9. The Starving Artist Works for Free

the starving artist always works for something

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**This is Part 9 of a 12 part series based on the principles from Real Artists Don't Starve: Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age by Jeff Goins. If you would like these articles delivered directly to your inbox, then sign up for the mailing list using the form above!

And if nothing else, please purchase Jeff's book. Simply click on the image to do so.

It's easily in the top 5 books that have hit me square between the eyes and caused me to take action in my life and career as a MusicPreneur.

"Creative success is about getting to do your work without constraint. Money is not the point, but it is part of the road we all must walk to become professionals. Charging brings dignity to our work. It validates our offering to the world. And it allows us to keep working." --Jeff Goins

Perhaps you've seen an ad in the paper that goes like this:

"Local coffee shop seeks artists to play for our customers. Opportunity to gain exposure, sell CD's, etc..."

If you haven't seen an actual ad, perhaps you've seen something like it on Facebook, accompanied by comments from musicians decrying the injustice and ignorance of both the owners of the coffee shop and any musician who would take them up on the offer.

Keep in mind that this scenario I speak of is purely hypothetical, so let me ask a question:

What if this particular coffee shop is where Eminem, Beyonce and Jayzee were discovered by an influential producer who helped jumpstart their careers?

How long do you think musicians would be willing to wait, how much effort would they put into preparing their act, for the opportunity to play there "for free?"

It turns out there's this little coffee shop that's open once a year, the first Sunday of each February.

It's called the Super Bowl.

And the artists who perform the Star Spangled Banner, the halftime show, etc. don't get paid by the NFL.

From what I understand, the NFL does pay their production costs, but the artists themselves don't get paid.

And people are happy to do it.


You guessed it. For the exposure.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Lady Gaga wants to perform in front of 100 million people for 3 reasons.

  1. It will solidify her existing fan base.
  2. It will broaden her fan base.
  3. She'll sell a ton of records in the few weeks following her appearance - provided she hits a home run during her show.

Of course, no one reading this is Lady Gaga or is going to be a performer for the Super Bowl any time soon.

But the same principle applies.

Money isn't the only form of getting paid when you're an entrepreneur.

In fact, I contest that people will pay you with their money only after they've paid you with their time - and a lot of it.

No one asked me to start the MusicPreneur.Com business and said they'll pay me x amount of dollars to produce a high quality podcast and blog.

I did it of my own volition, knowing full well that unless the quality is the absolute best I'm able to do, people will pay others with their time.

Now, if someone were to approach me and say they'd like me to produce a podcast for their business, and want me to do it for free for the exposure it will bring my business, that's a completely different conversation.

I have two completely different roles in each scenario.

In the first, I'm Employee # 1 in my business. Content I produce for free is done with the intent of drawing potential customers

The second, I'm in essence someone else's employee, albeit not on their w-2 payroll. The content I produce is done with the intent of attracting someone else's customers.

Everything is free these days

This is why people in the music industry are either depressed or elated, depending on where they've established themselves on the food chain.

Those who relied on the model of touring and selling CD's as their primary source of income are really depressed.

Others, like Leah McHenry, are doing very well for themselves in the age of the MusicPreneur which doesn't require artists to curry the favor of traditional gatekeepers to be successful.

Remember, the Thriving Artist always works for something, even if it's not cash.

A savvy entrepreneur on the web always has something to give away - in exchange for an email address of course.

It doesn't have to be an entire album, or an entire ebook. It seems these days, less is more. A one-page pdf is more than adequate for the purpose of generating leads.

So you're giving stuff away, but if you place no value on those email addresses, it's all in vain.

If you have a plan on selling to those email addresses, however, you're not working for free at all.

The work you put in initially is in essence a down payment for a future payday.

The value a business is able to provide is determined by what they offer for free.

Giving stuff away for free is not immoral, nor does it undercut your value as a MusicPreneur - if you do it the right way.

The key is to use the free content as a means of generating leads, which in turns translates to revenue.

So if you didn't get all that, get this: Your goal as a MusicPreneur is ultimately to make money. 

You make money by making people aware you exist and proving your ability to provide value in exchange for their money.

In this day and age, you do so by providing content, and sometimes physical products, for free.

Always at your discretion, not someone else's.

(Consider it a marketing expense, not undermining your value.)

"Free" = no value to you and a cheapening of your value to the world.

"Free" = bringing awareness of the incredible value and abundance to the world.

It's not the tool, it's the one using it.

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