There’s a disturbing trend going on, and I don’t think you realize how it much it will affect your creative career.
Most (digital) creatives, including me, have a distorted view on how creating good work leads to equally good pay. That’s a myth as real as Santa Claus, the story of the Bible and other famous fairy tales.
Good work doesn’t give you good pay. Anymore.
Here’s what I think is the reality, based on the experience of me and my peers :
You do shit work = you get no pay.
Good work = shit pay.
Excellent work = good pay.
Remarkable, one of a kind, blow me away till I piss all over me in excitement = excellent pay.
This is not a formula that I have pulled out of my ass. This is what I see all around me :
Creative people, whether they are entrepreneurs, freelancers or authors, who struggle to make ends meet doing good work, getting shit pay.
They have good people skills, good connections and they create good work and yet they struggle. The best of them make a full time-living from their creative career, but they don’t know where the money’s gonna come for the next six months of rent. I consider myself to be part of that group, and I hate it. I have more and more clients, but I wouldn’t say I make a killing.
Now I’m still fairly young, but in the future ?
A struggling creative in his 50s or 60s ? N-i-g-h-t-m-a-r-e.
Good work gives you “meh” pay, and will lead to a poor life in the future, sooner or later.
But why is that happening ?
One word : technology.
With cheap outsource-able labor and robots on the rise, more and more creative work becomes a commodity. You don’t need to hire the costly dude around your street to get good work, you hire a kid in Bangalore, India who’s got access to the internet and the skills you need.
Intense, global competition leads to more better work at lower prices. Being good therefor is a ride down the spiral of cheap-ass existence. Every decent creative can copy almost any style for a fraction of the cost.
What people pay for in the future is not skill (that’s the price of admission). They pay for flair and meaning.
This is a cover (no affiliate link) done by superstar Shepard Fairey for an ex-Door member who self-publishes his own book. Honestly, I could have created that cover myself based on skill alone, but my name doesn’t yet have the superstar brand power of Shepard Fairey. That’s why he probably made more for one cover than I’ll do for months. The author didn’t pay for skill, he paid for name.
Or how about Stefan Sagmeister, an Austrian graphic designer dominating NYC.
That city’s notorious for being stuffed with struggling creatives who can barely pay their rent.
But Stefan is drowning in high paid work and is busy with turning it down.
Price range ?
Up to 96,000 $ for a CD cover, as famously showcased by a story between him and Jay Z.
Let me repeat that : ninety six thousand dollars for a single CD cover. Wowzee in my housie.
That’s what most creative people don’t even earn in a year.
I can even give you a personal example :
My mother once taught at a prestigious Art University. She, like her colleagues, had to negotiate hard to get good pay. The University claimed they didn’t have enough money anymore. But when a Scandinavian hot-shot artist with brand name recognition came, the -we-don’t-have-money motto quickly turned to 10,000 $ in monthly pay, plus 500,000 $ “bonus” for art projects. Magic !
Granted, these peeps are superstars in their own right, but they showcase my thoughts.
In my city Berlin, a so-called cultural creative center of Europe,
97% of artists can’t live from their work, while the other 3% not only survive but thrive.
(according to the Berlin Artist Society.)
And the middle-class of creatives ? A dying breed.
You’re either stuck in the majority of sucky (no pay) – to good (bad pay) range,
or in the excellent / remarkable 3% part (good to excellent pay).
And you know what ? It’s a global phenomenon that’s only going to get worse.
The good of today are the homeless of tomorrow.
So, if you are only doing good good work, how fast can you stop ?
And if you stop, how can you make sure you’ll thrive instead ?
How to thrive as a creative in the future
I don’t want to paint the future black. Bleak challenges lead to extraordinary possibilities.
The following are not actual facts. I’m not a star thriving yet, so I have no business talking about facts. But I did increase my revenue steadily over the last three years, and this is what I think can be the path to a thriving future as a creative.
Own your spot in the world. Generalized-good-for-all creators are the roadkill of tomorrow.
You want to have a distinctive style that people can only link to you, and want to hire you for.
You can offer many services now and even make decent money for now, but it’s not sustainable. You have to own your unique style sooner or later, a specific set of trademarks that make people say “That style is totally (insert your name here).
The brand consistency gives you grrreat work and pay.
My trademarks ? Bold, modern / futuristic design, illustration and storytelling = a futurist visual artist. Still working on that.
Skill won’t save you, meaning will. If all you offer is competence, I can get it for cheaper from somewhere around the globe. Remember when I talked about Shepard Fairey and the book cover ? I could have created it, but I don’t have the meaning and reputation he enjoys.
The author’s going to say : See this cover ? It’s done by Shepard Fairey, and insiders’ mouths will fall down like dungeon doors. If you know Fairey, you know his meaning behind the work,and the meaning creates powerful connections between work and people.
Prestige and reputation will shoot through the roof.
Make your network your retirement backup.
Forget about the government taking care of you – with the ever-repeating financial crisis and
corruption and mismanagement on the global level, you have to rely on yourself. All power to the individual.
Your network, which you grow by approaching like-minded movers-and-shakers, is going to be your financial well. Ye$$$.
How ? By following this motto : I massage your back and you massage mine.
I personally approach one to two new people every week, and I help my own folks by recommending
services and people – creating an equally mutual microcosmos.
The more my network grows, the more money I make. Fact.
And last but not least :
Your career has to be the most important thing in your life. At least for now.
I see people who luv the creative life style, just as much as they luv their friends, family, partying
and a hundred other things. With that attitude, you’ll end up in the creative meat grinder.
I personally put my career before friends and family, which means I spent more time on my creation process than I’m spending with my so-called “close” ones.
If you want to be exceptional at your creative craft to thrive in the future, something’s gotta give.
Don’t call it sacrifice, call it prioritization.
You have to get rid of the notion “do good work, and you get good pay.”
Do good work now and you’ll end up as a homeless or social welfare patient in the future.
Living in a shed with five kids, sipping sugary soda through your rotten teeth. And too broke to care.
IF you are a freedom lover like me, and you can only work and live on your own terms, you have to go big or don’t bother at all. It’s black or white in creative career realm, because in the grey, you won’t survive anymore.
If you like this post, share the message with the creative peeps you care about.