Good For Business or The Artistic Soul?

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

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

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

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

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. 

Where is The Value?

New first post…I’m going to just jump right in and share this for my creative peers.

Crobot, July 2015 - © Michael Warth

Crobot, July 2015 / Awesome band, one of the few that are easy to work with and put on a hell of a show – © Michael Warth

A lot of my photographer friends struggle daily with making money in the area they like want to work in the most. For example, I know a lot of editorial photographers who only want to photograph bands live, do a few events here and there, and focus solely on the lifestyle associated with working on assignment for magazines and other print/web media. However, to pay the bills, buy gear, run a profitable business, and simply afford to keep doing what they want – they need to supplement their photography income by doing weddings, portrait photography, and even the dreaded regular job (health insurance, retirement, 401K, and a regular paycheck are still nice to get).

The question is, where is the value? What’s in it for the photographer? Why are editorial images not worth much anymore? The simple answer is that good enough is the norm. Just last week, National Geographic laid off many of their photographers. Talk about talent. If they lost their gigs then the industry is crumbling. Media outlets across the country are letting photographers go. It’s not entirely their fault – people are not buying magazines and newspapers like they were. Bands appear to be working harder than ever trying to pay their bills. Venues make a lot of money during some of the big shows ($20 parking rates sucks balls), labels make money selling albums, etc etc. However, there are literally thousands of good-enough photos from a tour. Many bands don’t have a say in who makes the promotional photos, and to be blunt, there are a lot of cameras out there and the photograph has become such of a commodity that the basic rules of supply and demand have made editorial photographs almost worthless.

Niclas - In Flames - © 2011 Michael Warth

Niclas – In Flames – © 2011 Michael Warth

To the photographers hoping to get that next big thing because the singer acknowledged your existence – he was being nice. Don’t get your hopes up and quit your job just yet. Oh, and that paper you signed before the venue staff escorted you to the media pit for the three-song-no-flash thing, yeah – that prevents you in most cases from making money from your photos. And if the media outlet that credentialed you didn’t pay you – you’re still broke. That bag of gear that costs as much as a nice used car is simply a liability, not an asset.

To the bands, we love you, but please be kind. We are doing our best to make you look your best and really love making pictures at your shows to share with your fans. Oh, and fans, you should really have respect for the photographer’s work and stop cropping out the credit line, or using the images on your blogs. Always ask to use an image – most of us are cool with sharing and personal use. Lastly, to the industry, we are human beings with bills, expenses, and a desire to please you…please try to get the details correct so that we don’t have to deal with drama getting our passes, or using the photos we made. We are all trying to do the same thing…get fans to the venue to see the bands.

Jägermeister spec work - this represents what I want to do most © Michael Warth

Jägermeister spec work – this represents what I want to do most © Michael Warth

I know this may read like bad news for some, and I probably sound like a downer. However, it is what it is. You have to really love it. Sure, you might make a little money but you must understand that there are reasons your editorial photos have no value. It’s not just you – it’s the market, and maybe a dash of greed.

There is no shame in having a job, shooting regular retail photos at a wedding, or portraits for that soon to be high school graduate. The thing to remember is…if you are in it to be a business, then you have to make money for your time. If you still have to shoot a concert, or event because you love it – then be careful not to spend your profits thinking that one event will get you noticed. Go into it with a realistic viewpoint and realize there is no value to your work because the shots you get are very much like the other 200 photos made on that tour that are good enough to publish. In some cases the person who made it, simply wants to get noticed too. It’s a mess out there – take care of yourself first. Make them pay for your time and work if they want it.

Disclaimer: I do it because I love and hate it. I make very little money from editorial work. Some of that is my own fault, but I also don’t need the money. Most of the shows I shoot these days are because I know someone in the band, I’m doing a favor, or I simply want to shoot another show.

This quick post turned into a long read. Thanks for taking the time to look it over. This is not a rant. On the contrary, it is a wake up call to the delusional people who think they can make a great living at editorial work. It’s possible – just highly unlikely.

~ Cheers



Michael Warth dot com is the place I share my creative life on a more personal level. If you want to see what moves me, or what I am doing, please check out my other sites and look me up on social media.