ihaveseenthefuture asked: hey man! I'm an artist struggling to pay rent, and I was wondering whether you support yourself solely through music? if so, how did you get to that point, and if not, what else do you do to pay the bills? thanks so much!
in the interest of never answering this question again (ha), i’m going to try to be pretty comprehensive.
the only way that i can explain the fact that i am still doing this full-time is that i’m wildly lucky, i’m relentlessly cheap, + irresponsibly devoted to music. but maybe i won’t be doing it full-time next year; who knows.
i actually do make some money off of my music — but a better way of putting it is that i did make some money off my music. that income can dry up at any time (and it does, constantly), and the only reason it was ever there in the first place is basically luck. i’ve never had a label advance. i’ve had some sync stuff (both with and without my consent), some songs go “modestly viral” on spotify, and some tours that have made a little bit of money (and a bunch that haven’t). the tricky thing about money in art (at least at my level, but maybe everywhere) is that it can’t be stably reproduced over time- so the only answer i can give you as to why i have what i have is that some people who saw value in my work decided (or were forced) to give me some money one time, but in all likelihood many of them will never do that again.
if you hate your job, then you should probably be planning an exit strategy with the compass aimed @ something better. but it’s a tragedy how many people idealize the artist life, quit their jobs, then encounter the usual friction that 95% of people who pursue that life have to deal with and end up being forced to pack it in before they’ve even made their best work. so it’s worth reiterating: having a day job is not the end of the world, it’s not even a bad thing (so long as you don’t hate it). the only thing that matters is that we keep making things and getting better at it.
since art income is sporadic + usually insignificant, i’m relentlessly cheap, and never spend money if i don’t have to. it’s far easier to get good at saving than it is to count on any money coming in. most of the things i paid for when i had a job i didn’t need (including music gear), and over the years i’ve shrunk my spending footprint smaller and smaller. i still waste money on eating at restaurants but that’s about it.
there have been intervals during which other people have put me up, which is a privilege a lot of people will never have that i will never take for granted. but right now i’m living in LA, which is brutally expensive. seems like a bad decision, right? it might be. i’m here because i’ve always wanted to try living in LA, and i finally had enough money to take a reasonable stab at it. but if the city doesn’t start paying for itself (and realistically, that seems unlikely), i probably won’t be here next year. shorter bucket lists are cheaper.
i gave up the idea that i was going to own a house, be a viable candidate for any kind of marriage, or raise kids a long time ago. none of those things were real priorities for me, so the decision came pretty easily. if you value any of those things a lot, maybe this is the wrong field. being a full-time artist is a choice — being a full-time artist who can afford all the standard accoutrements of americana is basically like winning the lottery.
so the devotion i have to music is irresponsible - not in my eyes, but according to everyone else. being a marginal full-time artist is a little bit like being a ‘maniac’, in the sense that anyone who is willing to value things that everybody else doesn’t value at risk to themselves or others is branded ‘maniac’. i’m very comfortable with that.
to do art stuff full-time and be happy, you have to want nothing else. cliche on its face maybe but i’ve been able to find no truer formulation. in the few years i’ve been doing this, i’ve already seen very promising flowers wilt + plenty of roadkill drift past on the side of the highway. there will always be more people who make three records and tap out, or write one novel and despair when it doesn’t take, than there are people willing to keep on their path irrespective of circumstance. + i understand why - the world really doesn’t need another artist, and it is always enthusiastic to remind you of that fact.
so for a lot of people their first many years of being a “serious artist” are really just a test of how bad they want it. where “it” is a life devoted to creating art that may or may not be compensated or recognized. there is no shame in deciding that you would rather create art as a hobbyist — in fact that can be glorious and produces some of the best work out there.
but as for me i’m still more likely to sleep on the floor