It’s not always fairy farts, and unicorn utopia when trying to be creative. As artists we often struggle with what we are doing, how to make enough money to cover expenses, and dream of success doing what we love. Like I mentioned in the last post, we often have to do other gigs that pay more often so that we can keep working towards the jobs we really love. As slippery as that last comment sounded – it really is just a matter of financial sustainability. Most artists I know would still rather be doing art for a client (not the dream jobs) rather than work a regular job where they are not making art.
Benjamin Burnley (Breaking Benjamin) © Michael Warth
I recently did an assignment where I traveled 200 miles one way to photograph a concert just to be told the media pass was only for one band, and I wasn’t getting a ticket to see the show. Keep in mind, we get three songs at most shows – I wanted to see the whole show – not just the first three songs through my camera lens. The venue had it wrong! In fact, I know the drummer of the headlining band and we had plans to hang out before and after the show. We did get to hang out, but it was a trivial ordeal just to get my ticket (they found it after I made a few calls).
To make my 18 hour adventure a little more frustrating, I got a flat tire at 1:30 AM, 2 1/2 hours from home on a major 3-lane highway with a speed limit of 70 MPH. No worries, I can change a flat. Well, as luck would have it, the fucking jack broke! I was getting tired, my hands were filthy, my contacts dry, I was still a little miffed at the venue, and I actually left the tour bus early because I was tired. I should have just stayed at a hotel (more money).
I made it home around 4:30 AM, broke from the $20 parking at the venue, $40 roadside assistance charge (needed a jack), a new tire & jack for the car, and the overpriced food at the venue. Thank goodness for the delicious cookies on the tour bus (thanks Dina).
Shaun Foist (Breaking Benjamin) © Michael Warth
Basically, I spent way too much money for a gig I wanted to do versus one that pays well. My artistic intuition told me to do it because I love making photos at concerts. My business sense was arguing that it was bad for the bottom line. If it wasn’t for Shaun, and the fact I haven’t seen him in a few years, I would never had gone that far to shoot a show. In fact, I rarely shoot concert photography anymore since the income potential really isn’t there.
Coldcock Whiskey, a shoot I did for my website, The Thirsty Muse. © Michael Warth
The point of the story – as artists we often do what we want versus what is best for business. I won’t argue the point because the bottom line is that there is a fine line between being an artist, and selling out. To artists this concept is clear, but hard to grasp for a lot of people who don’t identify with the artist’s drive to create. However, artists need to be profitable at what they do. Simply doing it cheap or free is not a viable solution for sustainability.
I have been told many times that my prices are just too high. I’ve even had clients tell me I was the cheapest bid and it made them nervous about hiring me (the old, too much vs. not enough dilemma). When I do a painting, a commission, I start at a pretty steep retail price point for most people in my area. My studio work (painting) is slightly less expensive, but I can make prints and actually make more money from the prints than what I could ever make from the one original. However, even my original paintings done as “studio work” can be a little too expensive for my local market. When doing commercial photography assignments for clients I have to be sure what the photos are being used for, how long, and how difficult it will be to pull off. The pricing can be very complicated. The urge to make the price low enough to get the job often becomes too strong and it becomes easy to lower the rate a little so I get the gig. And just to be clear, this particular practice is not good for business. So, I fight the urge to “discount” any rates – ever.
Stone Brewing Co., Master of Disguise – © Michael Warth
And this right here is the main drive of this post. Artists/creatives must determine what they need to make in order to sustain their business. It’s OK to do what you want as long as the paying gigs are paying enough. We must stick to the numbers that keep us profitable if we want to keep the business going. Discounts mean one thing…they mean that you are taking money from your pockets and run the risk of business failure. Just don’t do it. Never apologize for your prices! It’s your business, you need to make money in order to continue.
Pricing will make or break a business. Your profits will determine your future as a business. Simply put, without profits you won’t last long. The struggle for any artist who is going beyond the hobby stage is the simple fact we need to make money. The constant reminder of making that money can actually kill the creative soul – causing many of us to quit making art. I maintain mental clarity and artistic drive by doing work for myself as a painter (studio work), and making photos for my blog, The Thirsty Muse. To some, it’s just a booze blog, but to me it is a marketing channel where I can share the photos I enjoy making the most. Plus, I really enjoy a good drink.
The balance between profitability, and the creative soul can be disheartening, frustrating, and even defeat us. Finding the right mix of doing the work you love and making the right amount of money is the golden ticket. When you find it, keep doing it. Let the haters and jealous types move along, they aren’t worth your time and effort. This part holds true for bad and cheap clients too – move along and find the right clients. Be kind to those who can’t afford you today, they may be able to later. Be kind to the clients you have now and the clients you outgrow later – they got you to the place you are today. Stop being ashamed to make a profit.