Hey Artist Dude!: It’s Okay To Have a Day Job…Really

So You Want Fame?

The camera pans from right to left across well worn wooden floors. Slowly. Painfully slow. Like television replays. The camera angle is so low and so close that you can almost smell the dancers’ rosin dust as the specks bounce off your screen. Specks that are visible only when the setting city sun rays streak from the half open window. ‘I smell dreams and feet’…a pungent stew indeed. Occasional young ankles pop in and out of the camera’s view. They are engulfed by those flourescent droopy socks. You know those socks don’t you? The ones that just SCREEEEAM “The 80’s!” Suddenly the mechanical eye stops. It fixates.  And then it zooms in on one lilac laced calf muscle that rises and falls confidently to the floor…almost militaristically. Next to it is a mahogany staff in a milk chocolate grip. The grip belongs to…the voice. Your surrogate eyes rise to meet it.  Carefully…oh so carefully..as if it’s a f-f-fraid… Wide and sultry eyes scan you up and down. You’re too frozen to admire them. They grip you with ferocious warmth and slight hostility. And then the voice…THAT voice demands in a commanding fashion “So you want fame? Well fame costs!…and right here is where you start paying…in Sweat!”

The above paragraph is my own somewhat colorful description (I told you I was writing my first novel didn’t I?) of one of the scenes from the opening credits of the 80’s TV show Fame. The individual who voiced the last line is dancer, choreographer and actress Debbie Allen. Allen was the dance teacher that warned the young and eager “fame seekers” that they would have to work hard to achieve artistic success. Let us fast forward to today. Most artists are doing just that both in their art but perhaps moreso in what we call “day jobs”. Your craft, be it the visual, performing or literary arts, will often not “pay the bills”. In fact it will probably NEVER pay the bills and this is where alot of writers, rappers, singers, poets, visual artists, etc become frustrated.  But they shouldn’t. It’s okay to embrace your reality. You are still an artist even if you never actually make a living from your art. In fact one could argue that your art may be better for it. Without the pressure of having to feed yourself and a family via your craft you free your art from having to adhere to the economic vagaries of our day. You become a “free” artist unshackled by the constraints of commercial viability.

It’s Not A Zero Sum Game

There are some artists that have an either/or approach to their creative expression. I’ve even heard some of them refer to other artists that don’t make a living off their craft as mere “hobbyists”. Not only is that attitude condescending it’s factually incorrect. As a poet, writer and burgeoning multimedia dude I am an expressionist. I express myself creatively. I am an artist. Whether or not my “profession” is poet, comedian, rapper or author is inconsequential to me being an artist. That doesn’t mean that I am not a professional. It just means that my art is not my profession. See the difference? In fact artist and writer Summer Pierre discusses how having a day job, being in the world, makes you a better artist. Many artists live in a self-fulfilling bubble.

“Many artists tend to be very isolated and [having a day job] is an opportunity to be part of the world and get material” -Summer Pierre author of the book The Artist in the Office: How to Creatively Survive and Thrive Seven Days a Week.

As Ms. Pierre alludes to in her statement having that day job IS part of the artistic process. Embrace it. It’s okay. You may in fact discover some wonderful creative material.

Live in the Real World

Furthermore it is better to deal with reality than fantasy. Delusions of grandeur are not good. You don’t want to be 40 years old talking about how you “on your grind” and “out there gettin’ that rap paper”.  Not at 40 homie. It’s okay to be a teacher 5 days a week and every other weekend you’re singing at a wedding or working on a musical composition or writing your first novel. You can still call yourself a singer, author and yes rapper. Those just aren’t your professions and may never be and that’s okay. I am not saying don’t go for your dreams. But we are now well into the 21st century and frankly “the game has changed.” Technology has made it easier, cheaper and faster to create but it has also opened up the door to a plethora of “talent” (most of it mediocre to bad). That talent also lends new meaning to the phrase ‘dime a dozen’. Creators become more disposable. And as content becomes more plentiful it too is subject to the laws of supply and demand. There is more than enough supply. We can debate the actual quality of that supply but modern mainstream hip-hop proves that mediocrity trumps quality when you add a lot of fat and sugar. And then you have to factor in the numerous entertainment choices available to the public. A TV show doesn’t only compete with the program on another channel. It competes with Xboxes, Facebook, YouTube, Satellite Radio, Pandora, DVRs, Webchats, Blogging, AND the more important responsibilities of being a human being. In other words your competition is not only another poet, singer, or rapper. Your competition is “share of mind”. Am I going to listen to your CD or play Halo 3 or update my status or watch Kojak reruns on Hulu (something I do by the way)? With this kind of competition why shouldn’t you embrace a life of having a day job and being an artist? The former does not lessen the latter.

What About Diversification of My Talent

Hey I’m all for that. Even the big mainstream music big wigs know that the CD is dying…dying…almost dead. Jay-Z and Madonna were both signed to 360 deals by LiveNation! which is a concert promotion company. LiveNation! will pay Jay and Ms. Ciccone millions of dollars in advance money and keep significant portions of  the revenue from their concerts, merchandise, albums, etc. LiveNation! would do deals like this because they recognize that artists are making more money from everything OTHER than their CDs. Now you won’t get signed to a LiveNation! 360 deal but the point is that if you are going to monetize your art (and I’m not even saying you have to) then you should have multiple streams of revenue for your talent. For example I do more than just spit poems. That is only ONE source of revenue for my creative expression. I’m writing a novel, I do photography, videography, audio production, and I have made money being a host/presenter for events. I also used to own my own graphic design company. So as an artist, if you are looking to maximize your revenue potential, then by all means investigate the FULL BREADTH of your talent and repurpose some of what you do where appropriate whether that’s in fashion, greeting cards, large prints, comics, whatever have you. But be careful young grasshopper. Once you go full throttle with bringing business into your art it introduces a different dynamic that can impact the integrity of your art and your soul. Art is very “soulful”. Business is not.

Conclusion-Back To The Day Job

So even if you do add business to your master plan of artistic global domination it’s going to take time…maybe the rest of your life. And that’s okay! So grade those papers, schedule the boss’ appointments, work on that marketing project, put together your powerpoint presentation, drive that bus, deliver that package, and prepare that I.V.  After all…Walt Whitman, one of the greatest poets in the history of poetrydomness had a day job. He was a nurse!

Brother Dash

2 thoughts on “Hey Artist Dude!: It’s Okay To Have a Day Job…Really

  1. Like many an artist in the last 500 years, I always worked a day job. I have outsold Van Gogh already by many times but he only ever sold one piece (and people argue about that). It’s not about money, but the work. It will never be about the money because we HAVE to do the work. Poor Walt Whitman worked as a clerk at the Department of the Interior until the Secretary found out he was that racy poet and got him fired. He spent most of his early life doing back-breaking work as a typesetter. I do not beat myself up for not being famous, or rich, or anything else. I love my life, and love everything about art regardless of what anyone thinks. It is a deeply fulfilling life, and one I wouldn’t trade for anything. But I wish it were a friendlier world for artists. I used to join artists groups and stopped because they were always fighting about something, or jealous of another’s success. I think like the late great John Perrault: better bad artists than good bombs. Remember, you hard art makers out there: you will do more and better work if you can eat well, and buy good supplies!

  2. Asalam’alaikum,
    This is very cool & informative, almost purpose built for me individually but many will respond the same. Looking forward to the novel inshaAllah.

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