Art vs. the Day Job | Do the Math

So in our Art vs. the Day Job series, so far we’ve covered ideas to Free up Resources and encouragement to Define Success and Chase It. Now we are to the part that is fairly simple, but most people miss. If you want to make a living from your day job…you have to do the math.

Rock stars get to live rock star lifestyles because of volume. They also have to stay on the road a good part of the time because concerts sell music. They have to do endorsements. Sell merchandise. There are multiple streams of revenue because not only does the rockstar get paid but also the band, the promoter, the venue, the record label….it takes a lot to feed that machine.

On a smaller scale, you can do the math. If concert tickets are $15 and a venue only holds 200–that isn’t a lot of cash–especially after the venue takes its cut. If CD’s sell for $10 and they cost $5 to produce…again not a lot of money when you compare it to what it takes to fund an apartment, car and basic living expenses. How many CD’s do you have to sell and how many gigs do you have to play to come up with an amount equal to what you need for basic food, rent and transporation?

For visual artists it is the same. How many paintings would you have to sell to create a livelihood? Are you getting the kind of exposure that would put you in contact with the demographic who spend that amount of money on art?

If you are going to make your living as an artist it likely won’t come from a single source, you are going to have to begin to develop your revenue streams. This doesn’t happen overnight and very likely will need to be supplemented by a day job for a long time. However, if you are entrepreneural, you can do some unusual things that help you get to where you want to go and enjoy the journey along the way.  Here are some things to consider:

1. Create digital revenue streams. The digital world gives artists more power over their marketing and sales than they’ve ever had before. Develop yourself as a personality, build your mailing list, give reasons to people to become part of your fan base, and be different enough that people want to talk about you. Most importantly, what revenue streams can you develop online? Merchandise? Music downloads? The art itself? Note that this may be a small stream initially, but it can be significant over time.

2. Position yourself for corporate gigs. Corporations have bigger budgets for art than most people do personally. What could you produce that a corporation would want to purchase? This will take creativity on your part, then the ability to write a proposal and pitch an idea. (Note that you never have to do this alone, you can always partner with friends.)

3. Research the business model for your craft. This may be via web search–or if you have a hero in your genre, you may simply be able to ask.  I remember I was blown away when I first learned how little novelests actually make unless they are in the John Grisham range (who has revenue streams from movie rights, royalties, speaking sessions…and oh yeah, he sells a zillion books.)  Harlequin writers make about $15k a book–and not a first book. Not only that but the agent gets 10% of that.  Do the math on how many you would have to produce in a year (and conversely have Harlequin actually buy) to do this full time.  Art business models are rarely as fair to the artist as you might think.  Donald Miller in Blue Like Jazz wrote “Writers don’t make any money at all. We make about a dollar. It is terrible. But then again, we don’t work either. We lay around in our bathrobes and think about how we should be writing.”  If you don’t like the business model for your craft, you will need to be strategic enough to be the one who breaks the model.

4. Find ways to merge your day job with your art. Look at the job you have now (even if it is the most boring job on the planet). Is there any place you could bring your art to your workplace? [Sidebar: I have done this personally. My writing is now a major part of my day job and has opened up speaking gigs and freelance magazine articles benefiting both my company and myself as an artist.] Chances are your art can make you more valueable at your day job. And while you may not think of it as a direct revenue stream, paychecks are definitely a stream.

5. Be strategic about your commitments. You have limited resources. And while most of us would never write a $30,000 check on an account that has $100 in it, we typically write time and energy checks we don’t have the resources to cover. If you are seriously doing the math, you will need to become strategic about where you commit. Revenue streams can be about cash, exposure or simply creative energy. Evaluate before you say you are “in” and always, always show up and deliver. (Because people are “doing the math” on you too.)

–Cathy Hutchison

Cathy’s Art vs. The Day Job is a multi-part series:
You can read each post here:

Part 1: Free Up Resources

Part 2: Define Success and Chase It

Part 3: Do the Math


One Response to “Art vs. the Day Job | Do the Math”

  1. […] Part 3: Do the Math Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)ART Vacation!!!Art vs. The Day Job | Free Up ResourcesLive from the Deep Ellum Arts Festival: Day 2End of Month Summary – April 09 […]

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