painters who decorate and singers who
teach are paid more than studio guys
ARTIST AS SERVICE PROVIDER
personal • 26.11.10
One way of struggling through when your art brings no income is to offer some kind of related service. A singer might teach; a musician might build or fix instruments; a poet might do advertising copy; a painter might decorate. It’s a risky approach because through time you become what you do. One day you are no longer an artist but a provider.
I got by providing studio services with my producer-arranger-composer skills tagged on as an extra when needed. But really it was the extras that were the draw. It certainly wasn’t my virtually non-existent technical ability or my laughable business skills. Nor did the clients come to access the mickey-mouse equipment in every studio I ever owned.
No, they came for the possibility that my ear and experience might bring something valuable to their recordings. Musicians prefer studio folk who are multi-skilled. They can be called on to play a piano part, to do a backing vocal arrangement, to write the third verse, to produce, to musically direct, to be suggestive and generally supportive with advice, to be patient no matter what. They can be called on for all these things and more as long as everything is reject-able and for free.
And there’s the rub: at least when you do your art for free and it gets rejected it is still your art and you still have it. When your creativity as a studio guy gets absorbed into someone else’s work it is all but lost. Sometimes you are barely even credited. I think I would have felt better about that had I been paid a fair fee consistent with other professional services. But rarely does that happen. Painters who decorate and singers who teach are paid more than studio guys.
And anyway, I felt so out of kilter playing the professional that I couldn’t push for it. The jobs came. I never went looking for them. Perhaps had I been more enthusiastic about being a service provider I could have made a financial success of it. But even that is doubtful. Studios have disappeared like snow off a wall. Yet mine is still going, with more work than I can manage currently, and probably because I invest some element of my artistry into the art of others.
Okay, I shouldn’t be such a whiny sod and be pleased I’m still in the game albeit precariously. I get to do my thing having set up an online label this year which means that someone somewhere in the world hears my work every day now. That was never the case historically. It may be so far down the tail as to be nearly invisible but most artists are invisible, they fail most of the time. That’s why they need day jobs.