Artistic business advice for the working-class artist

“Don’t Quit Your Day Job: a business guide for the working-class artist” — the book that has yet to be written

I’m serious. There is a really profound need for a business guide for the artist or musician who:

1) cannot ask Mom and Dad for a house down payment,
2) doesn’t have someone else paying to keep their lights on,
3) needs to save for retirement or else,
4) has no rich great uncle to bankroll their experiments in life, and
5) must earn every penny they will ever spend on themselves.

Add to this that it will be a book for musicians who:

1) have no industry connections in anything but meatpacking and clerical work,
2) cannot afford international travel AT ALL, and
3) haven’t a clue how to fill out anything except the 1040EZ because they’ve never had to.

To people within that demographic — the classic (and often demonized) Lunchbucket demographic — the bureaucratic end of things can be far more intimidating than any amount of stage fright or “do I really have what it takes to Make It™?” artistic angst. We don’t need to be told to “make good art,” but we do need to be told what tax schedules we’ll have to fill out if we sell something we’ve created, what unions we need to join, and what can bite us on the backside if we don’t get all this stuff in a row.

We are the demographic of people who look at you as if you are out of your mind when you tell us, “Oh, don’t worry about that stuff! It’s About The Art!” We need to worry about it.

Most artistic business advice assumes that you are not within that demographic. (That people within that demographic are too blinkered and concrete of mind to become artists anyway, so they can safely be ignored? Well, sometimes. I’m always reminded of Leopold Auer’s famous declaration that if he is to make a virtuoso of a child, that first that child “must be poor!” I’m also reminded of how many of the world’s great pop and rock musicians came from very modest circumstances.)

It’s a bit like the endless cheery left-wing advice on how to live a sustainable life that assumes that you own your own detached home in the suburbs and have a spare $70,000 lying around to buy and install solar panels. I have rarely to never seen any aggregated advice on living green that does not assume that the reader is a homeowner. (I will die and be in my grave for several centuries before one is published that encourages people to simply own one home that is no larger than you absolutely need it to be.)

Artistic business guides are often as egregiously poorly aimed, leaving out swathes of humanity in their assumptions of things that the reader does and doesn’t know, and things that the reader does and doesn’t need to worry about, and sometimes giving solemn advice that is extremely counterproductive, insulting, or even profoundly dangerous to someone who has no financial safety net whatsoever.

I guess I could call it a book about people who can’t take the attitude of “don’t worry about the money, it’ll work itself out,” because in our world, it never does. Anyhow, this is a gap that needs to be filled.

Potential chapter headings:

“You can indeed work a 40-hour a week day job with benefits and still make art”
“What paperwork to fill out if you don’t want the government to shave you bald”
“Getting paid: why it’s non-negotiable”
“Professional organizations and the ones you’d better join or else”

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