More on this “follow-your-passion” No-Plan-B nonsense

Okay, so take as an example the ever-useful-as-an-example Zoe Keating.

Went into music intending to be a professional.

Flamed out.

But she had a Plan B. Which kept her fed and housed for the ten years it took for her music career to begin to pay for itself and the rest of her life.

And now, here she is. A successful musician/composer with millions of people enjoying her music, and moreover making a living at it.

Why? She had a Plan B. And she has publicly gone on record during a long talk at MIDEM as saying, “It might all go away tomorrow, and if that happens, I’m perfectly prepared to go back to being an information architect.”

She is here, making her art and making millions of people happy.

And her Plan B is what made it all possible.

In truth, she (and I) are sort of the vanguard of the generation(s) that do not see a polarity between different parts of our lives. We need to eat. We need to make art. Maybe it will be one job that allows us to do these things. Maybe we will need one job that lets us eat, and one that lets us create.

For those born into more financial privilege, they have never really had to think about the “need to eat” part of things. That one will take care of itself for them. They can’t conceive of people for whom that really is a very real, very pressing need. (Well, they can imagine it for some people, mostly in the third world. The fact that it’s a very real consideration for other first-world folks is completely outside of their sphere of experience.)

I suppose you could say that they also have a Plan B. It’s called Daddy’s bank account. But explaining that to them is like explaining water to a fish.

You need to eat. You need to make art.

Plan B will make it possible for you to do both.

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You’d goddamned well better have a Plan B.

This is utter bullshit.

All that this sort of “go for it” garbage accomplishes is to ensure that the only people in the arts are those with rich spouses or trust funds.

Doctors don’t have a Plan B? Bullshit. Doctors, engineers, plumbers, lawyers, and accountants all have Plans B, C, D, and even further. Every human being on Earth has a contingency plan, multiple ones if they are really successful. If I don’t get into that school, I need to apply to these ones. If I don’t get accepted at that firm, I need to line up these others. If this client doesn’t pony up on their check, I need a few more so that it balances out. And so on. These people — my people, as someone with a graduate degree in Physics — have Plans B through ZZ coming out their ears.

Goddamn it, this Hallmark-card “Live Your Passion!” horseshit condemns people from poor or working-class backgrounds to absolute exclusion from the arts. The truth is, the people who can romantically insist on their Passion and Commitment (and aren’t they just wonderful for it?) are the ones who have lived their entire lives with safety nets beneath them, to the point where they don’t even realize they’re there, or that other people don’t have them.

Any artistic career will take decades to bear fruit. If you want to be an artist of any kind, the entirety of your 20s and most of your 30s will be spent not making it. Funny enough, that also neatly encompasses the years during which you can expect to be pregnant and corralling young kids, something that Mr. Follow-Your-Passion doesn’t have to worry about personally, does he? Not like he will need insurance to cover well-woman or pre-natal care, will he? And if you don’t have a mommy and a daddy or a hubby (most often) to keep the bills paid in the meantime, you are royally fucked and will ultimately be forced to vanish from the scene without a trace. And Mr. Passion won’t even notice you’re gone.

I have seen far, far too many talented and gifted artists who lack those happy little safety nets become jaded, angry, and give the hell up, and not because they “lack passion” but because they lack food. Health insurance. A car. Many are forced to sell their instruments. Do you think they maybe needed a Plan B?

Plans B, C, D, and so one are absolute rock-solid necessities if you can expect to have to earn every single red cent you will ever spend on yourself. If someone else is keeping your lights on, then go Follow Your Passion and feel free to not to put on a financial seat belt first. You won’t need it anyway. Daddy/Hubby/Grandpapa already had an airbag pre-installed into the steering wheel of your life for you.

My god, this sort of horseshit destroys the arts. It also ensures that only the attitudes and mores of the white-collar upper-middle class and beyond are ever reflected in them. If you’ve always wondered why there are so many Lexuses and Infinitis parked in the lots outside of art galleries, now you know.

I’m sure he would make all the right concern noises about how he doesn’t really want the arts to be only the bailiwick of the trust fund set, but buddy, your entire attitude will bring that about. Going willingly into a profession that results in almost no money whatsoever for two fucking decades without preparing for it is suicide … unless you don’t need to prepare.

Man, does this steam me. Fuck this guy, and fuck his Passion.

“Call on God, but row away from the rocks.”

Soloist vs. session player — more on working for pay and working for free

It occurs to me that there is a polarization under the surface between the goals of a typical session player and a typical aspiring soloist, and the many ways in which the “work for free/pay” argument illuminates how these two groups of people may step on one another’s toes. I don’t know if anyone has addressed it, though.

Basically, I can see how an aspiring soloist might find it in their best interest to take the odd gig for nothing, for “exposure,” although these gigs are much, much rarer than anyone thinks. One should always have to justify, even to oneself, working for nothing. Only extremely rare opportunities for pro bono work ever present themselves that are really worth doing.

And these opportunities are only useful for aspiring soloists, people who will find it useful to “get their name out there” for no reason other than to get their name out there.

A session or road player, the sort of person who never expects to be stopped on the street and recognized, and who doesn’t even want that, would find that sort of gig a complete waste of time.

So a soloist might want to take a gig for nothing for their own advantage … and the session player might interpret that as stepping on their toes and taking an opportunity away from them.

There are just ways in which the career goals of a soloist and those of a session player are mutually antagonistic. I think this is what’s behind the arguments when one musician states that they got some positive career movement after playing for free, and another protests that this is simply not possible, and that working for free is allowing oneself to be taken advantage of.

I just think that this needs to be acknowledged, that “musicians” are not some sort of homogeneous mass of people, all with the same general needs and career aspirations. I think gigs are also not a homogeneous mass of jobs all alike, either. There are certain jobs that are more suited to session players and others that might help push a soloist forward on their own quite different career track.

I think keeping that in mind may help avoid at least too much toe-squishing, although probably not all. At least it helps to explain why these two sides never seem to see eye-to-eye on the question of whether one should ever play for free. I would definitely seek not to take pro bono work that could be filled by a session player. An oddball gig that’s more well-suited to a soloist style, though … I don’t know. I’d still want “no” to be my default position, and I would not take the job unless there were about seventeen truly persuasive reasons to do so. I still think that one should never, ever feel the need to justify a “no” when it comes to working for free, and that any reasons for accepting free work should be justified in detail. (I also think that “because there is someone trying to put a guilt trip on me or make me feel beholden” is emphatically not a valid reason.)