know when you can stop, or say no.

As far as possible, I’d also like to get to these points above without doing work that I do not personally believe in.

Don’t do dogma

A line from our recent How I Make It Work interview with freelance journalist Lydia Wilkins sticks with me here.

“‘At the end of the day, you only have yourself to answer to.’ Regardless of having to pay your bills, keep to deadlines… if it ‘sits right’ – then that’s okay.’”

If you operate with integrity, then you avoid selling-out yourself, but only you can judge what that might look like.

The ‘starving artist’ trope comes from a belief system and, as with any belief system, there will always be a vocal minority of hardliners, who refuse to question the dogma out of some fear that the world will unravel. Instead, each of us needs to decide on our personal beliefs and principles around money and creativity – and make decisions accordingly.

There’s a broad, rich spectrum between ‘the starving artist’ and ‘the sell-out’

Creative Money icon

If you lean towards the starving artist axis then, contrary to the thinking of many, you’ll likely need to watch your expenses closely. What’s more, planning for the future and times of poor cash flow becomes even more essential.

If you lean the other way, gaining a higher income, then you may have more flexibility with your spending and insurance against the risks you take (some of which might pay-off handsomely). However, to gain true satisfaction from your work, you will likely still need some measure of your personal values built-in to it – lines you don’t cross. This might be to do with the ethics of the organisations you work with, the relative creative appeal of jobs etc. Knowing your values helps you to navigate the path.

The full spectrum – the options are much broader than many of us realise and the path you tread might change according to your priorities at the time

For instance, in my case, I am open to many different types of work. My main gig is music journalism, but I’ve written copy and advertorials, I’ve run events and managed projects, I’ve led degree courses and taught. But I’ve come to understand that if the only reason I want to take a job is the money – and I can find no other appealing features in terms of the work, my personal or career development, or the organisation I’m working with – then I am going to regret that decision.

Not everyone will feel that way – or feel they have the option to do so (particularly right now) – but that’s OK. Indeed, that’s the whole point. Creative Money is not here to promote the pursuit of untold riches, but simply to help you figure out how you can sustain yourself over the long term as a happy, creative person.

There’s a broad, rich spectrum between the tired clichés of the starving artist and the sell-out. Where do you want to be?

person holding click pen
Photo by Alice Dietrich on Unsplash

Creative Money Blogs include principles, resources and opinion pieces relating to personal finance for creatives.

How can we help you?

What issues are you facing? What questions do you have about managing your money in the creative industries? What would be most helpful to you?

We don’t have all the answers, but maybe we can find someone that does.

Send your questions and suggestions to creativemoneycontact@gmail.com.
We want to hear from you.
Categories
Blogs Opinion

You are not bad with money

How stereotypes prevent us from sorting out our finances

Creative and financial ability need not be mutually exclusive. The pervasive idea that if you are creative, you are bad with money, yet those with the artistic sentiment of a doorstop naturally have a handle on their finances, is a harmful cliche.

Image credit (above): Jp Valery on Unsplash

I saw the above quote referenced in MoneyWeek the other day and, while amusing, it also struck me as a perfect encapsulation of the creative industries’ self-defeating mindset around money. We’ve all been guilty of it at some point, myself included. ‘I’ve never been good with numbers, I just draw pictures…’ ‘Pension? I can’t afford dinner…’ etc.

‘Natural talent’ is just a starting point – it is how we develop our craft that really helps us succeed. The same is true of our financial ability

Creative Money icon

We love the idea of ‘natural ability’ defining the destinies of the great and good. It allows us to buy-in to a bit of real life magic and marvel at humanity’s shared prowess. However, it also offers us a handy excuse for our own shortcomings – a get-out clause that says, ‘If we’re not born with it, we can’t do it… So I won’t try.’

My experiences in interviewing musicians and other creative types for the last 15 years have taught me that whenever we discuss ‘natural ability’ there’s a bigger picture being missed.

Take two famous examples of ‘natural talent’: Daniel Day Lewis and Jimi Hendrix.

Day Lewis made his big screen debut aged 14 in Sunday Bloody Sunday, which is undeniably impressive. However, he spent another 13 years studying and developing his craft on theatre stages before he landed his first major film role.

Hendrix? Hendrix really was an amazing guitarist, but he practised so much he wore his guitar while cooking. And on the toilet.

Whether we’re talking theatre or fashion design, ‘natural talent’ is just a starting point – it is how we develop our craft that really helps us succeed. The same is true of our financial ability. You are not inherently ‘bad with money’.

Burning cash. But remember you are not inherently 'bad with money'
Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

It’s not all or nothing

In the site’s first post, I discussed the stigma of talking about money in the creative industries, but also how harmful it is to view these two aspects of our lives – the creative and financial – as the antithesis of each other.

Instead, we should consider both our creative and financial abilities as different but complementary skills – both building blocks for the attainment of lasting happiness. In that sense, the most important question to answer is, ‘How can we sustain our ability to do the things we love?’

If you are making your way in these industries, you very likely already have the creativity and the drive required to figure this stuff out

Creative Money icon

In trying to solve this problem, learning to handle our finances can really help. The good news is that if you are making your way in these industries, you very likely already have the creativity and the drive required to figure this stuff out.

That might involve honing what you do to the point where you earn more money doing it; figuring out how to syphon off income when you have it, ready for the times when you don’t; or making a smart move to a more affordable location. The more you start to think about it, the more solutions you will find.

Everyone can do something to get nearer to their, er, happy place. And you’re not alone, either. The more ideas, options and resources we share here, the easier that process is going to get, so if you have questions or suggestions, don’t hesitate to get in touch. I don’t have all the answers, but we have a better chance of finding them as a community.

Most importantly, though, do not let yourself fall in to the belief that because your work is creative, you are destined to be bad with money, or that it is hopeless to try. If anything the reverse is true, you’re likely already better with it than most of your peers, because you often have to manage on less – and you’re certainly better equipped to work around your limitations.

If you can come up with ideas for your creative work – be it scriptwriting, or sculpture – why not redirect just a little of that energy to thinking creatively about how you could make this thing last? Can you be creative with money?

Categories
Blogs Opinion

It’s good to talk – addressing the stigma of money in creative careers

Does choosing a creative career mean you can’t talk about money?

Money is not evil. We should probably start there. Money is maligned, misunderstood, mismanaged, misused and, sometimes, misappropriated in creative careers. But in and of itself, it is not evil.

Working in the creative industries, it’s easy to fall into this way of thinking. Ascribing money a vindictive, immoral personality enables us to dismiss our worries or confusion about how to deal with it. Considering money as ‘evil’ also makes us feel better about the choices we made that have sometimes led to us having less of it compared to our office-bound peers. We chose ‘passion over a pay cheque’.

We’ve come to define a means of exchange in opposition to a means of expression, but that’s like comparing apples to Ancient Greek.

Creative Money icon

The emotional and mental programming we receive about money throughout our lives starts early and is rooted deep in our psychology. It’s built and cemented through our childhoods and our role models – be it your parents, or your teen idols. Your favourite band rejected a major label deal in favour of ‘creative control’ = money is bad, creativity is good.

We’ve come to define a means of exchange in opposition to a means of expression, but that’s like comparing apples to Ancient Greek.

As a child (at least mentally) of the 2000s DIY punk scene. It took me a very long time to even question this black-and-white thinking. To consider that there might be an alternative to worrying about payments clearing, or making my tax bill, or (going really wild) buying a house and, ideally, not dying at my desk.

Even now, the ‘sell-out’ thought flashes by whenever I think about finances. I’m still forced to wonder if it’s rude to discuss it with close friends in my industry.

An open dialogue?

Any other stigma or taboo is challenged by those in the creative industries. No matter what medium you work in, we hold shared ideals: to be brave, to encourage open dialogue, to challenge norms and provoke thought.

Except when it comes to money. Because money is bad.

By not talking openly about money with our friends and colleagues, we shut-off our most valuable source of information

Creative Money icon

This culture directly and visibly harms those of us who work in the creative industries. Yet those in self employment, or surviving on the low or variable incomes typical of such industries, are the groups who most need to understand good money management.

What’s more, by not talking openly about money with our friends and colleagues, we shut-off our most valuable source of information.

Subsequently, we cannot establish reasonable rates for our work, nor can we navigate the financial infrastructure (pensions, investments, insurance) that is automated for most of the workforce.

Meanwhile, it is often the largest and most financially-secure businesses that benefit from this insecurity. In turn, they further establish their monopolies and suppress wage growth in the creative sectors.

There are reasons to be optimistic. Campaigns for clarity around rates – for instance, the Freelancer Pay Gap run by Anna Codrea-Rado of The Professional Freelancer – are attempting to shine some light on the darker corners of the media, but there’s much work still to be done across the creative industries.

“That’s some catch, that Catch-22”

The wider issue is that this is, essentially, a poverty trap – a cycle – and, as anyone who has been in debt can attest, cycles are difficult to break. Like most poverty traps, it is also one that disproportionately affects women, people of colour and those from low income backgrounds.

It’s a Catch-22 situation, but if we break the stigma of talking about money in creative careers, we break the cycle. This is why I started Creative Money and why everything we do here will be in service of three goals:

  1. To break the stigma of talking about money in creative professions
  2. To share financial resources and principles that can make creative lifestyles more sustainable
  3. To create a support network for creative professionals

Money itself, then, is not evil. It is a tool – and one we need to learn how to use. First, though, we need to talk about it.

Creative Money Blogs include principles, resources and opinion pieces relating to personal finance for creatives.

Creative Money site logo

Join the mailing list and never miss a post!