A few disclaimers before I share some thoughts:
1. This might come off as "angry", but it's not. Just a glimpse of the working creative's viewpoint as it pertains to finances.
2. I might not have written this post if it was only about what I experience, but I've seen too many artist friends get taken advantage of, and wanted to communicate some unspoken thoughts to help protect creatives.
3. I have a feeling I might encounter this a lot more in the future, as most of my income will be generated through music and photography going forward. I hope that anyone who is considering booking me would come across this post first before pulling the trigger, or would at least consider these thoughts before hiring an artist for anything.
4. There is a bit of over-generalization happening in this post, but I am just speaking for the majority of what I see/experience.
EXPOSURE || PORTFOLIO
You receive a notification from a venue, and the subject line reads: "Available to perform next month?" First reaction: "yes, I'm getting booked!". You continue reading, and you realized they never ask you about your booking rate. Or, equally worse - they wait till the last sentence of the email to say "We don't have a budget, but you'll get some exposure! What a great deal for you!". (Similar types of emails have come in for my photography services as well - "This can be good for your portfolio") How many creatives been there? Let me break down the problematic areas:
- First off, I'd much rather hear people say "would you be willing to do us a favor?" over "it'd be great for your exposure", as though they were doing us a favor.
- If at all, possible it would be amazing if the person booking the artist brought up the finances from the get go, such as "How much would it be to book you?" - Especially in situations like mine, where I get asked to play for churches often, or shoot photos for friends. When I am the one who is forced to ask the question, my fear is that I'll come across as someone who is only doing it for the money, which is the exact opposite reason why I went into doing anything creative (arts related) full time.
If your "friend" is doing something creative for a living (not as a hobby), and is either self-employed or looking to go in that direction, chances are he/she does not make as much money as you, if you have a regular job that is. For argument's sake, let's set that as the premise.
You, the consumer/friend, have been doing some homework (hopefully), and have researched some prices - and when you ask your friend for a quote for his services, you are appalled because he's charging you full price (but most likely, since he's your friend, he will have shaved off a little bit). Either way, even the discounted price then is still higher than you were expecting. You wanted him to do it for around half the price, or secretly - maybe even for free. But here's the problem, if you're his friend and probably making more money, wouldn't you want to AT LEAST pay full price, or maybe even a little bit more to support his business? He has quoted what he's quoted out of necessity, not greed. Just something to think about. Even if you are OFFERED a discount or a service for free - if you're able to afford him, I would go ahead and return the favor somehow. It's kind of like wedding invitation etiquette: The guest should at least pay to (approximately) cover his meal (and the plus one he brings), and the couple, since they invited those people, should not expect anything anyway. But I digress. Back to HAGGLING:
There are TWO times it is acceptable to ask your artist friend for a discount:
1. When you're willing to do a FAIR BARTER (something that your friend actually NEEDS or wants but cannot afford - if you're not sure, ask him first:
YOU: "Can we barter? Is this something you need? I mean for real, you're usually too nice."
ARTIST FRIEND: "Well, OK since you gave me the room to be honest, no I can't do 20 hours of work for you for your old set of Britannica Encyclopedias you don't know what to do with anymore."
YOU: "Wow, you're a diva. How about the entire set of "Friends", all 10 seasons on DVD? Some might have scratches."
ARTIST FRIEND: "OK, fine."
2. You are expecting less work from him than the work he'd deliver at full price. For example:
YOU: "I know you cost $1000 for 10 hours of work, can you give me 5 hours of work for $500? I don't really need the extra 5."
ARTIST FRIEND: "No, I can only do that work in 10 hour increments. Tough cookies."
YOU: "Well, you sonofa... Friendship over."
Obviously that won't happen. Either way, get the dialog started in the right way!
The above are still somewhat slippery slopes, as far as I'm concerned. But still, it's better than just asking for something pro bono, just to save a buck on your end.
As Don Draper said [Mad Men], "We're creative... the least important most important thing there is". And if you agree, then help us feel the latter more often than not, or at the very least, value the time we put into our work as much as other things you pay top dollar for.