“Your list used to be great before you started selling shit at me.” Or, “You post on HuffPo? Way to wreck your indie cred bro.” Or (the pseudo-compliment, my favourite), “I barely read your articles anymore, but this one was ok I guess.” Or, in other words, “I spent minutes of my day consuming what you created, so the way I see it, you now owe me.” This is how most people view creativity and commerce: thinking they should never intersect.
Except, I never force these people onto my list. Or add them without asking. Or spam them. Or even do much in the way of selling (other than the odd PRE-S/PS).
And that’s the problem with creativity. If you have the gall to make a full-time living off of it, you’re seen as a baseless, sellout, wank of a human being, sullying everything good and pure about art for your own personal, selfish gain. It feels kind of dramatic to write that last line too, except I get precisely that type of flack on a daily basis. As do a lot of other folks I know.
Why is there such a double standard with creativity and commerce?
Society doesn’t get mad at doctors, lawyers or engineers who make money and sometimes gasp make even more money after a lot of hard work. Society doesn’t assume they’ve thrown out their values and ethics for their paycheques. They’re applauded for doing well and doing better than most. They worked hard and it paid off. Parties are often thrown.
However, when it comes to writers, podcasters, musicians, and other creative-types, then hard work paying off monetarily means you’ve become a corporate shill, greedily after as many dollars as you can stuff into your dirty creative pockets. We even become own worst enemies about it.
It’s hard as absolute hell to make a living doing anything. Seriously. And the level of difficulty only increases when you work for yourself. Even more so if you work for yourself in a creative field. Hard work doesn’t always pay off, and just because you have talent or experience or training or schooling, it still feels like a big lottery sometimes for who gets to make a living and who doesn’t. Add to that the criticism of wanting to make a living doing creative work.
Essentially: creative work can be enjoyable, jobs shouldn’t be enjoyable, therefore creative work shouldn’t be a job and fuck you if you want to get paid for that. Or, creativity and commerce should never meet.
Which is why many of us do a lot of work for free—like writing articles, publishing podcasts, workshops, etc. Imagine a lawyer working with someone every single week for years, in the hopes that they get hired for money? Or if only 1–2% of their free work turns into paid work (see: most mailing lists convert at 1–2% from subscribers to buyers). But that’s how it works for you and me. I’m not even mad about that part. I love writing articles and don’t care if I have readers or readers that read every week but never buy a thing from me. I enjoy doing it and will continue. Luckily it pays off for me as well. People buy my creative work and the audience I’ve built is super awesome (outside of a few bad apples). The problem is when I come against this bad apple entitlement from someone who consumes my free work (which obviously takes a lot of time and even a lot of money to provide) and assumes that I now owe them. And screw me if my intent was that the free content helps that person in even a tiny way because now it’s their right to complain, probably publicly, that I’m a hack or a scam-artist out for a quick buck at any cost.
Don’t get me wrong either, I freaking love what I do. A little daily negativity isn’t going to stop me or even get me down (past writing ranty articles like this one, which I find super enjoyable to write). And even with the negativity, I still make a decent living (see: I’m a total corporate shill). In fact, I wake up every morning and count myself lottery-ticket-winning lucky that I can do the type of work I do and get paid for it and use my art as a tool for change. (Sometimes I do a little dance too, but that’s neither here nor there.)
Some folks in society seem to have always viewed creatives who want to make money as sellouts, shills, souls auctioned off to the highest corporate bidder. I think it’s time things change. Even if it’s mentally or actually acknowledging or applauding creatives who are anywhere between making a living off their work and doing awesomely well off their work. We need to step back and re-evaluate this view.
What matters more than who’s a sellout or who’s a soulless, greedy wank is who is doing good work. Whether someone’s a doctor or a musician, if their work is true to them and benefits someone else (in any way whatsoever) then kudos to them. It’s too easy to put someone down simply because they want to make a living. Criticism requires little effort or skill. Harder, much harder, in fact, is to be open, empathetic and understanding. That requires real work (but thankfully, not as much as work as is required to work for yourself, full-time, as a creative).