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"Do you perform for free?": good answers to avoid transforming yourself into the Hulk #2

Do you perform for free

I’ve heard that it happens to musicians, dancers, comedians, directors, even photographers.

People ask you “What’s your job?”, and as soon as you reply “I am an artist!”, they laugh at your face and insist: “No, seriously, what do you do for a living?”

Does this happen to you too?

Then you might want to read this article!

We all know how tricky it can be for the arts to be considered “a profession”.

Actually, most dictionaries describe a profession as a “paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification” (Oxford Dictionary), “requiring mastery of a complex set of knowledge and skills through formal education and/or practical experience” (Business Dictionary).

According to these definitions, you are a professional when

  • you are very capable (skilled) and knowledgeable at what you do, thanks to a formal qualification and/or experience in the field, and

  • you get paid for it.

In simpler words: if you are an expert in your field and you get paid for it, it’s your profession. Of course, with “expert” I mean workwise proficient.

Using a metaphor, cooking for your family doesn’t make you a chef!

There is no mention of being able to sustain a family or “pay the bills” with a profession.

But yet sometimes we happen to meet people who ask us to perform for free because they know that we also have “ordinary” jobs.

Has it ever happened to you?

First of all, do not take it personally: they are not trying to discredit your work tout court, they just have a different point of view.

Different people may have different perspectives, and everyone has a personal perception of the various aspects of a job: stability, creativity, profitability, work ethics, career path, safety at work, work environment, social status, etc.

job priorities

​Some people choose to be coal miners, despite the extreme working conditions, because it’s “good money”.

Some others might get incredibly bored in administration, but they chose it because it’s a stable job.

We all have different job priorities, and many people might not get why you chose to be an artist.

So, when they insist: "Come on, it's your passion, it's not even your full-time job!", just smile and answer:

"Still, as a second job, it does have upfront expenses that have to be covered, such as the years of training to gain the skills, the cost of instruments and gears needed for the performance, the transportation costs, the public liability insurance and other fees".

One of the most important things you should do, when you handle objections, is trying to resolve the conflict.

You may have noticed that, in my answer, I didn’t object “No, it’s not a passion! It’s a profession!”. I talked about a “second job”, which is somehow more familiar to people working in other industries.

words they can understand

Try to rephrase, use words that your clients can understand.

Use “startup”, for example.

Nowadays everyone is familiar with the meaning of startup: it’s one or more individuals who have an idea, a passion, a new product or service in mind and they want to develop their own business.

Initially, they have to invest into it their time, money, resources, and at the beginning, the expenses will exceed the revenues.

So, if they are not financed externally, they are likely to begin a startup as a second job.

But the only way to transform it into a real business is to get paid for it, start with small incomes and then grow step by step, so that one day your initial idea or passion will become your full-time job.

Finally, outline the fact that yes, your art is your passion, but you are also qualified and you master the skills and knowledge required.

You are a professional, and like any other professional, you are only asking for what you deserve.

Most of all, don't let them transform you into the Hulk: just smile and move on.

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