Monday, January 24, 2011

Artist Lesson #203: Defining Your Value

“When meeting people they ask what is it I do, so they can decide if I hold any value…” -from the song “Economics”, Teisha Marie (now playing on the main page of

(in photo: The band Lucky Dub at the 2009 Capital Hip Hop Soul Fest. Lucky Dub often tweets on Twitter about the unique ways in which they earn money with their music. Follow them on Twitter @lucky_dub. Photo by Shanta Monroe)

In today’s economy, being a creative who is sustained financially can seem more challenging than ever before. In 2008, I started a discussion on–How Much Should You Charge for a Performance Gig. I started the discussion because it was clear to me that many artists had no idea where to even begin when it came to charging a fee for their work. What I also have come to realize is that many artists don’t understand the nature of bartering either. I always stress that today it is essential that artists who plan to live off of their art become savvy in the business of their art. As I complete the book Manifesting Your Life as a Creative due out at the end of this year, I’ve been able to interview literary, performing and visual artists who attest to the fact that nothing is more helpful to them economically then becoming familiar with how you define your value. There really isn’t any way around it. If you don’t know your worth, or at least establish your your worth is, how do you expect others to do so?

Here are some tips to consider as you expand your ability to monetize your art and begin defining your value:

1.) Assess What You’re Putting In to Determine What You Should Get Out
When you are approached to perform for pay, do you accept the first amount of money pitched to you or do you know up front what the base pay should be? Base pay should include the minimum expense it will take to prepare for and travel to your gig’s destination. If the gig requires you to purchase special materials to perform, then that is included in your base pay. If traveling to the gig will take a tank of gas, then that is definitely included in the cost. Base pay should not be less than what you are spending to perform.

2.) Determine if a Non-Paying Gig Will Help You In the Long Run
Every paid gig, however, is not the break through to professional success, just like every non-paid gig is not the worst thing you could do professionally. Non-paid gigs have their value. Finding value in a non-paid gig, however, is dependent on what you have established as an artist as some of your goals and objectives. I love to tell the story of the rapper Substantial who has been a regular performer in the Capital Hip Hop Soul Fest, a music festival that I have booked artists for since 2008. The Capital Hip Hop Soul Fest is an all-day music festival where artists are not paid, but are given vending space to sell their products and are promoted online through the media during the six months leading up to the festival. Substantial, who is a full-time music artist, performing all over the world, with an incredibly large international following, sustains himself financially through paid gigs, but has found some non-paid gigs valuable as they are opportunities to sell his music, clothing and other associated paraphernalia. At the Capital Hip Hop Soul Fest, I’ve seen folks follow him from the stage to his vending area panting in anticipation to buy just about anything that he has for them to sell him. Substantial visibly has a business plan in motion. He doesn’t perform without product to sell, and he is as professional and accommodating to his audience at any gig he’s at. He’s determined that each opportunity he agrees to perform is an opportunity to sell his product and broaden his brand.
What are some of the benefits that you can find in each potential gig?

3.) Diversify What Type of Gigs You Take On
Many times, when people think of people in the arts, they have tunnel vision, only believing that a career in the arts is successful if your face is plastered on the television or in a magazine every 24-7. The reality is that celebrity is NOT the norm for many people who are living creative lives. And, that’s fine. For, celebrity is not necessary an indicator of success. Most successful creatives do different things to sustain themselves financially. These different things may often fall within the genre of what it is they do artistically, but the roles are different, nonetheless.
Well-known author Marita Golden told me in a recent interview that she began teaching at the college level and facilitating her popular writing workshops at first, to pay the bills.
“On the one hand, sometimes, I’ve been able to live off of my writing,” she told me, “but I like teaching a lot. My workshops came out of a desire to talk about writing in a way that I want to talk about it.”
Whether it’s teaching, doing commissioned art or working for a nonprofit and developing arts programming, often looking outside the box of what type of gigs you are suited for where you can showcase your art is necessary. Ultimately– and it is necessary you know this–your value as a person IS NOT defined by your money-making potential, your artistic skill, image, etc. Keep it all in perspective and stay focused– you can do it!

-Khadijah "Moon" Ali-Coleman

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Join me on Tuesday, March 15 for my upcoming writing workshop, sponsored by the Prince George’s County Public Library System

About Liberated Muse Productions

Liberated Muse Productions (LMP) is an arts-based organization based in the Washington DC metropolitan area. LMP was created in 2008 by writers and community activists Maceo Thomas and Khadijah "Moon" Ali-Coleman. The intent was to create events promoting artistry and awareness of issues pivotal to urban communities. LMP has become a network of dedicated artists and patrons of the arts. The Capital Hip Hop Soul Fest is an LMP landmark event.

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