There has been a lot of discussion (and argument and frothing at the mouth) about the state of being paid for creative works. At least on the Internet, there is. Confrontational posts appear on Craigslist, in the music sections, imploring musicians to actually ask for payment for gigs so that bars don’t get used to getting all that clientele for nothing, while conflicting posts argue that “hired guns” are ruining music for everyone who plays for the love of playing.
On blogs and social media, artists and writers encounter similar arguments. You’re an asshole if you ask for art or writing for free, or you’re an asshole if you refuse to create for free. You’re an asshole if you insist people get paid or you’re an asshole if you insist on creating without payment.
One side says “would you do your job for free?” Another says “So you don’t believe in doing art for art’s sake?”
I’m here to say: stop. Just stop. At this point, people are just talking to hear themselves talk, and no one is actually listening to each other.
Each person has the freedom to decide if they do or do not wish to be paid for their services and work (and yes, creating is work – without it, there would be no industrial design, music, art, newspaper articles, movies, tv shows…). Each person has the freedom to decide they want no dealings with someone who doesn’t offer payment. Each person also has the freedom to say “hell yes, sign me up!”
Some people seem to be under the impression that the concept is new. That “back in the day” everyone always paid artists for their work. Or “back in the day” people wrote stories because they loved it and money didn’t matter! Nonsense. Authors were paid if they sold publishing rights to their work. Artists were also taken advantage of by art and design houses, where the ones who did the actual creating were never credited. Musicians played for the love it around the fire, but musicians were also hired to be the “house band” as it were way back to the days when there was more than one royal family in the British Isles.
The difference is – and this applies to lots of “back in the day” idyllic fantasizing – before 1996, it wasn’t such common knowledge as it is now. With the pervasiveness of the Internet, everyone knows about wrongdoings within minutes of its occurrence, even from the other side of the planet. It’s no longer something that gets talked about only at the local bar with your buddies. It’s Tweeted and Facebooked around the world.
I’ve asked myself if I have a “side” to stand on in the debate. And I’ve decided that I don’t. And that I don’t need one. Because nothing is ever that black and white. If pressed, I’d say it depends on the situation. Would I write something for a for-profit publication if there was no pay? Possibly, depending on what I got out of it. I find it’s a rare thing indeed that such a publication is offering absolutely nothing of value to their potential contributors. Copies and promotion? Well, that’s what they have to offer. If the payment is too low, move on.
But hey, you volunteering types, don’t think I’ve forgotten about you. In my day-job we have loads of volunteers. Some of them seem to enjoy expressing disdain for those of us on the payroll. And to that I say, no one is forcing you to volunteer. If you are happy giving up your time and resources for free, great. If not, maybe it’s not the best way to spend your time.
Have you even tried to ask for payment? Several years ago, when I was running a cafe with my husband, a man who came in all the time gave me some of the most valuable advice I’d ever gotten. He told me “everything is negotiable. When they give you a price, ask ‘how about less?’ The worst they can say is no.” I think, when considering payment for your creative service, you might try thinking “how about more?”
They worst they can say is no.