Sponges, Lunches And Time Bandits
Creative people always have stories to tell about people expecting work for free. It’s a familiar refrain when I talk to designers, photographers and, of course, other musicians. A good friend of mine used to say, “…don’t ask me to play for free if you’ve never bought me lunch.” His point was that favours come […]
Creative people always have stories to tell about people expecting work for free. It’s a familiar refrain when I talk to designers, photographers and, of course, other musicians.
A good friend of mine used to say, “…don’t ask me to play for free if you’ve never bought me lunch.” His point was that favours come out of relationships. In honesty I’ve met very few creative people who are unrelentingly mercenary, very few people who would never lift a finger unless they were being paid. Most are willing to do favours for friends, to offer advice that comes from their professional experience. In the process of normal friendships these “gifts” are painless.
What’s unpleasant is people asking for favours and freebies almost as soon as they meet you, or when there is no established friendship. These people treat you like a dispensing machine. Typically they don’t understand how much you have invested in acquiring your “talent.” Perhaps even worse, they don’t appreciate the effect that doing work for free has on the creative market in general.
In some senses, it doesn’t always hurt to let people see our work for free. A lot of photographers will start out taking on some unpaid jobs as a way to build a portfolio or sharpen their craft. Moreover, as a musician today one has to be brutally honest; will people ever hear your work if you don’t make it accessible on platforms where your pay is limited or non-existent?
But, my concern is a little more relational. As a creative person it is worth taking stock of the asymmetrical relationships in your life – where give far more than you receive – people that are always seeking for favours, or always asking you to promote them, or looking to you as a way to grow their network.
Increasingly I’ve come to believe that it is dangerous to keep people like this in your life. I’m not suggesting that we start banishing people, or engaging in widespread incivility.
But, you have to guard your time, your space, your energy and your work.
This is, for me, an uncharacteristically harsh thing to say. Normally I am all about building community and sociability. But, I believe that this age we live in is, for musicians (and creative people in general), a very mixed blessing. We have a tremendous potential to build new collaborations and connect with our potential fans, but we have an unprecedented potential for distraction and discouragement.
Good friends will support and encourage you even when they stand to gain nothing from it, even when success eludes you. Good professional acquaintances will bring opportunities into your work as you create opportunities for them. Both kinds of relationships are like tides that drift in and out with a steady rhythm, even if their movement is imperceptible in a single moment.
And, of course, good clients will reward you for your efforts…
Note: these thoughts follow on from yesterday’s post, Gifts And Business Cards.