The Changing Landscape of The Freelance Artist

I started playing paying gigs when I was 15. I remember my Dad coaching me about pay scales and contracts. He had me join the musician’s union. It felt important. The musician’s union set scales and those that worked outside of them were frowned upon. If you were a union musician, your work came at a minimum price.

But how do you quantify talent? How can you put a price on art? Art is worth exactly what people are willing to pay for it. So we try to put a price on the service vs. the art. That part makes sense to me. But what about the actual experience of having live musicians? It is so much more than playing an instrument or having a great voice.

This is how I see being a musician and what is important in order to succeed. It could easily be translated to any type of freelance work:

1) Be good at relationship building – you are an entrepreneur and everyone you know has a sphere of influence you could penetrate if you’ve made a good enough impression. Word of mouth is how I have found at least half of the gigs I’ve ever done. Sure I’ve had agents and managers, but even those are engaged much easier if you’ve got a good reputation.

2) Be a good business person. Know what will make your clients happy. It is about them, their experience, their budget, their time. Always know what will make it more valuable to them and give them different options – basic, mid range, all out top notch world class – make sure you can deliver the latter and if you can’t – know who can and be prepared to make a referral. Yes – be prepared to tell your client you cannot meet their needs if you feel you can’t. There is nothing more damaging than under delivering.

3) Be good at what you do. Make sure you take time to practice and continuously improve. Such an important piece of the puzzle, yet sadly overlooked by many.

Right now is a very challenging time in the music industry for many musicians, arguably – all musicians who make a living from their art.

What is changing?
  • CD sales have plummeted, even for the top selling artists
  • Film & TV producers and Ad Agencies are using canned music vs. commissioned original works
  • Fewer establishments can afford to add musicians to their mix with rising food and liquor costs – for many having a DJ or satellite radio is meeting their client's needs
  • Although MP3 sales are on the upswing – most will buy by the track they like – so where you used to sell full CDs worth of work, one customer may only account for 1 song or $1

Is all of this wrong? No – it just is. The environment in the music industry and in our digital world has changed a lot of artistic industries. It has impacted writers, photographers, journalists and I’m certain numerous other artists dependent upon their art to make a living.

As a member of the Film Composer’s Guild in Canada as well as the Musician’s Union, I see a lot of people looking for ways to take back what we had. I don’t actually think this is possible, but I do think if you stick to the basic principles outlined above, you will weather the storm.

Remember though, it is YOUR dream – take responsibility for it and don’t let the people around you suffer because of an industry that is imploding and recreating itself. If you need to work outside of your expertise for a while, it will build character and give you insight into the world which will help with your future relationship building, widen your sphere of influence, and probably enhance your business skills too.

I am wishing you a creative, productive and insightful week, now matter how you make your living.

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