Most of us have needed a side gig at some point, but for a while, it seemed as though every “how to make extra money” or “find your side gig” YouTube video, blog post, website article, or podcast contained the same options. We were all told great fortune awaited if we just taught Chinese children to speak English online, became a “brand ambassador”, or partnered with a company that paid us to pick up and/or deliver groceries or takeout on our own schedule. And then suddenly….these weren’t being promoted anymore. “Side hustle” content creators have moved on to completely different things, mostly online sales and marketing.
What happened to these former “make money online” trends? Can we still supplement our art career income with these?
Teach English to Chinese kids online
VIPKid, ABCKids, and MagicEars appeared to be the most popular companies offering this opportunity, but they were far from the only ones. Opportunities to teach children from China to speak English seemed almost limitless. Teachers did need to have a Bachelor’s degree, but they did not need teacher certification or teaching experience. They only needed to be fluent English speakers, and willing to teach in the startlingly upbeat style taught by the company.
These were not promoted as “get rich quick with no investment” schemes. Both teachers and the companies’ web pages made it clear that you needed to have high speed internet, a microphone, and a quiet, distraction-free, and child-friendly space available in order to do the work. And while the corporations did not ask you for money, it was expected that teachers make a small investment in their teaching career by purchasing teaching aides such as cutout letters and shapes, puppets, props, and backdrops that made the teacher appear to be sitting in a classroom. But once you had all of that, you were on your way to a side hustle that could potentially replace the income of your current career.
As of the writing of this article, MagicEars, VIPKid, and a company called GoGoKid still maintain active websites, including links to apply to teach. The estimated pay ranges from $12-$26 per hour. They just aren’t the trendy thing to promote anymore. The only promotion of VIPKid and GoGo Kid found during a May 2021 YouTube search of “most popular side hustles of 2021” was from Rachel Cruze of the YouTube channel “The Rachel Cruze Show.”
Many more recent videos describe quitting, or even being fired from, these companies. The work is the same, reality has just set in for a lot of workers. Working for them really means working with them. You hire yourself out as a teacher to VIPKid or MagicEars or Gogo Kid, you are not an employee. This means you’re responsible for taking taxes out of your own paycheck, a responsibility many are not prepared to meet. Add to that the struggles of having to be at work at two, four, or six a.m. your time in order to meet the scheduling needs of students in Bejing, and the difficulty of recruiting and keeping your own students within the platform, and the work is just much more difficult than the brightly colored ads featuring teachers beaming into their laptops make it seem.
Sign up as an “influencer” or “brand ambassador” and share what you love
The most common way to bump into this side hustle opportunity in the past few years has been to join an online group dedicated to budgeting, frugal living, making money, or coping with work stress and share your story. Someone will likely comment offering you an opportunity in network marketing. For a small startup fee, you can earn money the way your favorite content creators on YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok do, simply by sharing great products and talking about the things you love.
This one is still going strong. It is just increasingly being exposed for what it really is, the same old multilevel marketing companies that have been around longer than any of us reading this have been alive on this earth. They just changed the wording to make it more appealing, and to disguise what those they recruit are truly involved in.
A real brand ambassador is paid by the company for promoting the brand. That’s it. They promote the brand, and they get paid. A real influencer is someone who has built a large social media following, regardless of whether they’re making money from influencing their audience or not. When you pay a company to send you a sales kit, you can call it whatever you want, but you just hired yourself out as a salesperson for a multilevel marketing company. You won’t be earning any money unless you sell their products, or recruit others to sell their products.
Artist Cafe Utica is no longer a part of the anti-MLM community in that we no longer criticize anyone who chooses to work with these companies. If you really like Arbonne, Avon, Mary Kay, Pampered Chef, or any of the other multilevel marketing company products out there and want to sell for them to try to earn some free products and maybe a little extra cash, go for it. But this is not a pro-MLM or network marketing site either. Multilevel marketing companies are set up to ensure success for the top one to three per cent by taking advantage of everyone below them, and that alone makes them something we cannot recommend as a side hustle.
Work as a driver or delivery person on your own schedule
Driving for companies like Uber, Lyft, GrubHub, DoorDash, and in some cities,Postmates is still a viable option for those who want to drive as a side hustle. Video titles on YouTube have just gone from things like, “I made eight thousand dollars a month driving!” two years ago, to “Why you shouldn’t drive…” in the past eight or ten months.
Like the “teach Chinese children to speak English” work, driving for these companies isn’t them giving you a job. It’s you hiring yourself out as an independent driver or delivery person to the company. You’re responsible for paying your own taxes and other expenses that come with using your car as a rideshare or delivery vehicle.
This work is also not the guaranteed money maker ads screaming “Make $30 an hour with (name of company!) make it seem. You get to set your own schedule, but if you aren’t available to work when people want rides or takeout or grocery delivery, you aren’t going to make much, if any, profit.
“Best side hustle” videos can be fun to watch, and generate useful ideas for making money. But like most online content, creators often follow trends and fads. It’s always important to take a step back and get a bigger, clearer picture of any side hustle work you find.
“Cancel culture” refers to the practice of deliberately ruining someone’s career and shunning them socially, as punishment for something they have done or are believed or perceived to have done. Some argue that it does not exist, and is merely an invention of people who do not agree with them politically, meant to distract us from real issues. But only the term is new.
“Cancel culture” is shunning. Once someone is “cancelled” they are considered all but physically banned from society. The work of someone who has been “cancelled” is deemed inferior and irrelevant, even if it had been hailed as genius, or had some other beneficial impact on society, in the past.
People across the political spectrum participate in cancel culture.
“Cancel culture” is often associated with liberals attempting to rid the world of everything they do not deem “politically correct.” And this is sometimes true. But conservatives also engage in the practice. Former President Donald Trump often speaks out against political correctness and cancel culture, but is in fact a major practitioner of it. In a February 3, 2020 article in USA Today, writer Jeanine Santucci describes more than ten instances in which Trump has attempted to ruin a company or individual because they did, said, or supported something he found offensive.
Liberals and conservatives tend to be “offended” by and seek to cancel people for different things. Cancel culture supporters on the left typically attempt to ruin and shun people for content or behavior they perceive as racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or anti-immigrant. Cancel culture supporters from the right more often target people they believe to be anti-capitalism, against organized religion or Christianity, anti-military, or behaving in a way that disrespects the American flag or those they admire from American history. In any case, the goal is to ruin and shun someone for doing something you find offensive.
People across the political spectrum also fight against cancel culture.
Focus on the Family has long been known as a conservative organization. It is among the last place one would expect liberals to be praised. Yet even Focus on the Family has found some common ground with people they disagree with on most, if not all, other issues. On July 10, 2020, writer Zachary Mettler published an article in which he praised one hundred and fifty-three prominent liberal activists for signing a letter warning against cancel culture.
While “cancel culturalists” from the right and the left tend to attack for different reasons, the dangers of “cancel culture” appear to be one of the few things those across the political spectrum can agree on.
People of all political belief systems, races, genders, sexual orientations, and every other category are “cancelled’.
Anybody can get cancelled by anyone else. Essayist, Comedian, and Documentary Filmmaker Shane Dawson is openly gay, and is engaged to a man. He is currently considered “cancelled” due to material from more than a decade ago. Over the past several years, Dawson has openly stated that past comedy routines in which he mocked child abusers in a joking manner, and created characters that embodied crass racial stereotypes were immature, insulting, inaccurate, and not something he would ever do or support anyone else doing today, as a mature adult in his thirties. Dawson’s recent projects have included biographical videos on famous people, research into urban legends and myths, and social experiments. But once someone re-posted the old content and criticized it again in recent years, an online backlash occurred that led to Dawson’s career shutting down for more than a year as of the writing of this article. He is said to be making a slow comeback, beginning with editing his fiance’s YouTube videos and podcasts, but the couple continues to face harsh backlash for the content from the distant past.
Cancel culture is not the same thing as holding people accountable for their actions.
You are held accountable for your actions when you experience the direct consequences of something you actually said or did. If you run a website that is hypercritical of your hometown, and most people in your hometown refuse to follow you on social media or read your articles, that is a natural consequence of your actions. If one of those people tries to get you fired from your completely unrelated job, tries to get the blog and anything else you write taken down, and pressures others into refusing to work with you, that is cancelling.
In many cases, someone does not even have to do anything wrong in order to be cancelled. There only has to be the opinion, perception, or even accusation that they have done something wrong.
Fans of writer Philip Roth eagerly awaited the publication of Blake Bailey’s biography. Some people were able to purchase the book, but it has since been removed from publication and circulation. Calls to wipe Bailey’s work out of existence completely soon followed. The attempts to cancel Bailey from the field of literary biography are in response to accusations of sexual assault. Bailey has not been formally charged, tried, or convicted of sexual assault as of the writing of this article. His work is being wiped out of existence based on accusations and rumors alone.
University of Southern California Business Professor Greg Patton narrowly escaped being cancelled in 2020 after a video of him teaching a communications class about pauses and filler words offended some members of the class. Patton was not fired, but was removed from the classroom and forced to formally apologize when some students, using an invented group name, wrote a letter claiming that Patton had used something that sounded like the “N” word in English in his class.
Patton had not used that particular word, nor did he make any type of racial slur about anyone’s ethnic background. The word he used was a Chinese word that translates as “that,” but is used a bit like English speakers use “ummm.” But someone in class complained, so he lost his course for the term.
Personal refusals to purchase or support something are not cancelling;cancelling removes others’ right to make that same decision for themselves.
You…and Donald Trump…have every right to refuse to support any business or franchise that displeases Donald Trump in any way. You may absolutely decline to buy something because you find the imagery racist, homophobic, transphobic, anti-American, anti-capitalist, or anti-Christian. YouTube fans who refuse to subscribe to Dawson’s YouTube channel or purchase his books, USC students who don’t want to take a class with Patton, and people who decide they don’t want to buy Bailey’s books are all within their rights as individuals. That is a very different thing than setting out to have something or someone erased, so that nobody else is permitted to make that same decision for themselves. It is also very different than working to ruin and shun someone because they’ve done something you have freely chosen not to support.
Whether you want to call it “cancel culture,” or use the older term “shunning,” working to ruin anyone who is even accused of or rumored to have done something wrong, along with anyone who offends us for any reason, is a dangerous social trend.
An “internet troll” can be defined as a person who posts intentionally upsetting content online with the goal of causing some type of trouble. In some cases, the troll simply enjoys manipulating people into getting upset or angry. Other trolls are seeking attention, and think diverting it from the person who would naturally be the center of attention on the page or the post is the way to get it. Still others hope to shock people, and may use crude, rude, or disgusting remarks or messages to do so. Some trolling is done by people who intend serious harm, such as ruining a friendship, relationship, or career.
Many use “trolling” to describe every type of online joking around, kidding, smarting off, or being silly. A YouTuber wears a wedding dress, or their robe, or silly makeup to the store just to see if they can make other customers and their viewers laugh, and people refer to it as “trolling” video. Or someone pretends to be in love with someone else with the target’s full knowledge and consent, or spends half the video pretending they’re on a beach vacation when they’re really laying out at their neighbor’s pool, and it’s called “trolling.” But this is more plain, old-fashioned joking, goofing off, and acting silly. True “trolling” is done with some type of selfish intent.
Nearly anyone with an online presence is going to have to deal with internet trolls at some point. Artists are especially vulnerable, as we workshop, present, share, and market so much of our work online.
Some may claim this article is unnecessary. “I just delete and block,” they will proudly proclaim. “End of story.” Of course, “delete and block” is going to be your first move when dealing with any type of internet troll. But too often, it is not the end of the story. The damaging content may be seen by fans, potential collaborators, personal friends, family, or the supervsior at your day job or very needed side gig before you even know it’s there. Content you delete and block may have already been copied and shared, or saved on somebody’s hard drive for sharing in the future. And even if the content is completely gone, trolls are perfectly capable of creating “sock puppets,” or new accounts made for the purpose of continuing their online harassment, mocking, and other crude behavior.
Here are just a few examples of “trolling” behavior, and what you can do in addition to “delete and block” to protect your online presence.
Bad reviews that don’t make sense
Everyone who does not like your work is not trolling. We are not entitled to have everyone like us, or to only hear praise.Some people are honestly not going to like your singing, playing, writing, teaching, or comedy, and they may give you an unflattering review. This is very different than bad reviews from trolls. Trolls tend to write bad reviews that attack the artist’s character or perceived character, appearance, or other detail unrelated to their work. When they do focus on the work, they usually go for sweeping generalizations such as “truly the worst guitar player of the century” when the guitar player has only released a single song so far, or insults that lack content such as“it’s not worth the money, and it’s free.”
While asking people to write good reviews for you is dishonest, there is nothing wrong with encouraging those who would already write you a good review to do so, in order to increase your webpage or product’s rating. Avoid responding directly to the troll, unless the person has posted factual errors that may impact your business. For example, if your art form is cake and pastry decorating, and you work at a restaurant, a troll might comment, “This place failed the health inspection last year” or “The meatloaf made me sick.” In those cases, responding with a simple photo of the certificate from the health inspector, or the menu showing that your restaurant does not even serve meatloaf, is all you need to do.
Personal attacks on your professional page or links from your professional page
This one can be particularly disappointing to see. You post a video of you playing your new song in a Facebook group, with a link to your Instagram, and someone comments on the Facebook group post only to inform you that they hate your Instagram page because they saw that picture of you playing at your church last year, and they hate that particular church. Or you open up comments on your band’s page, and instead of talking about your work, the latest comments are all weird remarks from someone claiming to have worked with someone in the band at Taco Bell ten years ago, and finding them egotistical.
Your first instinct is probably to defend yourself, or your bandmate, and perhaps gently remind everyone that this is your band’s page, not a religious discussion or workplace memories page. If you truly feel you must respond, do it only once. Correct the misinformation and/or the misuse of your page or link with a single comment. If the person stops they got the attention they wanted and things will settle down. If the person continues, or if others join in, this does not mean everyone is against you. A group of internet trolls just decided to use you for a little online attention for themselves. If you are online in a place that allows you to delete others’ comments, quietly delete all trolling ones. If you can’t delete others’ comments, delete your post, then re-post your content or link. This will put whatever got ruined back up, without the trolling comments. If they come back, repeat the process until they catch on that you’re not a good source of attention for them.
Free unsolicited advice that’s worth every penny you paid for it
You post in a musicians’ group asking if anyone knows of a good makeup brand that will withstand the stage lights for some upcoming performances, and someone responds not with answers like “Tarte Shape Tape” or “Jeffree Star Magic Star Powder,” but with an online lecture about how shallow you are for caring so much about your appearance.. When you point out that this isn’t what you asked about, the response is something huffy and self-righteous, along the lines of “constructive criticism not welcome, duly noted.”
In this case, a slightly snarky comeback is warranted. But don’t engage the person in an argument, or try to defend yourself. They’re seeking attention for making someone else look helpless, fragile, or stupid, and if you come across as distraught, you’re just “feeding the troll.”
“I’m really glad you were able to overcome this issue. That’s great for you. I’m really happy for you. But I need to do it this way,” turns any future comments into nothing more than evidence they don’t catch on when they’re being mocked. Once you’ve said that, carry on as though they aren’t even there.
Bizarre or disgusting posts, comments, or other online behavior
Barging into Zoom groups and shouting racial slurs or bullying the legitimate attendants of the meeting, posting nonsensical rants on Facebook groups, posting swear words or references to sexual activity in space set aside to be safe for work, or posting content intended to turn readers’ or listeners’ stomachs is an especially jarring form of trolling.
When faced with this type of behavior online, once the content is deleted and the trolls blocked, there are only two other things you can do. The behavior of complete strangers is not your fault, but fans will probably appreciate a quick “sorry you had to see/hear that” type apology anyway. The only other action you can take is to restrict page access. Set your Zoom meeting so that everyone must be vetted and given a link before logging in. Make comments require approval before being posted to your standalone page. Delete posts and re-post another copy of the ruined content to your facebook pages.
Whatever type of troll you get, never take what they say seriously. You’re dealing with someone who has the entire internet at their disposal, with its endless possibilities for learning, socializing, or even just relaxing and watching or listening to something soothing or funny. Yet all they can think of to do is hassle strangers.
Conventional wisdom in the arts suggests that we should take any and all projects or gigs that we can get. But there may be times when it would be a better decision to turn something down. Here are just a few signs you should turn down a project or a gig.
The gig or project falls far outside your professional field.
One easy place to cut down your workload a bit is to turn down those projects that have the least to do with the art forms you practice. Getting involved in several art forms is wonderful. It can help us see our work from a different perspective, generate new ideas, and introduce us to new people. Or it can wear us out until we don’t have the energy to do anything but flop over on the couch and binge watch Netflix.
There is nothing wrong with taking on gigs or projects outside your usual field, but if you need to cut down on your workload, the projects to turn down or put on hold might be those the farthest from your heart.
The work would make your schedule overwhelming.
This is not to suggest you should turn down everything that does not provide the perfect balance in your life, or sit around and wait for “ideal” opportunities. Most of us would never do anything if we waited for those times. But it is important to avoid overloading yourself with so many of the same type of project, you cease to do your best work on any of them.
Working on four novels at once, or insisting upon making an album and helping three friends with theirs, or focusing on your comedy routine while giving workshops for other comics may be too much all at once. It’s better to have one or two projects done well than four projects that fail because you wore yourself too thin.
The project is something you do not feel called to do right now.
This does not mean “Give up anything that isn’t fun.” It means turn down a project if you feel called to complete another one now. When faced with several projects you might work on, choose the one you believe to be the most beneficial to those who might see, hear, or read it. Choose the one that focuses on themes that keep weighing on your mind or coming up. Everything else may need to be pushed aside, or at least postponed.
The monetary costs outweigh the benefits.
Most artists don’t do what we do for the money, but there is often a point where something can simply be too expensive to fit into your life right now. Collaborations that require travel you won’t be reimbursed for, steady jobs that mean you will have to purchase a new wardrobe, and parts that require alterations to your appearance you cannot really afford may not be the right projects for you during financially lean times, even if they are something you would love to do.
The person or organization offering the work has a shaky reputation.
It would be naïve to think that what you hear “around town” about somebody is always true. Baseless and unfair rumors do get started, and everybody with an opinion is not knowledgeable about a situation. But if you consistently hear that this club does not pay musicians without a fight, or that art collective has a pattern of cancelling events or exhibits on a whim, and the information is coming from people who have worked with them in the past, it may mean the project isn’t worth your time.
Taking on the project would require deeper involvement in the group than you want or need right now.
No matter how many vlogs, blogs, podcasts, radio shows, and newspaper feature articles are produced to explain that an independent artist is not an employee, we all know that some projects require us to become part of a team. And if you need to be independent right now, or you need to have plenty of energy to focus on other projects, joining a club or collective, agreeing to a collaboration, or taking on a client known for regular gatherings and a “team” or “family” attitude is only going to cause stress and conflict down the road.
You are worn out, run down, or exhausted much of the time.
As much as artists love our work, we all get burned out sometimes. Everyone gets tired. We all need to rest. If you are coping with health issues, including stress and fatigue brought on by the current public health crisis, it is especially important to know when you may need to turn down the offer to collaborate on that album, join that online concert, write that article, or schedule that lecture.
Family and friends who are usually supportive seem hesitant or upset when you bring up the project.
This may be politically incorrect to say, but everybody who doesn’t jump up and down over every gig or project that comes your way is not a “hater,” or trying to discourage you from doing your best. Sometimes, people close to you can see things you may not be able to see, or think of things you may not be thinking of in your excitement over the offer. At the very least, ask the person why they think this is a bad idea before brushing them off.
Turning down a project or gig may feel scary at first. It’s common to wonder if nothing else might ever come along the first time you do it. But learning to focus our time, money, energy, and attention where it needs to go is a skill we all have to practice, in all fields, including the arts.
Articles describing behaviors that annoy doctors, waitstaff, retail workers, and people in other professions are plentiful. We know doctors hate it when you argue with them based on something you learned through an internet search last night. The person waiting on you at a restaurant does not want to be stopped to take a picture of you and your date. And “It didn’t ring up so it must be free” hasn’t been funny to cashiers in a very long time. But what about artists? We hate being left off lists of professions and careers. Here are some more behaviors guaranteed to displease the independent actor, guitar player, singer, poet, writer, photographer, or other artist you know.
Ask us what we do for our “real job.”
A person is a professional once they get paid to do something. If the person has been paid to produce their art work in any form, they are a professional artist and this is their real job. They may or may not have a second career, or a day job or side job to pay their bills. But the work they are doing is real work. If you are working with someone who has not yet been paid for work in the arts, but is working toward that goal, they should not be treated any differently than someone working to build a business in any other field.
Describe our work as “messing around.”
Artists do often say they’re “messing around” or “just playing around” when they experiment or try something out just for fun. That doesn’t mean their entire body of work is just “messing around.”
Refer to us as a “nonessential” worker.
The arts are essential in so many ways. Sometimes, they provide a way for issues in society to be discussed and worked through. They may provide a voice for those who feel they are not heard. Or maybe they simply offer an escape, a way to alleviate stress and enjoy yourself for a while. Artists created the last piece of music you listened to, the television shows you like to binge watch, the novels, short stories, and poems you like to read, and the comedy routines that make you laugh. If you hired a photographer to take your wedding, graduation, or anniversary photos, an artist is responsible for capturing those memories for you. Most people would agree that all of those things are essential to life.
Treat us like we’re a member of your staff.
Staff members are people who filled out a W-4 form and receive a steady wage or salary from you, regardless of the type of work they do. Anybody who is paid by the show, article, or other piece, and issued a 1099 tax form is an independent worker. While there certainly are jobs in the arts that pay steady wages or salaries, the comedian you hired to perform two sets at your company retreat isn’t working one of them. They are not there to help clear the tables, answer the phones, or go find out why your assistant isn’t back from break.
Act like you’re completely unaware of our presence.
We get it that you’re preoccupied at an event or gathering. It is especially difficult to manage anything offline now, as we all have the extra work of making sure to keep the number of people in the space at a certain percentage, keep everyone spread out, and make sure everything is sanitized and everyone is wearing a mask. But when the performer says, “How is everyone doing?” from the stage, or the person bringing their paintings into the gallery walks in and asks where they can place them, responding is still necessary.
Move our belongings around without telling us.
Guitars, makeup kits, laptops or tablets, costume bags, and other tools the artist may bring along should be left alone unless it is absolutely necessary to move them. If you need to move them, and the person is setting up or doing something else that can be interrupted, ask if it’s okay to move their stuff around. If they’re in the middle of a performance or out of the room, move the items quickly and carefully and let them know where and why you had to move them as soon as you get a chance.
Behave as if we couldn’t possibly have a schedule.
The stereotype of the artist who only works when “moved” or “inspired” and does nothing else all day has been around for decades. The relatively recent trend of promoting working from home in any field with photos of people lounging on the beach with their laptops didn’t help that. As with anyone else who makes their own work schedule, an artist may work only when inspired, or they may have their day scheduled down to the minute. They may also have second careers, side jobs, family obligations, or other life details that require a schedule. Ask if they can do something or when they’re available, don’t just assume they can meet with you at your convenience, including on Zoom.
Assume our other work is an entry-level customer service or retail job.
The “actors waiting tables” assumption is made a lot because the job and building a career as an actor do fit well together. An actor who secures employment at an upscale restaurant, when the place is open at full capacity, can earn the money they need to pay their basic expenses in just a few shifts, leaving the rest of their week open for classes, auditions, and the other tasks of an actor’s career.
That doesn’t mean everyone in the arts waits tables. An artist may have a second career that’s just as important as their career in the arts. Or they may have a steady job in the arts, such as owning or managing a store related to their art, teaching, working for a non-profit that promotes their art form, or working in the creative department of a company.
Give us job leads we never asked for.
For the longest time, I was the person to ask if you wanted to know who might be hiring in customer service, office work, and news reporting. I didn’t want or need a job in any of those areas, but so many people assumed I did, I got every lead in town. Some people would even greet me with “You want a job?” or “Hey, there’s an opening at…,” which was especially annoying when they interrupted my online writing teaching to do it. Artists who are looking for jobs and want your help finding them will let you know that, just like people in any other career field.
Ask us why we don’t live in Hollywood (or Nashville, or New York City or Paris)
Just like any other career field, artists have different goals. You may meet one actor whose goal is to teach Theater at a university in the area, and get regular parts in local stage productions, and another who wants to go to Hollywood and make it in studio films. One country musician may aspire to be as famous as Luke Bryan or Jason Aldean, while another may just enjoy local success. And even for those who do want to seek “fame and fortune,” moving to an expensive city simply because it’s the center of their art form isn’t always feasible due to finances, family situations, health, or other issues in their lives.
Act like our fee is a gift when you pay us.
Of course we know we should be grateful to be making money for doing work we love. Everybody should be grateful if they get to do the work they love, no matter what career cluster they may be in. That doesn’t make our fee or the price of a painting, book, or album something optional you gave us out of the goodness of your heart. Anytime anyone produces a good, or provides a service professionally, the money you give them in exchange for that is a price or a fee, not a present.
Getting any or all of these responses to our work can range from frustrating to downright demoralizing. What to do if you get them depends entirely on the situation. A snappy comeback to the social media troll who asked you when you were getting a real job might make them go find someplace else to waste their own time. The same response to the person who hired you to play a gig or write an article might not get such a desired result. But we can always use anything that happens to us to inspire our next project.
We have all heard the conventional wisdom when it comes to a career in the arts. Declare yourself an artist and identify yourself that way first. Make sure you have a second passion or strong side job to pay the bills. Don’t let rejections deter you from continuing in your art career. These all sound like the right thing to say, and they usually work out. Then there are those things “everyone” swears will hurt your career in the arts….but might actually help.
Getting random, non-arts related side jobs.
This is often advised against out of fear it will take time away from your art, but it can provide fuel for your projects.
Taking temporary jobs, getting side jobs on the side of your day job, and performing other money making tasks can generate ideas for your art work. You may decide to fictionalize a restaurant or store and use it as a setting in your next piece. Maybe that rude, frightening, or just plain odd customer will say something you can use for your next villain. You may overhear a conversation that sparks a new song, or see something you feel called to paint or draw.
You also get to keep the money from random jobs, so they provide some extra income as well. Having a little more money helps to reduce financial worries, and frees up even more energy for your creative work.
Getting a job that allows you to practice your art, but also provides a steady salary or wage.
People typically warn against this out of fear that your art work will be taken over by someone else. You’ll sell out. You’ll become a corporate drone. This could happen in some cases, but if you keep your focus on your overall goals as an artist, and make sure you’re doing something you believe in, it can enhance your art career.
My own career in the arts has three parts. I teach writing skills to adults online, write novels, and write and run Artist Cafe Utica, designed as both a resource/online space for other artists in Utica and a portfolio for me. The teaching job is what pays my basic expenses. I am on the faculty of a university and I earn a salary. Most of my teaching is done through creative writing. I wrote, and continue to revise and update, a short story about a character named “Ellie” and her classmates at a fictional university. When I first got the idea to try this, I hesitated. I was afraid I’d spend all my time on the Ellie story, and neglect the rest of my writing. I feared the students would find it ridiculous. As of the writing of this article, “Ellie” has provided plot ideas for two novels, and I’ve been nominated for a teaching award four times. A solid ninety percent of the compliments I receive from students are for Ellie, not for me….but…..that’s okay.
Having non-art interests and hobbies
If you’re an artist, much of your activity naturally centers around your art. This is true for anyone in any type of career.
It is also not uncommon for an artist’s hobbies and interests to be other forms of art. My second passion, along with creative writing, is music. My favorite hobby has always been singing. I also enjoy watching films, theater, and seeing and learning about paintings and sculptures.
Languages also fascinate me. While language is a building block of many forms of art, it is also a separate field. One can be an expert in linguistics, or speak multiple languages without being an artist.
Like taking on non-arts related side work, studying languages often generates ideas for my art work. It helps me understand the sounds and patterns of language better overall.
These three activities may have helped my arts career when I expected them to be detrimental, but there are a few other guidelines I no longer follow, because they resulted in a drain on time, energy, and money to devote to my art.
Taking any work that allows you to do anything even remotely related to your art.
Most of the time, I encourage everyone to take any opportunity they can to practice their art, but if the situation is unsafe, or if you are spending so much time and energy on one event or job that you’re neglecting other aspects of your career, there’s nothing wrong with turning something down or walking away from an opportunity.
Conventional wisdom dictates that a writer should take any writing job. If you’re really a poet, but someone wants you to write an email drip campaign for window cleaner, do it. Work as a reporter even though you have no interest in journalism and you’re a screeenwriter. Take that job writing ad copy, even though what you really want to do is write about rock bands for a magazine.
This remains solid advice if you are new to writing, but after earning a graduate degree in writing and working as a professional independent writer for more than a decade, I no longer accept any writing assignments that are not linked directly to the arts. It gives the wrong impression. Potential clients think I’m new to writing, or that I’m making a career change from the arts to their field.
Working only in a dedicated workspace
Those fortunate enough to have a studio, or an office in their home should absolutely take advantage of it. Setting aside a space as your workspace in a smaller home can be helpful too. Just don’t take it so far that you begin to think of that as the only place you can work.
“Set up an office, it will help you take yourself and your work seriously,” is great advice, but it is not completely necessary. As long as nothing in the environment distracts you continuously, you should be able to get work done in a variety of places.
Sometimes, a change of scene helps rather than hinders creativity. Getting out and working at your favorite coffeehouse, or working at a diner or in the library (once it is safe to do so again) can give you the jolt you need to come up with a new idea.
Working all hours
When we picture someone doing work they love, we think of them working around the clock, stopping only for things like meals, showers, and other obligations when they absolutely have to. We often think that a “true” artist wants to sing, write, dance, act, paint, or work on their act all the time, and feel guilty or neglectful when we get tired or temporarily bored with our work.
In reality, nobody is enthralled with their work every moment of every day. Everyone, artist or not, has tasks they don’t care for, or days when they just want to get done and go sprawl in front of a t.v. show marathon with a big helping of their favorite snack.
Rest is necessary. We all need that time to just relax, and we all need sleep.
Quarantine restrictions may be slowly lifting over the coming year, but Covid-19 is still a serious danger, and we will not be back to normal for several months. While nearly all aspects of our lives will continue to be impacted in some way, this offers a special challenge to anyone who planned on taking classes or lessons during this time. Parents of school aged children and on-campus college students know this all too well, as routines they’ve relied on for generations must suddenly be altered due to the pandemic.
Adults taking classes as “off-campus” students, online students, and those needing to take a course or two for work may not experience the upheaval that more traditional, full-time students go through, but studying is going to be a challenge for everyone for a while. Here are just a few ways to make the best of the situation.
These tecniques can also be used to teach yourself a new skill at home.
Take health precautions seriously.
Being sick of the words “social distancing” is completely understandable. But the idea behind it is important. Avoid crowding together with classmates who do not currently live in your household if you are taking an in-person class or attending a required offline meeting for an online class. Keep the seats spread out to avoid sharing germs. Wear a mask when you must be near classmates. Wash your hands a few extra times. If you are teaching yourself something, and you need to run to the bookstore to purchase something, wait for other people to finish looking at the books or other materials before moving into the space.
Refusing to allow space between people, pulling off your mask as soon as you get past the front door, and mocking the santizing stations or signs reminding you to wash your hands is not a political statement any more than pulling off your shirt and shoes inside a store, choosing your food at a buffet with bare hands, or refusing to comb or brush your hair, take showers, and brush or soak your teeth is a political statement. It’s just a way to spread around potentially deadly germs.
Set up a study space for online courses or self-directed learning.
Ideally, you have a space you can set aside as your school area. If you do have a den, office, or even an especially spacious dining room or living room, set up a space that is just for school. Arrange a desk or table, computer, chair, and basic office supplies to duplicate an office or classroom space. Those who live in smaller homes, or whose study space is taken up by kids, roommates, or spouses who have already moved their work or school online, can choose a space used for other purposes, and set it up as a temporary school space with markers. You might select your chair at the kitchen table, but have a cup full of pens or a special notebook or coffee mug that comes out only when that space is your at- home school. Make it a rule, both for yourself and anyone else in the home that this item or set of items means school, workshop, or study time. When your thumb drive is in the laptop, your school mug, or your school notebook is on the table, or your backpack is at your feet, you are in school, or having study time.
Make a schedule.
The popular image of studying (or working) from home is of a person in lounge wear stretched across the couch with their computer in their lap. The implication is that you can just pull out your electronics and “do school” at any moment. Perhaps some people can. Most people would find it difficult to focus.
Most online or self-directed learners find it easier to concentrate, get tasks done, and keep track of deadlines if they make themselves a schedule similar to the one they would have if they were going to class offline. The flexibility lies not in the freedom from a schedule, but in the freedom to create your own schedule.
Don’t forget breaks. If you were in a classroom or at work in a conference room for a workshop, you would have a lunch break. Make sure you have one at home too. Taking shorter breaks throughout the day can also help with focus and motivation.
Plan your tasks by starting with the final project and the due date, breaking down the tasks, and assigning a certain number of tasks each day.
Suppose you are taking an online class in setting up your arts career as a small business. For the first week, you will need to create and write a business plan. The weeks run from Monday to Monday, and the assignment is going to take you eight steps to complete. You will want to complete the two simplest steps in one day, and schedule each of the others one per day, with the final step done right before you hand the work in.
Duplicate this same process for self-directed learning. If you are teaching yourself a language, set a weekly goal, and then break that goal down by the day. Learning 100 new vocabulary words in a week may be impossible if you try to learn them all on Saturday evening. But if you break that down to 15 words per day, you will increase your vocabulary by 105 words in that same amount of time, and it is much less daunting.
Schedule a day for revisions, rewrites, and other issues.
When breaking an assignment down into steps, make sure the final step is going over your work and doing any revisions you need to do before you hand the work in. While you do want to give yourself the full amount of allotted time to complete online learning projects, you don’t want to find yourself scrambling to complete work because you scheduled too much at the last minute.
If the learning is self-directed, schedule some time for things to go wrong, or to be harder than you expected. Plan for time for that step you just couldn’t get down, or that material you just haven’t yet learned. It will happen, and it’s much more productive to plan for it than to beat yourself up and declare your studies a failure.
Keep your documents organized.
On your computer desktop, make a folder for your course or workshop. Inside that folder, make one subfolder for assignments or projects you are working on, one for submitted work that has not been graded or evaluated, and a third for graded or past work. Create another folder for notes and saved resources. If your course requires more documents or projects, make folders for those too. Folders on your desktop do not waste paper, cost money, or do anything else except help keep you organized. It’s better to have too many than too few, and find yourself frantically hunting around for that paper that needs to be submitted tonight.
Remember that academic and professional integrity rules still apply to online courses.
Even those who would never think of actually cheating may be tempted to bend the other rules of academic integrity in order to get by in an online course. After all, the instructor will never know that you’re not really that sick when you send them an excuse and ask for an extension. They won’t know that your personal issue isn’t truly preventing you from completing the work of the course if you “open up” to them with the secret hope they go easy on you when they hear your story. Except that they will. Online instructors are well aware of the internet age versions of “the dog ate my homework,” and of the pity play. It likely won’t work, and even if you should happen across an instructor who is guilible, distracted, or just plain worn out enough to take it, trying to manipulate your way into better grades is still wrong.
Get dressed for school or work.
Some people can concentrate well in their pajamas. Most need to at least get dressed in order to concentrate. There’s no need to dress in professional business attire, unless you’re going straight from your class or training to a Zoom meeting that would require such clothing if it were offline. But you may want to wear your normal business casual to casual workplace clothing. At least put on the clothes you would wear if it were a weekend day and you were going to meet friends for coffee. It may seem like an added hassle, but for most people, it aids in concentration and focus….and leaves you prepared for that unexpected moment when what you thought was a text chat with the boss or instructor turns out to be a video call.
Take advantage of some of the perks of studying from home.
Having a place, the materials you need to learn, and the people around you respecting the fact that you are “in school” or “in training,” just as if you were in a classroom or conference area is important. But you don’t have to duplicate every detail. You would probably not get up for extra snacks or drinks three times in a training session at work, but if you’re doing the training by yourself at home, with nobody else waiting for you in a video or text chat meeting, don’t worry about it. Go ahead and play loud music, or watch tv while doing tedious tasks if it helps you focus.
Make sure the day has a beginning and an end.
One of the biggest issues with training or studying from home is the feeling that because “home” and “school” are the same physical space, you are always obligated to be present in both at once. You decide to just go ahead and do that last lesson over dinner, or start your lesson while you have your coffee, before breakfast. This can be helpful during a rushed day, or if something unexpected happens, but making it a habit will only make it seem like you never came home from training or school. Make sure your training or class time has a definite end each day.
While the news about Covid-19 vaccines offers hope, and we know we will someday be back to only taking classes, seminars, and other training from home if we want to, self-directed, remote learning is going to be necessary for several more months, as the vaccine will need time to be distributed and work through the population. But remote, self-directed, online learning can be done, and done well once productive patterns become habits.
Whether we realize it or not, independent artists are freelance workers. We offer our music, novels, arts articles, poems, paintings, or other works to people for a fee or a price. Some of us also teach on a freelance basis, giving lessons or tutorials out of our home. Many also operate side gigs on a freelance basis, such as tutoring in a non-arts subject, working as a driver for Uber, Lyft, or Instacart, or doing maintenance or cleaning independently. As people increasingly work from home, we may even find our salaried work feels like freelancing, as we are responsible for setting up work spaces and scheduling work tasks from our dens and kitchens.
As most of us continue to spend large chunks of time at home, we are often looking for projects to keep us occupied. Devoting some of that time and energy to organizing the work of your career or side gig will not only provide something productive to do now, it will make things run much smoother when everything does normalize again.
Write out a short but detailed business or career description and plan.
Many people balk at the idea of writing out a career or business plan for their art work. At first, I was one of them.The thought of doing this makes me feel like a fool. What business? It’s me.I’m an artist. I teach writing skills to adults. I write fiction. I can sing well enough to join in an open mic, but not well enough to get paid. I can write for and about artists and the arts. Go ahead and feel foolish. Writing about exactly what you’re about, what services you plan to offer, and why will help bring everything else into focus. Consider the following statements:
“I write modern, place based, realistic novels, and blog articles for and about Utica artists, in addition to teaching writing skills to adults online in a salaried position. I am available to write sponsored posts about your business or service, features about music or musicians for your magazine or newspaper, and press releases for your music or other art career. My hobbies are singing and languages.”
“I’m a writer who likes singing and languages and I’m looking for work. I used to be a reporter and feature writer for the newspaper. I have also worked in an office.”
Both of those are me, but the first one is clear about what type of work I’m able and available to do, and offers insight into my skill level. The second one focuses too much on past work I want to leave behind, and is vague about my skill level. “I like singing and languages” could mean I’ve been compared to Diana Krall and am fluent in five languages (I wish), or it could mean I’m that annoying person who belts out off key phrases from songs every time someone says a word that reminds me of one, and spends five hours in front of the tv watching foreign films every night. Mentioning that I used to be a reporter and have worked in an office would only be relevant if I were looking to do that type of work again.
Set up a dedicated online presence
Using Weebly to set up this webpage was easy. I never learned to code, and have no depth perception, meaning I can’t line things up on a screen. I can still used Weebly to run this page. Wordpress is another popular hosting site that most people find easy to use. Other options for an online home for your art practice and/or freelance business include bandcamp, Facebook, and Instagram.
At minimum, your online space should have a business or career description, clear photos, links, or descriptions of the items or services you offer, and a price list.
Here is Lou Santacroce’s bandcamp page: https://lousantacroce.bandcamp.com/releases
Looking at that page, we learn that he’s a Utica based singer-songwriter, arts writer, and novelist, and get a glimpse of the type of music he writes and performs. The prices are clear, and there are samples available. This is a strong online presence for a professional musician.
Gather all of the supplies you need to run your business.
Use free software to create a professional looking invoice. Even if you are in a situation where you speak or perform for cash, your client might want something for their records, or you might want to make one to keep track of what you’ve done. Order business cards. Vista Print, www.vistaprint.com offers professional cards for as low as fifteen dollars for a box of 500. Hit Dollar Tree to stock up on pens, notepads, and other basic office supplies you might need.
This step will vary depending on what you plan to do for work. Writing for and about artists in Utica takes my laptop, notepads, and pens and pencils. People whose second career is teaching children may want to look for work teaching English as a Second Language online for companies like VIPKid. These companies typically won’t work with you unless you have a mini virtual classroom set up in your home. You will need an entire corner you can devote to items such as maps, color charts, alphabet charts, and other traditional school room educational decor.
Publicize your business or career.
We all know about posting things on social media, but consider paper fliers (posted with respect for the owner of the place you post them and others who have fliers up of course) and buying advertising in the local news media. For print ads, visit https://www.uticaphoenix.net/contact-us/ and speak to someone about buying ad space in The Utica Phoenix. You might also want to purchase local radio advertising on Phoenix Radio, 95.5 The Heat. Listen in at www.955theheat.com then get in touch at https://www.955theheat.com/advertise-with-us.html to buy some advertising for your business.
This article is not sponsored. All endorsements and recommendations are my own.
We may most commonly associate bullying with children and teens, but it can happen at any age. If you are experiencing any of the following situations at your day job, during rehearsals or practices, or as you work for someone else in your side gig, you are experiencing workplace bullying.
Criticizing, yelling, scolding, or correcting to the point that your job is made more difficult.
The only people who don’t get criticized or corrected by their boss at some point are those in business for themselves, and even self-employed people and business owners have to listen to clients, customers, staff, and vendors if they want to stay around. Unless you’re wealthy enough that you can hire people whose jobs depend on never telling you “no,” work is not going to be an unending series of perfect days. That said, supervisors, coworkers, and clients should speak to you with respect as a fellow human being, and any correcting or criticism should leave you better at your job, not fearful, nervous, confused, embarrassed or demoralized about being there.
Mocking, teasing, or baiting to the point that your job is made more difficult.
Normal teasing and joking around, banter, even discussions of controversial issues can be part of the culture at some workplaces. It isn’t bullying if they give everyone a nickname based on their department, so they’ve started calling you “Kitchen Sue” or “Waiter John,” or if you came in wearing a jacket covered in Obama buttons on your first day, so they tease you in a friendly way about being the company’s only liberal. It is bullying if the nickname is intended to embarrass or belittle you, and makes it more difficult to concentrate on your work in the kitchen or interact with the customers on the floor, or if the teasing is done in a way that lets you know you’re not wanted or being held to a different set of standards than the others.
Deliberately sabotaging your work or professional reputation
The classic example of this is the co-worker who wants your job, and decides to get it by erasing data from your computer to make it seem like you did not do your work. Hollywood likes to portray workplace bullies as people who leave embarrassing or disgusting things in a co-worker’s locker or desk drawer, both to upset them and to force them to spend time cleaning the items out instead of doing their work. Hiding materials, files, contact information, or other necessary tools from you is also bullying behavior.
Nobody is obligated to tell others how wonderful you are if you are in fact awful to them or terrible at your job. But the coworker who makes unnecessary or unwarranted complaints about you to the supervisor or other coworkers is also guilty of workplace bullying. Creating an environment where you cannot work effectively, such as insisting you sit in a cramped, cold space or in the office nearest a major construction project, is also a form of sabotage.
Changing instructions or expectations, or creating confusion that makes the job more difficult.
Asking an employee or a consultant to adapt something to changing circumstances is not workplace bullying. If you’re working on a display of products that have been recalled, being asked to take it down is not unreasonable. If you’re creating a sales presentation, and the client has sent in more details of what they’re looking for from your company, of course you need to add them in. But you should go in to work every day knowing what is expected of you at your job. If this seems to change at random, with projects assigned to you, then re-assigned, then given back to you, the supervisor is more intent on creating chaos for you than getting the work done.
Treating you differently than other employees, consultants, or vendors are treated, in a way that makes working for them more difficult, or has a detrimental impact on your career or reputation.
Any business is going to treat their office manager or longtime receptionist differently than the person who fills the soda machine in the break room once a week. And you should not expect to be consulted on projects that are not yours, or are from departments you are not in. The behavior becomes bullying when you are treated differently than others in a similar position, and the treatment impacts your ability to do your job or pursue your career.
Being left out of the employee baseball team because you’re a consultant is not bullying. Being left out of a meeting where future projects are planned is bullying. You were not bullied if you had to stand there and watch everyone in sales receive a gift basket and you did not because you’re in customer service. You are being bullied if you had to sit there and watch another customer service employee receive excessive praise the minute before you were yelled at until you couldn’t concentrate enough to do your job.
Workplace bullying is not a bad job, just a difficult boss, or a stressful situation. It is a deliberate attempt by one person or group to control another through unfair manipulation of his or her work life. The goal of a bad boss may vary, from maintaining an image to a mistaken belief that they’re being tough or authoratative. The goal of a workplace bully is to tear down the target of the bullying behavior.
My apartment feels like a bohemian cottage. The living room resembles a little media and reading room with shelves of books, a couch and chair covered in colorful throws and pillows, and a TV with everything from a VCR to a Roku around it. A rustic little table surrounded by music and movies gives the kitchen a cafe feel. I even have my bedroom turned into a bohemian themed reading nook, with a study lamp for a nightlight and books lining the wall as decorations. But as cozy and inviting as it is, sometimes a change of scene is needed, and like many artists, I head to a local cafe or casual restaurant.
Whenever we work from a public space, it may look like we’ve simply camped out there for the afternoon. But there are ways to do so respectfully.
Budget for the most expensive purchase you can reasonably afford, not the absolute cheapest.
Anytime you go into a restaurant, coffeehouse, or cafe, you need to buy something. If you are going to take up their table for any amount of time, make that purchase signifigant. Order a full meal from a cafe or restaurant. If you honestly cannot time your visit during a meal time, order the most expensive coffee drink or smoothie you like, and get regular paid refills. Sitting there for an hour sipping slowly on a one dollar bottle of water or can of soda technically fulfills the “you have to buy something” requirement, but it also constitutes taking unfair advantage of the business owner or manager’s time and space.
Calculate a twenty per cent tip for anyone who brings you anything, and add that same amount on for every hour you spend there past the first one.
People who seat you, wait tables, and bus tables depend on tip money for their income. When they have customers who aren’t sitting there writing or sketching or listening to music on headphones, new people might sit down in each seat about once every half an hour to an hour. That’s an additional tip they’re going to get. You sitting there for an additonal hour costs that staff that additional tip money. Pay them back for it. If you had a ten dollar appetizer and drink order, your tip would be $2.00. If you sat there for two hours, tip $4.00. If you sat there for three hours, tip $6.00.
Choose the smallest table you can if a host does not seat you.
My spot at the Tram has been the wingback chair nearest the hallway. The table has room for five people to sit. My fiance always sat next to me in the other wingback chair, leaving three empty. I used to always try to encourage people to sit with us, so I wouldn’t cost them three spaces on the floor. It rarely worked. People were afraid of intruding. When the Tram reopens, I think they’re going to have a smaller table in my spot. If the big one is still there, I might have to migrate to a side table.
Cafes make more money if more people come in and buy food. Groups of four and five will go someplace else if they walk in and see somebody sitting at the only large table in the place. Don’t accidentally chase other people away by taking up an unnecessarily large amount of space.
Be respectful of other customers.
Your favorite cafe, diner, or coffeehouse may be your home away from home. But it’s a home away from home, hangout, or place to relax and have lunch or coffee for other people too, and they have just as much right to enjoy it as you do.
If you need to listen to sound files or watch videos, take ear buds or headphones. Sit agains the wall with your screen visible only to you if your work contains any violent imagery, adult themes, or other material someone might not want their children or grandchildren to see on their way to the bathroom or front counter. If you have small children, don’t allow them to run around and/or scream. A cafe or coffeehouse is not the place for you to have a loud business meeting over your phone or Skype, or read your script out loud in your theater voice either. You don’t have to sit there in total silence, but avoid being a disruption to other customers or staff.
Give the business a boost on social media or in person.
Thank the place you go to work when you need a change of scene by writing up a five-star review on Yelp, liking and following their Facebook and Instagram pages, complimenting them on your own social media, and encouraging friends and family to spend time there and purchase food and drinks.
My favorite/home away from home is the Tram. I look forward to the day it reopens. (And no, I have no idea when that will be.) While it’s closed, I tend to bounce around from place to place, including Utica Coffee Roasting Company, Green n Wave, and Denny’s.