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How I Make It Work

How I Make It Work: Chris Frantz (Talking Heads/Tom Tom Club) – “Small is beautiful”

Post-punk icon Chris Frantz discusses the principles that have helped him to survive and thrive across his storied career

Chris Frantz is best known for his role as drummer, co-writer and founder of Talking Heads. Frantz formed the group in 1975 with fellow art school-type David Byrne, later recruiting his partner (now wife) Tina Weymouth and Jerry Harrison into the band.

While their punk touring buddies were on a mission of cultural ‘slash and burn’, Talking Heads built something new and enthralling in its place, melding funk rhythms and jarring melodies into a new form of art-pop.

The rest is rock history: seven gold albums, critical acclaim, bust-ups, world tours and an influential legacy that can still be found some 45 years on, resonating in the work of innovators like St Vincent.

Later, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth would pull off a similar trick with their band Tom Tom Club, channeling an experimental blend of lilting tropical beats and electronica that would prove fertile ground for early hip-hop samples.

“When you’re paying fifteen people to travel around the world and hotels and airplane tickets and everything, it just gets out of control”

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Now Frantz has published an autobiography, Remain In Love, in which he documents his experiences in both groups and beyond. Like all the best bios, it’s packed with star-studded anecdotes, poignant reflection and a little score-settling, for good measure.

I spoke to Frantz, initially on behalf of the excellent Electronic Sound. However, I also took the chance to ask him some questions about some of the money mistakes, close calls and savvier moves Frantz and co made across their career for Creative Money. He was kind enough to share some really helpful insights…

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Creative Money is all about helping people in the creative industries – whether that’s art, music or writing – to figure out how to sustain what they do. What principles or decisions have helped you to sustain yourself as an artist?

“Well, Brian Eno, very early on, in 1978, when we were making More Songs About Buildings And Food – he didn’t tour behind his albums to promote them or anything. But he told us ‘You know, you can make a very good living if you keep your expenses down.’ It sounds like a no-brainer but a lot of people seem to forget that. If you keep your expenses down, you can actually survive. And you can also – he explained this to us – licence songs to the BBC. In his case, he was licencing instrumental tracks to the BBC for their various shows, and he was making not tonnes of money but he was making a good amount, a fair enough amount that he could survive.”

“We just paid the money and it wasn’t a terrible amount for just looking at a contract – and it saved our ass”

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So how did you practically apply Eno’s advice? And did you ever make any major mistakes on the financial side?

“Well, we did very well for a long time because we were just a four-piece band. Then we threw that all out the window and had nine people on stage, and then the expenses got so high that, at the end of a very very successful world tour, Tina and I combined had $2,000 in the bank! That was right before we made the Tom Tom Club album and our accountant said ‘Chris and Tina, you gotta do something, you only got $2,000 in the bank…’ When you’re paying fifteen people to travel around the world and hotels and airplane tickets and everything, it just gets out of control. So, small is beautiful.”

That’s great advice. The other thing that stuck out to me from the book was your description of the close encounter with a contract that came via Lou Reed.

“Oh yes, that was a shocker too because, you know – you can imagine Lou Reed wants to produce your first album and you’re a band from Lower Manhattan and how perfect would that be? And then you go to see the lawyer about it and the lawyer says ‘Oh no, I would never allow one of my clients to sign one of these standard production agreements because, when all is said and done, you could have a hit album and you would never see a penny’. So yeah, that was a shock.”

“It sounds like a no-brainer but a lot of people seem to forget… If you keep your expenses down, you can actually survive”

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You were a young band living on nothing in Bowery lofts at that time. I don’t imagine you had a lot of money to spare for legal advice. What made you decide to pay that money and get it looked at?

“Well, we felt like we didn’t have a lot of experience in this business, but we didn’t want to be stupid. I got a recommendation for a lawyer that we thought might be good, and my father [who was also a lawyer] said ‘Oh yes, he’s very good, go ahead…’ We made an appointment and the lawyer’s name was Peter Parcher – and he had been in the newspapers because he got Keith Richards off of a big heroine bust in Canada. He was able to swap jailtime for a concert to raise money for the blind and, well, that’s my kinda guy.

“We had a meeting with him and he said ‘I wanna introduce you to my partner here who this is his specialty’, and you know we just paid the money and it wasn’t a terrible amount for just looking at a contract – and it saved our ass.”

That was probably a $100-200 at the time. Who knows how much that saved you in the long run. It’s likely the best investment you ever made.

“Yeah, money well spent!”

Chris Frantz autobiography Remain In Love

Chris Frantz’s autobiography Remain In Love is published by White Rabbit and available now.

How I Make It Work is a series of interviews with a variety of creative professionals, where we discuss personal experiences and lessons learned about money in the creative industries.

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Short Cuts

Day jobs: Linz Hamilton (Vodun) – musician and electrician

As part of a new series looking at day jobs for creatives, we speak to the NZ guitarist about the merits of his side-career as a contract electrician

It can be really difficult to make a living from creative work alone. As I discussed previously with DJ/new music guru Shell Zenner, sometimes the only course is to work a day job and try to build things to a point where you can go full-time.

It is a balancing act, but done well, this approach can result in you doing more than one job you enjoy, while also easing some of the financial pressure and helping you gain some complementary skills.

Linz Hamilton (pictured top of the page, left) grew up in New Zealand and came to the UK to make his way in music. On arriving, one of the first shows he caught featured the band Vodun – a voodoo rock trio that meld big, Sabbath-y metal riffs with the powerful soul-style vocals of singer Chantal Brown (ex-Invasion, Chrome Hoof and Do Me Bad Things). As fate would have it, just few years later, he wound-up joining the group.

“It really works with the lifestyle of touring. If you’ve got a break, you can go and do a three month contract”

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When he’s not occupying his role as a neon voodoo spirit, though, Linz covers his bills by working as a contract electrician. It’s a line he got into due to the foresight of his school career’s office.

“A friend of mine went to the career’s department and said, ‘I want to be a musician and play in bands’,” explains Linz. “They said to him, ‘Go and do electronics, because at least then if your gear breaks, you’ll be able to fix it.’ He went on to be a painter and I took his advice and trained to be an electrician!”

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Trading up

Perhaps my views are outdated, but I can’t imagine a UK equivalent being so practically-minded. Either way, it appears to have been good advice.

“It’s been really handy for me to have a trade,” says Linz. “It’s meant that I could go, ‘OK, I’m going to uproot from New Zealand, get a job, be educated, do contracting.’ It really works with the lifestyle of touring. If you’ve got a break, you can go and do a three month contract, or jump on a site for a week or so.”

Music is one of the riskier career paths and Linz says the idea of finding a complementary day job had long factored in his thinking.

“I was endorsed by my neighbour in NZ who used to make handmade guitars for me and he said, ‘Never forget that you will need a job.’ It’s not the 70s anymore where the big labels will fund you the whole way. You’ve got to love it and want to love it and you’ll have to pay your way a little bit.”

Fanning the flames

As predicted by the Linz’s school career’s advisor, the career choice has had other benefits for his music, too. Not just in understanding signal path and tone.

“It really paid off at a show in Madrid,” adds Linz. “I had to stop and resolve an electrical fire so the support band could finish their set and we could play ours!”

“It’s not the 70s… You’ve got to love it and want to love it and you’ll have to pay your way a little bit”

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The other benefit of becoming an electrician is that a lot of the training can be done via a paid apprenticeship position. However, if wires aren’t your thing, Linz has one other suggestion…

“As a little side note,” adds Linz. “Chan [vocals] would also recommend cheffing/kitchen work, as she has been working for a charity Made Up Kitchen over the lockdown/pandemic, cooking donated food into a different daily menu for those in need over this crisis. She is really enjoying the ability to still be creative and giving back to the community.”

For Linz’s part though, he says he’d happily recommend electrician work for touring musicians and he’s glad he took the tip given to his friend. As Linz jokes: “It has been the best advice I never got!”

If you want more information on apprenticeships, check out the City & Guilds website. To keep up-to-date with all things Vodun

Linz Hamilton (pictured left) works a day job as an electrician when not touring
Vodun (Linz Hamilton pictured left)

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

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.
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Guides

Coronavirus financial help for UK creative workers

Want to know what’s available in your sector? Start here…

This piece was first posted in July, 2020. However, the pandemic has dragged on and with it the devastating impacts on the lives and livelihoods of many of those in the creative industries. We’re still very much in the grip of coronavirus, financial help for UK creatives appears to be drying up and there are some concerning stats floating around. However, there are still schemes and support options available.

Here I’ve rounded-up some of the key resources by sector. This list will likely be updated, so if you feel I’ve missed anything useful or important, please drop me an email on creativemoneycontact@gmail.com.

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#GapsInSupport

Creative Money would also like to take the chance to shout about the significant struggles faced by those who have fallen through the gaps in government support, an outsized proportion of whom work in these industries.

These groups include freelancers taxed via the PAYE system, those setup as limited companies and paid via dividend, plus the newly employed or self-employed.

Collectively, that equates to millions of taxpayers who have been unable to earn since the start of the pandemic and who have, effectively, been penalised by the somewhat arbitrary rules regarding Covid-19 support schemes.

If you’d like to help do something about this, then please support the excellent work of ForgottenPAYE, ForgottenLtd and New Starter Justice, by visiting their sites and following their social media channels.

More importantly, sign the petitions they are promoting, email your MP and make your voice heard. If you’ve not been impacted directly, it’s highly likely that your colleagues have been.

Hang In There artwork - Coronavirus financial help UK
Hang In There. Credit: Ayşegül Altınel.

Submitted for United Nations Global Call Out To Creatives.
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Coronavirus financial help: support by sector

Jump to your sector using the links below, or scroll down to take a look at the full range…

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Arts Council funding

Since the pandemic, the Arts Council (the body responsible for awarding public funding for UK creative work) to respond more readily to the needs of small practitioners and freelancers.

The government’s vaunted £1.57bn support for the cultural sector is being delivered via the Arts Council. However, the options below are not Covid-19-specific…

Developing Your Creative Practice

This fund focuses on helping creative workers to develop their skills and associated career options and is due to open back up in Autumn 2020.

National Lottery Project Grants

Aimed at everyone from individuals to larger organisations, there is an enlarged budget of £75 million available until 21 March, 2021 and the fund is now designed to be “more responsive to the needs of smaller independent organisations and individual practitioners during Covid-19.”

Film/TV

Bectu

Media and entertainment union Bectu has been calling for a government to create a support package to specifically aid the recovery of the much-beleaguered creative industries.

They are asking people to write to their MPs and have created this handy letter template that will populate an email to your MP, based on your postcode. It’s very easy to use, you just have to pop in your name and address.

Covid-19 – Support for the UK Television & Film Industry

This is an active support page on Facebook for UK TV and film industry workers. It’s got 6000+ members and aims to share information on everything from financial support to spare rooms. You might find it useful.

Film & TV Charity

Offer a free 24-hour support line on 0800 054 0000, or if you prefer you can email or live chat. They can offer advice on financial issues, legal queries, health and wellbeing and even career development.

The Film and TV Covid-19 recovery fund

Provides grants of £750 a month for up to six months (up to £4,500) to active workers in film, TV and cinema provide grants of £750 a month for up to six months (up to £4,500) to active workers in film, TV and cinema affected by the crisis. Deadline: 12 October, 2020

ScreenSkills

The industry body ScreenSkills is offering loads of genuinely good online training courses at present, some have a fee but many are free and offer direct access to commissioners and other industry experts.

Music

CoronaMusicians

The excellent UK charity HelpMusicians has built a dedicated site to compile a vast array of resources and support available for musicians affected by the pandemic. This includes links to government schemes, union support and charity funds, plus legal/contract advice, resources for those in music education and mental health support. Thanks very much HelpMusicians.

HelpMusicians Hardship Fund (Phase 2)

We’ve highlighted this separately as it’s one example of support that can be accessed without being a member of a union (though we’d still recommend you join one ASAP, if you have the means). You can support the fund by donating to the charity. Deadline: 31 October, 2020.

Music Minds Matter

A helpline for anyone working in the music industry. It’s free, confidential and open 24 hours. Just dial 0808 802 8008.


Does your work situation make it difficult to save money? Check out our guide: ‘How to start saving (when you don’t think you can)


Performing Arts

Equity Benevolent Fund

Full members of the Equity union can apply for grants for one-off emergency expenses like bills and food if they’re facing financial hardship.

Exchange Project

A great scheme that aims to connect the under-utilised, furloughed staff from the theatre industry with creative freelancers, in order to help the latter develop new projects and skills.

Royal Variety Charity Financial Assistance grants

The Royal Variety Charity is uniquely positioned to provide financial assistance to anyone who serves any facet of the Entertainment Industry. Deadline: ongoing

TheatreSupport

TheatreSupport is the mega resource you need for a full breakdown of support for those working in the arts. They’ve even put together this extremely useful flow chart to help you figure out where to go, depending on your role/sector.

Publishing

NUJ

The National Union of Journalists (interesting note: it’s also open to those in publishing) has a charitable hardship fund NUJ Extra for members, which can issue one-off grants to help cover bills and other crucial expenses. You can donate to the fund here. They have also put together this briefing on government support schemes.

The Society Of Authors

Have set up the Author’s Emergency Fund, which issues grants of up to £2,000 to meet “urgent need” for writers and related roles (including journos, illustrators, poets, scriptwriters etc.) No need to be a member, as far as we’re aware.

The White Pube Writers Grant funded by Creative Debuts

Not Covid-specific, but might be useful… £500 given out monthly to a working class writer based in the UK. This grant has been set up to support writers of all ages who are early in their careers and would benefit from this no-strings attached financial support to help them in whatever they like. Deadline: ongoing

Writers Guild Of Great Britain

The WGGB has a welfare fund for members to help them meet debts, or cover essential business or personal expenses. Grants are usually limited to £1,000.

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Coronavirus financial help for UK freelancers

The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme has been extended once again adding third and fourth payments for those affected. However, if you’ve not already done so, you can still claim for the second SEISS grant until 19 October, 2020.

The latest extension, outlined under Rishi Sunak’s Winter Economy Plan last week, will cover a further six months from 1 November, 2020. The third grant has been significantly reduced, though: from 70% to 20% of your average quarterly profits (across the tax years 2016-2019) – to a cap of £1,875.

No news yet on when applications will open for the third SEISS grant, but keep an eye on the newsletter and I’ll let you know. The existing eligibility requirements, sadly, remain unchanged for the third grant.

Regardless of your eligibility for SEISS, freelancers will now be able to further delay tax payments by spreading payments that were previously due on 31 January, 2021 across a period of 12 months.

As ever with HMRC, if you’re struggling to pay tax it’s best to let them know ASAP. HMRC has a Covid-19 hotline: 0800 0159 559.

Those on PAYE, we’re with you. Please check above for details of support available by sector. You may be able to get help from one of the grants we’ve mentioned.


Trying to keep a closer eye on your finances? Check outThe best budgeting apps for UK creative workers


Coronavirus financial help for UK students

Many of the unions mentioned above are not extending hardship funds to their student members, so if you need help start with your student union and/or education provider.

Most universities have student hardship funds, such as this one from Sheffield Hallam, which may be open to applications and can help you with grants, bill payments, advice and food voucher schemes. Housing charities like Shelter can also offer support to those struggling to pay rent or facing accommodation issues.

And finally… a note on Universal Credit

Bear in mind that if you can’t get support through the existing government schemes or funds above, you will likely still be eligible for Universal Credit (provided you are on low/no income and have <£16,000 in savings).

The system is still far from perfect, but has reportedly improved dramatically since its launch. The standard monthly allowance is £409.89 for over-25s and £342.72 for under-25s, but this can be higher, depending on your circumstances.

What did I miss?

If you have anything to add to the list above, or any recommendations or resources that have proved particularly helpful during this time, please let us know in the comments below, or via email on creativemoneycontact@gmail.com.

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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.
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Guides Principles Resources

Can you buy happiness? 5 principles for happier spending

Trying to buy happiness itself is unlikely to work, but changing the way you spend and consume can help you to get more of it

No one gets into creative work for the money. However, as I started to discuss last week in my How to spend money piece, the resulting limitations on our funds mean we need to be smarter-than-average when it comes to our spending. This means it needs to make us as happy as possible for as long as possible. So how can you buy happiness?

Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton are two US academics who spent years researching the impact of different spending approaches on people’s happiness levels. Dunn, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and Norton a marketing professor at Harvard Business School, eventually recorded their ideas in a helpful book entitled ‘Happy Money’.

Happy Money: The New Science Of Smarter Spending book cover

I stumbled across ‘Happy Money’ when I was working in my local library and I’ve since found it really useful in helping me to reframe spending decisions.

‘Happy Money’ resists the temptation to get preachy, which means it does not trigger my internal ‘f***-off!’ sensor

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It’s an impressive book because, although there’s a substantial amount of research behind their recommendations, it reads in a very straight forward, useful fashion. It also resists the temptation to get preachy or dogmatic, which means it does not trigger my internal ‘f***-off!’ sensor.

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Inside, they identify five key principles of happy money. You can learn more about them below, but the book goes into much more detail and has loads of compelling evidence and useful examples to back it all up. As such, I really recommend you consider reading ‘Happy Money’. You can buy it over on Amazon or, even better, drop by your local library (when possible).

  1. Buy experiences
  2. Make it a treat
  3. Buy time
  4. Pay now, consume later
  5. Invest in others

1) Buy experiences

photo of assorted-color air balloon lot in mid air during daytime
Photo by Mar Cerdeira on Unsplash

Buying experiences instead of stuff usually makes us happier and in a more lasting way.

Cleverly-marketed shiny things are designed to persuade you to buy a lifestyle by purchasing a product. We want that positive change – it’s part of process called ‘self-actualisation’ (an awful term for the process of trying to become the person we want to be) – and advertisers are very good at telling us that buying their stuff will get us there.

Look to buy experiences that match Dunn and Norton’s criteria. You’ll be happier for it

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The problem is that it usually does not. Just look at the scores of high-earners who find the big house and the statement car to be somewhat hollow victories, once acquired.

A sense of self

Instead, Dunn and Norton cite a Cornell study that shows how things like travel, theatre trips, gallery visits and dinner with friends come to define their subject’s sense of self much more than their purchases.

Interestingly, when given the option to go back in time and change one of these purchases for an alternative, those who had bought an experience were much more likely to stick with their initial decision.

This makes sense to me. In my role as a music journalist, I’ve often heard musicians say as much: “There’s nothing I’d change, it all made me who I am…” etc. Indeed, it happens so often that I’ve written it off as a crap question.

Notably, Dunn and Norton say experience-based spending proves even more satisfying when it…

  • brings you into contact with other people
  • results in good stories
  • is linked to the ideas you have about who you want to be
  • is in some way unique

Resist the urge to buy the shiny thing whenever you can and instead look to buy experiences that match Dunn and Norton’s criteria. You’ll be happier for it.

2) Make it a treat

white teacup near bread
Photo by Linda Söndergaard on Unsplash

Being conscious of what you consume and spacing-out (or varying) the good stuff allows you to gain more enjoyment from it.

Have you ever been round the likes of Borough Market in London (or any farmers market/purveyor of posh produce) where they divvy out free samples?

You try a sliver of cheese and, suddenly conscious of the flavour, it tastes phenomenal. Four hours later, on the sofa, you can be ladling fat wedges of barrel-aged cheddar into your gob in front of Netflix and feel only a fraction of the joy. The more you consume, the less benefit you experience.

Diminishing returns

This is the psychological effect to look out for and that Dunn and Norton say justifies their ‘make it a treat’ approach. That aforementioned owner of the big house and statement car will find it stops making them happy because they soon get used to it. It’s the same with most things in our lives – and even our lives themselves.

Identify the good things and savour them by limiting consumption and being more conscious of them

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A bit of mindfulness helps here, the authors say we should identify the good things and savour them by limiting our consumption and being more conscious about enjoying them.

So, if fancy cars really matter to our hypothetical ‘high-earner’, they might be happier buying something dependable and efficient, then using the savings for regular track days, or just renting a posh car once in a while.

At the other end of the expense scale, there’s a lot of happiness to be gained in your daily life, whether it’s being a tourist in our your own city, savouring your food (away from the TV) or making the most of those first few drinks.

3) Buy time

person holding yellow round analog clock
Photo by Morgan Housel on Unsplash

I think this is probably the most important lesson for creative workers to absorb. If one thing from this list is going to make the most difference to our ability to develop the work and lifestyles we enjoy, it is buying time.

For most of us, the sense is either that money is scarce and you need to work more to earn more, or that your time is very valuable and therefore also scarce. Either way, we all feel time poor. So what can we do?

Astonishingly, they report an hour long commute has a similar sized impact on your happiness as having no job at all

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Well, they say if you want something give it away, and it is apparently the same with time. For instance, in a study cited by Dunn and Norton, those volunteering for just 15 minutes a week felt like they had more free time as a result of giving some up.

So how do you buy time? It’s usually a trade-off. Maybe you take a lower paying job closer to home, or you leave the overtime on the table, or (as the authors suggest) resist the urge to invest in time-sinks like cinematic TVs.

The three big ‘time wins’

Dunn and Norton say the big three areas to focus on are commuting, watching television (and I think we can safely extend this to screen time in 2020) and socialising.

Astonishingly, they report an hour long commute has a similar scale impact on your happiness as having no job at all. While another survey found that one of the greatest sources of happiness was simply playing with your kids.

Even if you feel you’re stuck with the commute, making a conscious effort to directly trade screen time in favour of social interaction could have huge benefits on your happiness.

Time and money don’t have to be rivals, but we can probably spend both more wisely.

4) Pay now, consume later

white yacht on dock

Photo by Karim MANJRA on Unsplash

Reverse the debt process – take the purchase pain on the chin now and you’ll enjoy it more later.

We live in a culture where it’s possible to fulfil small desires very quickly, without paying for them upfront. This phenomenon is only speeding up – look at the rapid rise of store credit firm Klarna, as a recent example.

The products often don’t make us happy in a lasting way, while the debts definitely make us unhappy. They also limit our future spending power and, by extension, future opportunities to use that money in beneficial ways.

Our natural instinct is to seize a benefit and delay the pain (payment). Reversing this process makes us happier

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Dunn and Norton say that reversing this process, conversely, has great benefits in terms of happiness. Paying upfront for something – whether it’s a city break or an Xbox – and spending some time anticipating it can actually increase our enjoyment of the product or experience.

What’s more, they say that regularly using this anticipation process, even just thinking about tomorrow’s dinner, makes you a more optimistic, happier person.

What purchases can you make now and anticipate?

The process works best when delaying the experience allows you to research aspects of it that will increase your expectations of a positive experience (e.g. looking up menus, looking at hotel pics).

They say it’s also particularly effective when the experience itself is likely to be brief, as it allows you to maximise your happiness from the consumption. Of course, this doesn’t work for everything: don’t delay your MOT, for example.

The authors also point out that our natural instinct is to seize a benefit and delay the pain (payment). This is the sneaky power of debt – the reason we find it easy to use credit cards, but hard to save for pensions – but it’s also the thing least likely to make us happy.

Dunn and Norton’s research tells us that if you can do the reverse of that instinct, pay upfront and ideally consume later, you’ll be a lot happier as a result of your spending.

5) Invest in others

woman holding white and black coffee cup
Photo by Javier Molina on Unsplash

Spending money on others makes us even happier than spending money on ourselves.

Dunn and Norton recount an experiment in Vancouver in which a student handed people $5-20 to spend on either themselves or someone else. Those who did the latter reported a much higher degree of happiness than those who spent the cash on themselves – no matter how much they’d been given.

The link between happiness and what they call ‘prosocial spending’ is remarkably universal

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A much broader study of US citizens found a similar correlation, as did one that compared similar experiments between a rich country (Canada) and a poor one (Uganda). Dunn and Norton describe this link between happiness and what they call ‘prosocial spending’ as “remarkably universal”.

Make it a choice, make a connection, make an impact

Again, Dunn and Norton say that there are things you can do to increase the happiness return. 

First, make it a choice (mandatory charity is less satisfying). Second, make a connection (perhaps by giving in person or to someone that’s close in some way or even just to a charity of your choosing). Third, pick something that has a notable impact, even if it’s a small donation (they cite examples like malaria nets, or spontaneously buying meals for strangers).

Interestingly, even if you don’t have a philanthropic bone in your body, Dunn and Norton note studies that found those who routinely gave money away also wound-up wealthier over the longrun.

Those are the five principles behind ‘Happy Money’. They’ve certainly come to shape the way I think about my spending. How can you adapt them in your life?

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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.
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Guides

The best budgeting apps for UK creative workers

Untangle your personal finances with our guide to the best budgeting apps for UK creative-types

Working in the creative industries has its ups and downs – and not least when it comes to our cashflow. This can make it really hard to budget effectively. The best budgeting apps make this process much less painful, taking full advantage of the ‘open banking’ revolution to quickly and clearly calculate our cashflow and spending. What’s more, most of them are free, too

Often in creative careers our finances will vary greatly from month-to-month. One month you can be sat at home wondering where the next gig will come from, the next you could be earning and paying a second rent in a new city.

The budgeting process usually relies on predictability – and that is something that is in short supply in our field

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This makes budgeting exceptionally difficult for creative workers. It’s a process that normally relies on predictability – and that is in short supply in our industries.


Does your work situation make it difficult to save money? Check out our guide:How to start saving (when you don’t think you can)


Budgeting apps can be particularly useful to creative workers because the data will usually be much more up-to-date and easier to interpret. This is helpful when your income and expenses somewhat wildly fluctuate!

A good budgeting app can

  • Make it easy to track and sort your income and spending into categories
  • Give you a clear picture (via fancy graphs and charts) of your income, spending and cashflow
  • Help you compare the above across the months/years
  • Allow you to set budgets for defined projects/categories
  • Keep you up-to-date on how much you have left
  • Help you to identify potential savings on your bills
  • Help you to save or invest by siphoning off cash on a daily basis (for instance, by rounding up transactions)
  • ‘Gameify’ the process of money management

Most do this by connecting to your bank (with your explicit permission) and regularly importing your transactions for analysis. Some have the power to make transfers between accounts, but most just look at the data.

If this sounds a little suspect, rest assured that all of those featured on the best budgeting apps list are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, which is there to ensure they behave themselves. Do not use any service which is not FCA registered.

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Things to consider when picking budgeting apps…

What do you need?

Each of these apps has different strengths and weaknesses. Some are great at budgeting, some can help you save more, others have better spending analysis or clearer interfaces.

I have my preference (below) but you might need to try a few. Ultimately, the ‘best budgeting app’ is the one you will actually use consistently. Just keeping half-an-eye on these things will help you to improve your finances (lowering expenses, increasing savings), so know thyself! Which one will most encourage you to keep track?

Cost

Most of the apps below are free, but some have a small subscription fee or premium tier that gives you more options.

How many accounts and types of accounts do you want to manage?

Do you want a budgeting app that’s a one-stop shop to plan and keep track of your assets (including pensions and the value of your home)? Or simply an app that makes it easy to monitor a basic set of current and savings accounts?

How will you use the app?

It’s good to consider how you will use a budgeting app as part of a wider system.

You might be keen to set goals and boost your savings or pension. Or you might want to use the app to easily calculate your monthly income, spending and savings and track those total figures in a separate spreadsheet.

Alternatively, you may want separate apps for work expenses and personal finances (perhaps you have an accountancy platform with whizzy apps for your work stuff and just want something simple for personal finances).

Most give you various export options for data so you have even greater flexibility if you require it.

1. MoneyHub

Best UK budgeting apps for UK users: MoneyHub

Best for making a complex picture clear

This is Creative Money’s preferred choice of budgeting app. It helps you to keep track of income, expenses and savings (like Money Dashboard et al), but you also can pull in an impressive range of investment accounts, pensions and even home equity.

For
  • Makes a complex web of account types easy to understand
  • Easy transaction tagging process (compared to other apps)
  • Great as a simple way to keep track of net worth
  • Spending and income analysis tools are really clear
  • Big range of accounts supported (including Vanguard)
Against
  • Some users say it’s not so hot on the predictive/forecasting side
  • Has a sideline in trying to direct you to financial advisors, too (but doesn’t rub it in your face)
  • It also comes with a small monthly fee of £1.49

2. Money Dashboard

Best budgeting apps for UK users: Money Dashboard

Best for those who want an established name

Probably the biggest name among UK budgeting apps. It set the template in many ways: you connect your accounts, tag your transactions and it will start to automatically group them into categories for tracking/comparing month to month.

For
  • Money Dashboard has won multiple awards
  • You can also set multiple budgets (telling it which categories to track) and add recurring bills etc. to predict cashflow
  • Was the first UK app to really crack the blend of an intuitive interface and mainstream connectivity
  • New features are rolling out all the time and a ‘predicted balance after bills’ feature is useful for those with a regular income
Against
  • The recent redesign, Money Dashboard Neon, has not gone down well with everyone
  • Some say it’s a little glitchy and lacks some of the utility of the classic version

3. Emma

Best budgeting apps for UK users: Emma

Best for finding those sneaky fees and expenses

The makers of Emma describe their app as ‘a financial advocate’. Their USP is that it analyses your transactions and tries to find ways to keep you in good shape, financially.

For
  • Keeps track of the sneaky stuff you often don’t notice
  • Seeks out subscriptions you don’t need
  • Uses notifications to help you avoid overdraft
  • Compatible with cryptocurrencies [this is NOT an endorsement of crypto – but that’s another post]
  • Clear interface.
Against
  • Can’t split transactions across categories on the free version
  • Some people don’t get on with the interface’s super-bold colour scheme
  • Pro plan is quite expensive (min. £4.90/month).

4. Yolt

Best budgeting apps for UK users: Yolt

Best for keeping it simple

Yolt likes to keep it simple. It offers you a place to connect and view multiple accounts and doesn’t get hung up on fancy tech to make predictions or do things for you.

For
  • Easy to use, with intuitive auto-categorisation
  • Simple to set and review budgets
  • Stealth mode allows you to show off app without personal info
  • Payday tracker
  • Free for life with no premium mode
Against
  • Pay tracker only works for monthly/four-weekly
  • Not as clever or customisable as rival apps
  • Unlike the others here, there are no options for savings goals/projects
An artist AND an app-user
Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

How did we pick?

Through a blend of personal usage/testing, user reviews and considering research conducted by other independent platforms. Creative Money is 100% independent and has no affiliation, commercial or otherwise, with any of the brands mentioned above.


Creative Money Guides are ‘How-to’s and explainers relating to specific aspects of money management for those working in the creative industries.

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How can we help you?

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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.

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Blogs

7 reasons to be cheerful: what’s working in the creative industries right now

Creative workers seeking silver linings, start here

It seems like there’s been nothing but bad news for the creative industries since the start of the pandemic. However, good things have happened. Let’s take a moment to celebrate some of them…

We should start by acknowledging the giant, viciously-tusked elephant in the room: things have not gone well lately for creative workers.

Camera operator, dancer, opera singer, publisher, podcaster, designer, writer, photographer, or musician: the one thing we all have in common right now is that our industry, our finances and our access to wider opportunities, have all taken a considerable hit.

It can be easy to lose hope in the face of such news, but this is exactly why it’s crucial to recognise and celebrate the victories of the last few months. And there have been victories. Skills have been gained, organisations formed and new community champions have emerged, all of which will have lasting, positive impacts on the creative industries.

Ever the optimist, below I’ve rounded-up a few reasons to be cheerful…

Freelancers make theatre work – established June, 2020

1. Our professional communities have grown much stronger

Wherever you look in the creative industries, you will see new organisations forming, new voices emerging and established bodies finding new ways to connect with their communities.

Take Freelancers Make Theatre Work, for example. They only launched in June, but have since worked relentlessly for UK theatre workers, sharing a huge variety of useful resources (from mental health to financial guidance), showcasing the people behind the industry figures and being somehow both fierce and friendly in articulating freelancers’ needs.

Elsewhere, the mentoring and development opportunities on offer from existing bodies like Women In Film & TV, ScreenSkills and Presspad UK have been really well-received. Helping their respective industries to open-up a little more and start to move beyond simply paying lip service to the idea of community.

2. Tom Gray’s #BrokenRecord campaign is raising awareness of an inadequate royalty system

Songwriter and Gomez man Tom Gray has been doing a fantastic job of highlighting streaming services’ low royalty payments at a time when musicians and writers most depend on them.

A songwriter might get just 6.5% of a song’s streaming revenue of “approx £0.005 per play, ” Gray says – and this can be split across multiple writers.

The problem is by no means solved, but more people are aware of it than ever, the pressure on the streaming services to change has never been higher and there are now real conversations being had about alternative models and solutions.

How to get started on Patreon
Patreon passed the $2 billion mark recently

3. Fans are backing artists and creators in more ways than ever

Patreon says creators have now raised more than $2 billion via its platform. It reportedly took six years for the first billion, but just 15 months for the second. Meanwhile, 100,000 new creators have signed-up since March. It’s no panacea but it shows people are realising that their favourite creatives need real backing, not just meagre royalties or Google Ad revenue.

Elsewhere, BandCamp – hailed by the industry as one of the best ways to support musicians – has risen to the challenge. Since they start of the pandemic they have channelled some $20 million directly to artists and labels via the BandCamp Friday scheme, which sees the firm wave their platform fees on the first Friday of the month. They also report that since March, fans have bought over $75 million worth of music and merchandise via the platform.


Want to know more about Patreon? Check out our guide How does Patreon work for artists and creators? featuring UK podcasters RedHanded.


4. The Music Venue Trust’s #SaveOurVenues campaign has already helped save 140 iconic small venues

The Music Venue Trust is a charity that aims to protect the UK’s grassroots venues, recognising that our world-beating music industry needs to be supported from the ground-up. They have performed phenomenally well during the pandemic, playing a big role in securing the £2.25 million emergency support package that kept the lights on in over 140 of the UK’s finest small venues. They are still over 400 that need help, but they’re still coming up with innovative ways to raise cash and awareness.

In addition, they’ve also raised £1 million for their own crisis fund, led a new ‘Passport Back To Our Roots’ (big artist, small gig) initiative for re-opening and secured £2.2 million support for Scottish venues.

The #SaveOurVenues campaign still needs support and you can donate here

Excluded UK logo
ExcludedUK have done much to champion cultural workers

5. Fierce new champions have emerged

Yes, it’s a bit comic book, but the work of those behind the collective #GapsInSupport campaign has been nothing less than heroic. Rishi Sunak may pretend he isn’t listening, but he’s definitely heard.

Meanwhile, the seemingly tireless efforts and punchy campaigning of the likes of Ellie Phillips, Jodie McCallum and all those behind the Forgotten PAYE, New Starters For Justice, Forgotten Ltd and BBC PAYE freelancers groups is raising real awareness of the issue, with new major media coverage appearing every day.

It’s been a really tough time for some of us, but the campaign has, I suspect, provided a quite literal lifeline to those they represent – many of whom have now gone many months without income or appropriate government support.

Looking for funding opportunities?

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6. That £1.57 billion support package

There are valid concerns about the government’s £1.57 billion support package for the arts. Are we going to wind-up sustaining cultural venues at the expense of our creative workforce? Is it going to materialise on time? Is the Arts Council funding process inherently biased to organisations overloaded with hefty salaries and administrative workers?

However, £1.57 billion is nonetheless a huge figure and a significant statement of support for the sector. Some of it has already fed through to the small venues fund (above), while £2 million has been split between HelpMusicians Financial Hardship Funding programme and UK Theatre’s Theatre Artist’s Fund.

What’s more, following this week’s deadline, the Culture Recovery Fund will soon be distributing grants between £50,000 and £3 million to successful applicants.

7. The tide just might be turning (albeit slowly)

It will come too late for many and maybe we’ll take a step backwards before we move forwards this winter, but the wheels of democracy are slowly turning in the creative industries’ favour. The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (which scrutinises the government’s DCMS department) has completed its inquiry into the impact of Covid-19 and has recommended the creation of “a sector specific deal that provides continued support for cultural workers, including freelancers and small companies…” Encompassing “long-term support, including tax reliefs, to rebuild audience figures and investment.”

This is by no means a done deal – the government has two months to respond and may well mumble about the £1.57 billion and do little else – but it is a positive step. Let’s hope it’s the first of many.

Silver linings for creative workers
Photo by Aakanksha Panwar 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.
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Guides

How does Patreon work for artists and creators?

Wondering how to start a Patreon page? Our in-depth guide takes you through the dos and don’ts, with expert insights from UK podcasters RedHanded.

Patreon is becoming an important platform for creatives looking to fund their work. Based in the US, the service launched in 2013 when YouTuber Jack Conte teamed-up with former college roommate and computer science graduate, Sam Yam.

Conte’s idea was to create a recurring payment system that would offer an alternative income stream for creatives who would be otherwise reliant on ad revenue. He contacted Yam, who coded it up and the rest is history – seven years on, the platform has overseen payments to creators exceeding $1 billion.

Here we’re going to take a look at how the platform works and what you can do to increase you chances of success on Patreon. To help us out, we’ve got Suruthi Bala from RedHanded podcast to offer some shrewd insights to the creator experience.

Alongside her podcast partner Hannah Maguire, Bala has taken their richly-reported true crime show from recording under a duvet (for sound-proofing purposes) to a point where it now generates an incredible $25,000+ a month from Patreon alone. Let’s get going…

How does Patreon work? Suruthi Bala of RedHanded podcast answers our questions
Suruthi Bala and Hannah Maguire of true crime podcast RedHanded

What is Patreon?

Patreon is technically a crowdfunding site. The platform’s great innovation – over the likes of Kickstarter et al – is that it allows users to set up a regular payment or subscription (as opposed to a one-time pledge) to the project or creator. This means fans can offer their favourite creators continuous support, usually in return for exclusive ‘rewards’ of the creator’s choosing.

Patreon benefits

The key benefit for creators is that it can simplify the process of earning money directly from their own work. If people like what you do, they can support you financially, enabling you to create more (or pay your gas bill). The idea is that this can be built-up over time to form a regular income stream for the creator, although success is by no means guaranteed.

“The functionality of the platform is outstanding,” says Bala. “[It is amazing] how easy it is to use and explain to listeners, as well as how flexible it is to build a subscription strategy that is right for you and your patrons.”

The platform also benefits from a high degree of brand recognition compared to many of its rivals – and that can be particularly beneficial when you’re asking people to sign-up with their payment details.

Patreon logo

Starting a Patreon – is it right for me?

There are a few factors to consider when starting a Patreon page and creating a useful level of income usually requires three things…

  1. An existing audience of a decent size and dedication (or the time to build one)
  2. The ability to create and understand the rewards that actually appeal to that audience
  3. The means to support yourself while you figure all this stuff out

However, the above can be said about almost all crowdfunding/ membership platforms. Suffice to say, you may not be quitting your day job straight away – as ever in creative circles, be very wary of any ‘opportunity’ that suggests otherwise – but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth starting.

“We’ve been using Patreon since December 2017,” says Bala. “It felt right for us, firstly because people seemed aware of it – our audience actually berated us into setting up a Patreon!”

At this point we would like everyone to note that when people ask to give you cash, you should help them to do so.

“Our audience actually berated us into setting up a Patreon!”

Suruthi Bala
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“[Even then] we didn’t at first because we weren’t sure anyone would want to support us!” admits Bala. “But we were definitely wrong… It has been so transformative for us, the ability to monetise specific content and easily distribute it, as well as the way in which we’ve been able to build a community via Patreon, is fantastic.”

Of course, the transactional nature of Patreon’s reward tiers means you are essentially exchanging your creative output for cash. This is no bad thing in the eyes of Creative Money (obvs.), but some may feel they don’t want to price or paywall their work in this way.


Where do you draw the line? Read the blog post ‘The Starving Artist vs. The Sell-Out’ – the struggle of the creative worker for more thoughts on this.


Patreon membership – know and grow

“It wasn’t an overnight success,” says Bala of RedHanded’s debut on the platform. “But that was because we weren’t able to spend a decent amount of time creating for just patrons. The beauty of Patreon is to us: what you put in, is what you get out.”

As mentioned above, an existing audience is a big help, particularly, as you will likely only get a small percentage of the group who want to contribute something financially. However, the better the relationship you have with your audience, the higher the chance of success and the easier you will find it to create appealing rewards.

“I’d say that there are three types of patrons,” says Bala. “The transactional type – ‘what content have you got that I want – and can I afford it?’; The supporter – those who don’t care if you post on Patreon at all, they just want to help; and the in and outers – those who like a specific bit of content one month, pop in and leave.”

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What tiers and rewards should I set on Patreon?

A key piece of advice is to think about your fans and ensure that there are tiers suited to all budgets. After all, you don’t want to exclude anyone who wants to support you.

In terms of rewards, think about what (predominantly non-physical) things you can offer that will easily scale and do not require a huge amount of extra labour or man hours to deliver.

For instance, if you are a music producer, perhaps share some presets packs for your favoured software. If you make art, consider long-form videos of you working. If you produce written or recorded material, consider what evergreen content or access perks might appeal to patrons, or a reward that acknowledges your patrons in some way.

“Our most popular tier is actually our $10 tier and this was something we definitely planned”

Suruthi Bala
Creative Money icon

You might be surprised just how much your ideas about the best rewards differ from those of your fans, so it’s worth reviewing your tiers periodically in order to figure out what is working.

Our tiers are: $2, $5, $10 and $20,” explains Bala. “As part of our strategy we really wanted to focus on building volume at the $5 and $10 tiers. Our most popular tier is actually our $10 tier and this was something we definitely planned.”

For RedHanded, the lower tiers get shout-outs, early releases and ad-free episodes, while the higher tiers get extra podcasts and (at the top end) an exclusive enamel pin.

“We did a ‘rewards audit’ in December 2019,” says Bala. “We noticed that there was a big jump in value between $2 and $5 and between $10 and $20, but not much between $5 and $10 – meaning people were obviously opting for $5. Why double your subscription for not much more? So we added high-value content to the $10 tier, working on the theory that people would upgrade – and they did!”

Patreon for artists and creators – RedHanded podcast's Hannah Maguire and Suruthi Bala

How to make money on Patreon

Bala says ‘the supporters’ piled-in quite quickly, but it wasn’t until October of last year that they started to make exclusive content, increasing their appeal to more transactional fans. This is when the money it generated started to really grow.

They did as much as they could before that point and it seems that rather than going all-out, it was creating rewards that were easy to fulfil initially – early releases and ad-free offers – which allowed the duo to stay the course and, eventually, to go full-time on the podcast.

“Last month we made $37,386 – and this is now our main revenue stream for the show”

Suruthi Bala
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“The growth was slow and steady but as our listeners grew our Patreon income grew organically,” says Bala. “In March 2019 Hannah went full-time – in large part thanks to Patreon – and at this stage we started doing Patreon-only content. The boost this gave us enabled me to go full-time in August 2019 [and] because we then had the time, we rolled out a massive Patreon strategy with clear and regular benefits for each tier. It changed the game for us!

“From January 2020 to now [August 2020] our Patreon income has grown by 130%! Last month we made $37,386 – and this is now our main revenue stream for the show.”

Once the money starts to come in, you can withdraw cleared funds whenever you want or setup auto payments from your balance using direct deposit, PayPal or money transfer service, Payoneer.

How much does Patreon take?

Patreon offers three plans: Lite, Pro and Premium. None of them cost anything to setup and all of them make money by charging both patrons and creators. The three plans offer various levels of support and perks, though its worth noting that you’ll need the Pro account to set different reward tiers.

The Lite plan takes 5% of your monthly income, while the Pro and Premium packages take 8% and 12%, respectively. All the plans will charge your patrons payment processing fees and these can vary according to the currency you use. The standard dollar rate is 2.9% + $0.30.

What mistakes do people make on Patreon?

A common error you’ll see people make on their Patreon pages is not creating any real motivation for potential patrons to subscribe, or to raise their tier.

If you set up a page and say ‘Help me to keep doing this…’ without anything in return, you’re unlikely to have much success. Instead say, ‘Help me keep doing this and I’ll send you these resources, plus exclusive insights into my process and behind the scenes extras.’ Be specific about what this will be.

“Once someone has a bad experience on your Patreon they are hard to win back”

Suruthi Bala
Creative Money icon

As you go up through the tiers, make sure, as RedHanded did to great success, you give people a real reason to increase their monthly subscription. Think carefully about what you can easily fulfil, though – if you’re offering fans the chance to name your firstborn and a custom wood carving of their face for every $5 membership, you might be over-stretching yourself.

We ask Bala what mistakes she has spotted. “Not being able to dedicate enough time to it,” she says. “And over-promising and under-delivering. Once someone has a bad experience on your Patreon – i.e not receiving physical rewards, or not liking the content, or the content not going out as promised – they are hard to win back.”

What does work then?

This is often overlooked, but you need to do something that at least some people really like and feel a genuine affinity with. RedHanded’s balance of humour, insight and terrifying detail has helped them develop something of a fan army – dubbed the Spooky Bitches – and they are really loyal.

“We are incredibly lucky with the following we have developed,” says Bala. “I don’t think we have any big secret as to how we’ve done it, though. We just focus on great, well-researched content, talking about topics we are authentically interested and passionate about and we put it out like clockwork. And we bring our personalities into it, which definitely makes people feel more attached to you, your success and the show.”

If she had to boil it all down then, what would Bala say is the key takeaway for Patreon newbies?

“Get started, have a plan, think about the strategy (ie. what is value for money at each tier), think through what is realistic (like how often can you really upload, and if it’s physical rewards – figure out how expensive that is), then TELL your audience regularly about your Patreon… And then just do it!”

Creative Money Guides are ‘How-to’s and explainers relating to specific aspects of money management for those working in the creative industries.

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
How I Make It Work

How I Make It Work: Stephen Mallinder

The electronic music pioneer on how adaptation and determination have proven to be the watch words for his diverse music career

Stephen Mallinder rose to prominence with Cabaret Voltaire in the late 70s, becoming one of Rough Trade’s early signings and establishing an approach to experimental music-making which would prove to be hugely influential in the electronic/ club scene.

In the intervening years, Mallinder remained embedded in music, working in all manner of roles and gaining his doctorate. He has continued to create and innovate and currently works under various monikers, most notably as part of electronic trio Wrangler (with Phil Winter of Tunng-fame and Benge) and Creep Show, with US singer-songwriter John Grant.

What’s more, he also finds time to teach on Brighton University’s Digital Music and Sound Arts degree and masters courses. Mallinder was kind enough to speak to Creative Money about how he has learned to adapt and survive, financially, despite opting for a career in experimental music-making…

How do you feel the way you work with money has helped or hindered your creative journey?

“It’s interesting. I’m part of the Sound Art programme here at Brighton, so I work with students and it is scary. It’s always been scary, how creative people move on from there. It’s alright when you’re at university and you’ve got all these great ideas and you’ve got facilities, but it’s how you function outside there. It’s obviously much more problematic now, too, with what’s happened.

“If you do music, you can’t afford to be mono-cultural in the way you approach it”

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“We’ve leapt into so many unknowns in the last 20 years, really since digitisation came along. Originally the arrival of the CD gave us this big splurge, or really, for older artists, the opportunity to re-sell their back catalogue, which worked for labels and that transformed everything, but since then the loss of ‘the product’ and the move to streaming and digital forms has massively affected people. So I think there had to have been an adaptation and I’ve kind of been through all of that.”

How did you first start to adapt?

“My adaptation was really that I realised I needed multiple ways of existing. My daughters were born in the early 90s and at that point, it was like, ‘Wow, this is really difficult…’ We were still making music, we still had our own label, but there wasn’t much [coming in] and it was hard to survive.

“I went to Australia and I lived in Australia for a while. Part of that was needing to find other ways of doing what I do and I ended up doing lots of different things. So I ran a radio station, I ran a record label, I started a production company.”

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That’s quite a variety of roles…

“I think I quickly adapted to the idea that if you do music, you can’t afford to be mono-cultural in the way you approach it. Or you can, but it’s difficult to go, ‘I make music, I make money out of selling music and doing gigs.’ That’s alright but you’ve got to be smarter with it, really. I ended up working in different parallel ways. I wrote for magazines and newspapers. I did all these things. That kind of prepared me for the world as it has been for the last 20 years, really, this ‘streamed world’. I rapidly became flexible in how I saw it.”

“When I started, you didn’t really do it for money, but then you make money out of it and you feel, ‘Oh well, I do well enough that it owes me a living’. It doesn’t work that way, though, so I think you just have to be flexible. If you want to make music then you just have to be understanding. Your expectations have to be reined in a little bit. Perhaps what I’m saying is that there has to be separation between the creative process and the entrepreneurial, money-making process. You have to spread those things a little bit apart.”

How do you make those decisions? What’s the line for you in terms of what you feel is reasonable to do for money as an artist?

“I think it’s a little bit easier for me, because I’ve not come from that world of commercial music, I’ve come from experimental, electronic music, club music, whatever you would say. It’s never been mainstream, so I’ve never been put in that position of saying, ‘Would you do this… to make money.’ I can’t remember too many instances in the past where I’ve gone, ‘I can’t do that, even if the money is really good.’ I’ve never really been put in such a compromising position. The offers for me tend to be more left field, whether it’s working for Manchester International Festival or BFI. I don’t feel I have had to make those ethical decisions.

“I love making music, but we’re not an elite, we’re not above, or better. Sometimes you have to work.”

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“I’ve always tried to make sure that what I do connects with music, so even when I was writing or when I was running a radio station to make money, the core of what I was doing was still around music. I was happy to work around parts of music – I used to put massive gigs on in Australia, for thousands of people, which were really successful – but I still felt as though I was really connected with music.

“I guess you start to have this kind of portfolio career and I do kind of say yes to most things – and then regret it later! Not because I don’t think it’s been a good thing to do, but usually with me just because I think, ‘Why the fuck did you say you’d do that? I haven’t got any time to do it…’ It’s never an ethical or a financial thing, it’s usually a time thing with me. But I tend to get asked to do nice things, so I’m lucky.”

But the fact that you get offered that kind of work is, I would imagine, down to the decisions and the connections that you’ve made…

“I’m lucky, really, in the sense that I’m from a period where music and electronic music as we were making it in that early period was incredibly significant and held a much bigger role in people’s lives. There were less people making music, the impact was greater and it was getting into people’s homes because there was product in that way. I think what has changed is that with everything becoming digital and things going online, it has democratised it, so there’s just so much of it. I don’t believe it’s dumbed it down, I just believe it’s increased the amount of work that’s been produced and the difficult thing for people now is to just make themselves heard through the noise.

“You have to have your mind set to go, ‘I will never stop doing what is the core sense of myself’. But you also have to accept that It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

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“Also, music that 20/30 years ago was very core to people’s lives is just part of people’s lives is now – a smaller part of a bigger entertainment or digital creative economy. It’s a smaller slice of the cake now.”

So, knowing that, what would you recommend people do to sustain themselves while making music?

“I just think: ‘Don’t shut anything off.’ The next thing you do might not seem totally relevant to what your primary path is, like, I love making music and doing all those things, but I may end up doing something that is not literally based around me making a piece of music, but what it might lead to is something interesting. So, you know, I enjoy teaching in Sound Art and working with the people who run the programme. It’s nice to do that because it offers so many different things. You need to think much more broadly in terms of what you’re doing, nowadays.”

One of the big struggles is how variable people’s incomes are. Have you figured out anything that helps you deal with that?

“Quite honestly, not really! Sometimes you have to work – that’s the human condition. As much as I love making music, we’re not an elite, we’re not above, or better [than others]. Sometimes you have to do that. The only thing that is difficult and this is probably the nub of it, really: for a lot of artists and musicians they don’t really sit comfortably in those worlds. They make music because it’s an expression of who they are and sometimes that’s because not everybody sits easily in the outside world. I think that’s the difficult thing.”


Struggling with your cash flow as a freelancer? Take a look at our guide: ‘How to manage your money on a variable income’


So what has proved helpful for you in this process of adapting?

“Well, I did a degree when I was really young and was the first member of my family to do it, but it did kind of make me believe that I had other things to offer, I suppose. I think that’s the difficult thing. You have to sometimes go, ‘Well, I’m going to have to do this…’ You have to separate it. Like everybody else, I’ve adapted to the situation and thought, ‘Well I need to be doing other stuff.’

“You have to have your mind set to go, ‘I will never stop doing what is the core sense of myself’, whether it’s music or making films. But you also have to accept that it’s going to be a bumpy ride. I accept that there will be times when this is the primary part of my life and there may be times when I’m not flavour of the month and I’ve got to do other things.

“But I think people who really want to do these things, they’ll never stop. I think if you’re really into it, you never give up. You can’t. You just have to adapt. We’re humans, we have to adapt.”

Stephen Mallinder
Credit: Paul Burgess

How I Make It Work is a series of interviews with a variety of creative professionals, where we discuss personal experiences and lessons learned about money in the creative industries.

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
How I Make It Work

How I Make It Work: Shell Zenner – DJ/presenter

Manchester’s mainstay DJ and new music obsessive Shell Zenner on how she makes, saves and tracks money from a diverse range of music gigs

Shell Zenner somehow blends together a career involving multiple radio shows, club nights, DJing and a huge variety of other activities, all of which revolve around an almost surreal level of dedication to new talent.

Having gone full-time in music a year or so back, she is in some ways the consummate modern media worker, pulling together a variety of incomes and a strong sense of her personal brand to sustain herself in the music and broadcast industries.

Unsurprisingly, keeping on top of her various work and projects requires a remarkable level of personal and financial organisation, so we couldn’t think of many people better placed to discuss the challenges, tips and tricks of money in the music and broadcast industries. Fortunately, Shell was generous enough to share her insights…

How would you describe your current role, given the many different strands to your work?

“I would describe myself as a ‘radio-presenter-producer-curator-music-journalist – that does digital’. Does that make sense!?”

Er, yes… How many different sources of income do you have?

“Well, I don’t do any free work unless it’s for charity, so everything else I do is paid. There are a couple of things which will pay me PAYE [Pay As You Earn – i.e. taxed at source], which is BBC work, whether freelance or staff, so I work a day and a half a week for the BBC. I do two days for my XS show, which is freelance, and my Amazing Radio show is freelance, then I do various other little projects…

“The more skills you’ve got, the stronger a position you’re going to be in”

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“So things like DJing, which is obviously not happening at the moment, but I normally co-curate nights with [Manchester venue] Band On The Wall, I do lecturing, I do hosting, I’ll get paid for filmed interviews for brands, build playlists, write articles, host online gigs – and I also do voice-overs. And I’ve forgotten about artist development! I’ve been doing quite a lot of that over the last 12 months, which has been really great, being able to mentor new artists. I’ve also done things like assessing funding applications for PRS and Help Musicians. All of that ‘top-up’ work [outside of radio], is all freelance.”


Looking for funding? Check out our guide: UK arts funding and development opportunities


There are so many poor unpaid ‘opportunities’ in the creative industries. How did you go about finding such a variety of paid work?

“I find it mostly comes to me now. I think that’s about networking and about being a sure thing and also having a big palette of skills. So, if someone wants a voice over, I can copy-write, I can voice it, I can edit it. It’s having a home studio and the equipment you need, it’s having contacts at facilities and a rapport with people.

“[In terms of networking], it’s just about talking to people because you’d be surprised – that conversation might not lead to something right now, but it could in six months time. If a project comes up, they may think of you. It’s also about wanting to keep learning new skills and pushing your knowledge because technology is changing all the time. Now I’m able to video edit and film myself and things like that make a big difference. Again, the more skills you’ve got, the stronger a position you’re going to be in.”

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Do you think we have an issue with financial literacy in the creative world?

“Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I do a bit of lecturing and often wind up talking about how I budget or how I organise myself and I think it is illuminating for people. [It’s surprising], even freelancers at the BBC, where they get tax deducted at source, don’t know how to handle freelance earnings and DJ money and stuff like that. And people don’t know how much to charge for stuff, so it’s about having the balls to stand up and say how much you need to be paid. I’ve had to point out to people like, ‘That’s going to be paying me below minimum wage, once I take the tax money off.’ Once they think about it, they will up the money then, but you have to have the strength of character to do that as well, because there’s a risk you could lose the work.”

Shell Zenner discusses managing money in the music and broadcast industry
A major issue for many in the creative industries is the ups and downs of cash flow. How do you deal with that situation?

“There’s a couple of things that I think are really important. One is always having some savings. I grew up in another industry [engineering], and I never really wanted to depend on anyone else, so I always made sure I had a bit of money to cover one or two months, should anything go wrong. I worked this career up over 10 years – I didn’t take the plunge to go fully radio/music until last year. I’ve always been quite risk-averse but that has stood me in good stead because I built it up over such a long time and wore so many hats.

“The other thing is that I’ve been really clear about keeping spreadsheets for earnings, expenses and mileage and understanding what you can and can’t claim as a business expense. I got myself an accountant and you think, ‘Oh I don’t want to pay that kind of money’, but an accountant is a tax deductible expense and they don’t always cost the earth. Having someone there that you can run stuff by gives me the sense of security that I’ve done everything correctly and am not going to find myself in trouble and needing to pay a big sum of money down the line.”


Struggling with your cash flow as a freelancer? Take a look at our guide: ‘How to manage your money on a variable income’


How do you handle things like invoicing and tax savings?

“Every freelance earning you make, regardless of whether it’s paid in cash, you still have to invoice, so it’s having systems in place for invoicing and saving invoices. Then, for me, it’s making sure that whenever you get a payment you are – right at source, as soon as it comes in – taking 30% off for tax and national insurance and putting it in a separate savings account. I have two linked [savings] accounts at this point, one for the last financial year and one for the current one. I got my tax return back today and it says I’m getting a rebate! So not only do I not need to pay it, I get a rebate. Now I’ve got some extra money and I can think, ‘What can I invest that in?’ Or give myself more of a buffer.

“You hear people say, ‘Right, I need to go and sell my car so I can pay my tax bill.’ That’s insane!”

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“I’m not the messiah of tax but I’ve seen friends fall foul of that who have worked in the creative industries, so I think it’s worth being super organised and giving yourself that buffer. If I have that money there, I also know that if something goes drastically wrong then I have that flexibility. You don’t want to be living hand-to-mouth if you lose one of your roles. Some people rely on one particular organisation for a lot of their work, that’s pretty normal for most people, but then if you do lose your role you’re in quite a catastrophic situation.”

Do you use any fancy financial software to help you keep track?

“There are people that track things in more modern ways, but a spreadsheet is fine for me, so I keep an eye on my income, my receipts, my mileage and just have it all listed in one document. If you can do that and update it week-by-week, it just makes your life so much easier. Then when you get to the end of the financial year, you can just have a quick check-through and send it to the accountant for the final number crunching. The amount of people you see who are at the end of December and January, trying to do their tax returns and panicking… I’ve seen that a lot. That thing like, ‘Right, I need to go and sell my car so I can pay my tax bill.’ I’m just like, ‘What!? That’s insane!’”

Shell Zenner discusses managing money in the music and broadcast industry
What are the financial issues or mistakes you think people should be wary of as they try to keep their head above water in the broadcast or music industry?

“I think if you are in a situation where you are pitching for something and you’ll need to hire a lot of equipment or pay out for locations then you’ll need to be really watertight on your contract. If you lose the job and you’re having to pay, then having policies in place for that kind of stuff is really important. Insurance, too. For instance, I have public liability insurance and I try to cover myself to make sure if I say anything on air [that could lead to a lawsuit]. You just have to protect yourself really well and prepare for every eventuality. I’ve done a lot on this, my career before this was engineering so I was into health and safety, risk assessments and stuff like that!

“The worst thing you can do, business-wise, is promise things and then not deliver”

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“It’s also about always having a contingency [plan] so that should anything go wrong, you’re not out of pocket, because ultimately you need to be making profit. Even if it’s just a small profit. You may be gaining from a project in a different way, whether it’s experiences or contacts, so you may be willing to do something at a stripped-back rate to gain that network and that experience, but it’s still important to make sure you’re not going to end up out of pocket.”

Is there anything about money in the creative industries that you would like to change for the better?

“I would definitely like the BBC to change their freelance policy. I was angry about this before, but the lockdown situation has really brought to light the major issues with it, which is that if you work as a freelancer at the BBC, you get taxed at source and that means you can’t claim the mileage or any of the expenses [nor do you have the perks of full-time staff]. So should you need to travel two hours to get to a job, you can’t claim that mileage, you can’t claim any equipment you might need to do that job.


In need of financial support amid the Covid-19 pandemic? We’ve rounded-up some options here: Coronavirus support: resources for the creative industries


“[The BBC have stepped-up to offer furlough payments for freelancers now] but there were people who lost all their work because the BBC has changed schedules etc., which is fine, but if you go to HMRC and over 50% of your earnings are PAYE, then you are not eligible to claim on the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme. So that’s meant there were a lot of freelancers who couldn’t be furloughed because they weren’t technically ’employed’ by a company, they couldn’t claim for the self-employment benefit and all they had left is Universal Credit, which is very little. If you are paid as a freelance, you shouldn’t be taxed at source, you should be figuring out your tax through a tax return and you should be able to claim your expenses. I question why freelancing at the BBC has to be taxed at source, it just doesn’t seem consistent to me.”

And it’s not just BBC freelancers, it’s those setup as Ltd companies, new starters and other PAYE freelancers. Millions of people…

“I’ve been trying to support [the #ExcludedUK campaign] on Twitter and stuff. These people have really fallen through the cracks and it’s just pretty insane really. It just blows my mind.”

What would you say to someone trying to figure out how to sustain themselves within the industry?

“Maybe just that it’s good to give yourself a financial buffer. It means you don’t have to flog yourself just to survive at times. The problem is in the creative industries is that self care is something that’s often overlooked. You feel like you need to be ‘on it’ 24/7 and sometimes, for whatever reason – you’re not very well, or you’ve got family issues – giving yourself a little bit of a buffer can enable you to take some time out and give yourself a breather. You can push yourself too far with the pressure of it, so having some savings there really helps.

“Also, it’s about not over-stretching yourself with work and trying to be realistic with what you can accommodate and do. The worst thing you can do, business-wise, is promise things and then not deliver.”

The summary:

  1. Spread your risk. Zenner worked a day job for nearly a decade before taking the plunge full-time in music. She also now has a huge variety of income strands.
  2. You need savings. Make the effort to syphon off tax money as soon as it lands in your account and build a savings buffer to get you through tougher times.
  3. Network – and deliver! We don’t mean lunch at The Ivy. Just talk to people. You never know what might happen down the line. And, crucially, make sure you follow through on any promises you make.
  4. Keep building your skillset. Zenner has consciously expanded her skillset to include writing, recording, editing and video, alongside promoting and industry knowledge. All of these can provide a source of income.

How I Make It Work is a series of interviews with a variety of creative professionals, where we discuss personal experiences and lessons learned about money in the creative industries.

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.
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Guides

How to start saving (when you don’t think you can)

You know you should start saving but you don’t. Can we change that?

Everyone knows they should be saving, but while this painfully obvious advice is wheeled-out ad nauseam, the bigger issue is HOW to start saving in the face of personal limitations, whether they’re financial or mental. Here are five tips to help you get started…

Savings are a catch-22 situation for many creative workers – if your earnings are low or inconsistent, then it’s more important to have the security of savings, yet harder to build that cash cushion. It’s no wonder many of us feel it’s impossible to start, particularly amid the current economic situation.

If you’ve tried and failed to save before, or are looking for a way to start, consider instead how you can create a process – a savings production line for yourself.

Lofty and unsustainable savings goals can do more harm than good. Make it your aim to simply start

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Lofty and unsustainable savings goals can do more harm than good for new savers, demotivating us before the habit is established, so try focussing on forming and rewarding the habit itself.

Make it your aim to simply start and set something aside for a period of time, if the amount varies or seems small that’s still a victory. You’re building a habit right now, not a war chest. Once the habit is formed, you can build from there by increasing amounts and starting to think more about where to direct the cash.

Whether’s it’s £1 or £100, most of us can save something – and something is always better than nothing.

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1. Automate it

If you have any form of regular income, whether it’s salary, recurring freelance work or even a benefit payment, set up a standing order to your savings account to go out the day it lands in your account. Start small. The aim is to set aside an amount that you won’t notice is missing later in the month.

If your income is entirely variable, create your own automation by setting aside a small percentage from each payment you receive – again, start small – try 5%.

2. Round-up your spending

There multiple banking apps out there now that will enable you to round-up transactions to the nearest pound and deposit the difference in a savings account. This can be useful for freelance and creative workers because it creates a form of automation that’s not dependent on having a predictable, consistent income.


Struggling with your cash flow as a freelancer? Take a look at our guide: ‘How to manage your money on a variable income’


3. Use a different bank for your savings

If you have an issue with raiding your savings, then pay them into an account with a different bank or building society and don’t check the balance. Just pay it in regularly and forget about it. Consider this money dead to you for the year – a gift to your future self.

Your future self might want to check the balance in 12 months, or in the New Year, or tax season. But by that point the habit should be set.

Finally, make sure any institution that you save with is UK-regulated and therefore covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) – this protects your savings (up to £85,000) if the bank fails.

How to start saving money - build in steps
Photo by Damir Spanic on Unsplash

4. Build in steps

This is a great idea if you’re used to spending all of your income. Start by setting aside an amount you know you won’t miss and then increase the standing order every month. It allows your spending to adapt slowly and in a way you will scarcely notice. Even if you start with £5 and increase £5 a month from there, after a year you could wind-up with £390 in the bank and a regular savings habit of £60 a month. At that point, even if you don’t increase the standing order any further, you would be setup to save a further £720 in the following year.

5. Get the government to help you

If you’re entitled to Working Tax Credits or Universal Credit, you may be eligible for a Help To Save account. If accepted, you can pay in between £1 and £50 a month and the government will give you a bonus 50p for every £1 you save.

The bonus is paid after years two and four and is based on the highest balance you managed to save in each two year period. If you pay in the maximum amount each month, you could save £2,400 over four years – and get an extra £1,200 from the government. That’s a guaranteed return of 50% on offer, which is huge!

How to start saving money
Photo by Damir Spanic on Unsplash

Creative Money Guides are ‘How-to’s and explainers relating to specific aspects of money management for those working in the creative industries.

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.