One of the most fun times in my life was when I played in a band called Rescue a Hero. Nothing could replace the joy of hanging out and playing music with my best friends. What started out as weekly practice sessions soon became weekly gigs. The Cebu Rock scene was fun. We played in shitty bars as well as our favorites – Outpost was the best.
But after a few years of playing, we eventually burned out. Don’t get me wrong. It was crazy fun, but at some point, it felt like a job. We were busy practicing, coming up with new songs, booking gigs, engaging with followers on Facebook, recording an album and playing all the time. It was a full time job that paid beer and pizza.
When we started the band, that’s what we wanted. We wanted to do it for fun. It was our passion, but life has a way of changing your priorities, especially if your passion can’t put food on the table.
There’s nothing wrong with pursuing your passion. Plenty of perfectly happy people do what they love during the weekends or at night after work. But wouldn’t it be great if our passion could support our life? What if it was our livelihood? Wouldn’t you wear that badge with honor? How many people can say with a straight face that they play music for a living? Draw art? Write?
I’m not saying it’s easy. If it were easy, everyone would be doing. Many who try to make their passion their livelihood will fail. But that’s not going to stop the right person from trying and succeeding. If the fact that it is hard stops you right now, then it isn’t for you.
Gratitude vs. Beggary
I was watching a band recently. They were hitting all the right notes. They played an awesome set, recorded beautiful music, promoted themselves, and they were even selling merchandise. What struck me was how sad it sounded when they were talking about the merch. It almost sounded like they were begging people to buy it.
“We have t-shirts in the back. Please… buy… So… we… can… feed… ourselves.”
This struck me because it contrasted in the way they played their music. When they were on stage, they were proud and rumbustious. Each beat and passage was played with the utmost confidence and an uncaring attitude. To sound so withered in the end when asking for support was a letdown.
For the artists who are afraid to ask from their audience, you need to know one very important thing.
People want to support you as an artist.
Did you catch that? I even bolded the lettering and kept it on a separate paragraph for emphasis. People want you to succeed. They want to find ways to put money in your pocket. If you want to be an artist for a living, it is part of your responsibility to help your fans help you. Help them help you. Make it easy for them to help you.
The attitude shown shouldn’t be meek beggary. It should be gratitude. Gratitude comes from the opportunity brought about by your skill and passion towards your art. Beggary is asking for a handout.
Every artist should read The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer. Any artist who seriously wants to pursue music should look at what Amanda Palmer is doing today. Even if you aren’t a musician, there’s plenty of insight and ideas in the book that can help you connect with your audience.
Amanda Palmer is one of the hardest working artists out there. She’s active on social media, giving fans a peek into her daily life. She has a blog where she speaks her mind about controversial subjects that don’t have anything to do with music. She tours relentlessly. She releases an email newsletter for the really important stuff. She has an updated website. She has a Patreon site. And on top of all that, she still finds time to make some of the best music out there.
Her book, The Art of Asking, is all about gratitude and the lengths at which people want to help artists. It’s littered with stories of how her fans have allowed her to continue making music, to continue doing something she loves. I like to think of it as a playbook for a musician in today’s climate.
There are playbooks all around us. Look for someone you admire and doing what you want to do. Don’t look for the Beyonces or the Biebers. To reach a level like that needs much more than hard work and talent, you need to be incredibly lucky as well. Look for the small independent artist grinding it out. Look for the Amanda Palmers, the Allison Weiss’. Look for someone who is doing it in this new time and age of the internet. Don’t look at where they are now. Look at how they got there. What challenges did they face? What did they specifically do to make it financially worthwhile? How did they do it?
Follow. Take inspiration. Carve out a plan.
Now that you have a blueprint, you need a plan for your specific situation. The universe does not reward people without a plan. If the plan requires you to work ten hours in McDonalds during the day and hustle for another ten hours at night, do it. If the plan requires getting boring client work so you can build up your portfolio before you can make the art you want, do it. If the plan forces you to eat ramen noodles every night until more work comes in, so be it.
Have a plan and stick to it.
It would be foolish of me to give you a step by step guide of how to make money in art. Again, if it were that easy, everyone would be doing it. You need to find ways through your own research and ultimately your own blood sweat and years (a fave The Hundreds reference).
The Zerothreetwo playbook consists of looking at brands like Nick Automatic and The Hundreds. Through Nick Automatic, we discovered there was a market for local shirt brands in Cebu. Through The Hundreds, we saw how they were building community through their website and events. We put two and two together. Aesthetically we don’t look like them at all, but we took inspiration, borrowed, and ultimately, made it our own.
Not only have the sales from the Zerothreetwo shirts kept us going, but it’s also allowed other people to show their love for our brand on their chests. Like I said, people want to support you, help them do so.
Look for your opportunities.
We live in a time when there are no gatekeepers. You can literally make something today and tomorrow someone will see it. Gone are the days when artists had to rely on being seen by a music label, getting into the right art gallery, or publishing at a prestigious magazine. The opportunity is in building an audience, a tribe, a community who will support you as an artist. The tools are staring at you in the face.
With great access comes great responsibility.
You are everything. You are your own hype man. You are the booking agent. You are the public relations personnel. You are the accountant. You are the supply manager. You are all the boring parts of a business. On top of all that, you still need to make beautiful art.
Again for the third time, no one said it was going to be easy.
*Some of the links in this page are affiliated links. At no extra charge to you, Zerothreetwo earns a commission if you decide to make a purchase. This helps allow us to continue serving you by providing helpful content.