Setbacks and Advancements

This has been a strange week for me, professionally- my apologies for not writing more. I was fired from my next project, for reasons that are still largely unknown.  On the flip side, I had a few wonderfully productive swing dance sessions, worked on a new piece of choreography, and launched The Choreography Lab in conjunction with The New York Theatre Barn. One very big setback, and three small to midsized advancements. I’m feeling strangely balanced by it all. 

I feel extremely fortunate that the loss of this job is counterbalanced by several other positive developments. However, it’s not mere luck that allowed me to have other projects to focus on. As an artist, I think it’s crucial that we all have at least a few irons in the fire. The ability to recover from a professional setback is, for me at least, directly correlated to my having other positive things to focus on. Were I to dwell on my setback, I would be in an overall negative position- thankfully, that’s not the case.






The Insane Pile of Work

How do you deal with The Insane Pile of Work?

As a Freelance Artist/Small Business Owner/Project Coordinator/Grant Writer, I actually have three or four jobs that could each easily be full time jobs. Every time I meet with the Artistic Director of the theater company that I write grants for, I’m struck by the fact that the “projects” I do for that company could easily be a whole additional job, if I had the time to devote to it. And for me, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Prioritizing each of these jobs and projects is immensely challenging. I became involved with each one because of the various benefits they provide me, and there isn’t really a clear choice as to what I would eliminate in order to pare down The Insane Pile of Work. For instance, I could drop some of my fun projects, or prestige projects, but then I’d be less busy, and much less inspired. On the flip side, getting rid of the less fun, but more lucrative projects might leave me feeling emotionally fulfilled- and living in a cardboard box.

I think one just gets to a point where they have to slowly, simply, make a list of each and every item in The Insane Pile of Work (from now on referred to as TIPOW, because darn it,  that’s fun!), and just slog through it. It will suck. But uni-tasking through that list has far and away been the easiest way for me to make the TIPOW a little smaller. 

And as I’m working, I always try to maintain a positive attitude towards the TIPOW- that soon, it will translate into An Insane Pile of Accomplishments. There will always be more work to do- but I really believe that if you’re diligent, dedicated, and consistent, all that work at the ground level will translate into real and tangible success down the road. And won’t that be swell?




Artists and Weddings

So, you’re trying to be more strategic with your money. You’ve stopped eating out as much, you managed not to splurge at Lululemon when that sports bra you’ve been eying went on sale, even though you really could use a new sports bra, you’ve made lots of little positive changes, and you’ve managed to save $200 this month. Congratulations! For someone not making that much money, that $200 is a big deal- and you’re proud.

Now, here’s the kicker. You wanted that $200 to go into an emergency fund. You’re an artist, and you don’t have one at all. But then you get a phone call…

“I’m getting married! I can’t wait to share this special day with you! Will you be my bridesmaid?!”…there goes your $200, and then some. Most likely, attending this wedding will not only negate your forward moving progress, but will maybe put you in debt again for three or four months. For someone with a day job, a $600-$800 wedding (let’s say your traveling somewhere, getting a gift, and buying a bridesmaid dress…maybe staying in a hotel for the night too, maybe attending a bachelorette party, maybe an engagement gift…my estimate is actually on the lower end) is expensive, but not prohibitively so. For you, well- it’s literally your entire fledgling savings account.

How do you deal? Admittedly, this is one of the things I’m the least savvy about. Over the years, weddings have caused me more grief than I ever imagined they could. Other personal finance writers often say that they simply stop maintaining friendships with people who make them spend uncomfortably or unnecessarily. But I’m not so sure this is an “unnecessary” expense- a close friend has a right to have a wedding, many people throw them in a relatively extravagant manner, and I don’t think my friends who want me to be in or at their weddings are in the wrong- on the contrary, they’re asking me because they want me to be part of their big day.

Throughout the years, I’ve had good wedding experiences and bad ones…and I think the thing that has differentiated them has usually been the amount of communication I’ve had with the bride or groom about my financial circumstances. I do think honesty does have to play a part in all of this. If your friend really cares about you, and they’ve seen you struggle to be a dancer/singer/painter/actor/writer for the last 10 or 15 years, they should theoretically have some idea about where you’re coming from. But, also, be prepared for a friend who simply can’t put themselves in your shoes, and only sees you not acting in a supportive manner.

All I can say is, there are definitely years where I saved nothing for retirement, but spent $1,500 on wedding paraphernalia. And that made me feel really, really uncomfortable. Yes, I want to celebrate you…but at what cost? My friendships are SO important to me. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t bother with any of this…but, I wonder, do my non-artistic friends really understand the spending pie I’m divvying up, and do they see how much of my non-existent discretionary income is going towards their events?

I’m not sure that there’s really a “right” answer for this post, in the way that I feel comfortable writing that having lots of credit card debt as an artist is in almost all circumstances “wrong”. But I do think it’s important to talk about these situations, as they do come up for all of us- even if they come up for you as a banker with an artistic friend. I know there are many artists and non-artists reading the blog at this point. What do you all think?

It’s not how big it is, it’s how you use it!

People-I’m talking about salaries and wages today. Get your minds out of the gutter! In all seriousness though, I want to introduce two scenarios to you:

Person A makes $50,000 a year. They have several thousand dollars of credit card debt, and live alone because they really wanted a bachelor/bachelorette pad. They spend almost all of their paycheck each month, and are making little to no headway in eliminating their debt.

Person B makes $30,000 a year. They’re debt free. They live with several roomates, and attempt to make mostly frugal choices. Person B saves $250/month from their significantly smaller paycheck.

At the end of the day, person B is going to be better off. That extra $20,000? It disappears very quickly if you’re not paying attention. I’m not saying that making little or no money is they way to go. Clearly, the more resources you have available to you, the more you’ll have to work with- and a lawyer making $200,000 a year will school us all in terms of retirement savings and the like.But time and time again, I see people with moderate incomes squandering their earnings in ways that make them worse off than people with truly meager artistic/non-profit sized incomes who manage their salaries meticulously.

Oh, and here’s the kicker- person A used to be an actor but took a day job because “they just couldn’t make ends meet”, while person B is still pursuing their performance career. Person A didn’t want to be an actor, they wanted to live alone and ride around in taxis. And that’s fine, but we should always recognize actions for what they are.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is this- you have the choice to use your money wisely, and to use your money to pursue your goals, at almost any income level. If your true, top, number one priority is to find success as an artist, then it might be time to ask yourself some difficult questions about your habits and spending patterns. Really take a look at your budget, and ask yourself, “are my purchases and bills actually allowing me to meet both my short and long term goals to the best of my abilities”?. Future you will be thankful.

The delicate balance: working hard vs. hardly working

As a director, I think a lot about spectrums. For instance, in rehearsal the other day, a director I assist spoke about finding an emotion on a scale of 1 to 10. He gave a note to an actor that his performance in a certain scene needs even more energy- that while the moment might have felt like a 9 to the actor, it’s only reading as a 5 to the director. In other words, the energetic output is completely relative to the person assessing it.

I’m bringing up this anecdote because I think it’s heavily applicable to the business of running one’s artistic career. As an artist, you might think you’re doing all you can to move forward- that you’re working at a 9 or a 10. However, others around you might assess your efforts at a 5 or 6… or even a 2 or 3.

Take a few days to talk to mentors in your field, and ask them what their day to day efforts are like. Or, find out what their schedules were like when they were your age or at your stage in your career. Always remember, there’s most likely someone out there working harder than you are…and that’s okay, unless after doing some research you realize that MOST people are working harder than you!

I often have issues on the other side of this spectrum- I see myself working at a 7 or 8, but others around me assess my work level at a 10 or even an 11 or 12. In other words, I often work so hard that I sacrifice other things in my life in order to fit in another project or opportunity. I think that this can be alright- on occassion. However, if you’ve noticed this tendency in yourself, it can be worthwhile to check in with yourself, or with honest family or friends.

We all have a different balance point on the work/life spectrum, and figuring out your own personal sweet spot will help you stay productive and happy for the long term!

Leveraging your money, and passive income

When you work a gig for $20/hr, or perform in a show for $400/wk, you’re directly exchanging your time for money. That can be all well and good, but what if that $20/hr gig was only one of multiple pieces of income you were earning that day? What if you had multiple businesses bringing in money while working on other projects, and had investments that were also generating revenue?

Chances are, if you’re able to do this, you’ll be able to worry much less about your day to day financial future- and will ultimately be able to continue an artistic career for much longer than previously imagined. I just don’t think it’s sustainable to worry about “making this month’s rent” for more than a couple years. It’s at that point that many people become fed up with just scraping by, and trade in their barely making it artistic lifestyles for low level 9-5PM jobs…which might be more stable, but are certainly not a path to a comfortable life…not to mention the fact that it involves giving up a large portion of one’s time to pursue one’s artistic dream.

I like to think of it this way- if, as artists, we get to “do what we love” day in and day out, why shouldn’t we have “hobbies” that are actually entrepreneurial by nature? This blog, for instance, is my new hobby. For the time being, it’s a project of love…but I certainly hope to monetize it soon.

I think you can really monetize any side gig into a passive income stream. I have actor friends who have created birthday party businesses, vintage cocktail mixing companies, and traveling cabaret shows, to name a few. All of these businesses have one theme in common- they create income for their owners while their owners have the ability to work on whatever else they’re passionate about. They give their owners the freedom to do whatever they want. For a lot of non-artists, this means they can pursue hobbies…but for artists, it can give you the unlimited freedom to pursue and build your craft.